Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Spiritual Legacy of Multan Preserved in a Book

Chahar cheez ast tohfa-e-Multan. Gard, garma, geda-o-goristan. (With four special gifts Multan abounds. Dust, heat, beggars and burial grounds.)
This famous Persian saying sums up Fauzia Husain Qureshi’s journey with her book Multan – A Spiritual Legacy. And that is exactly how she described it at the book launch held on Friday at the Royal Palm Golf and Country Club.
Fauzia has long been involved with art and architecture, and to the cause of its conservation and preservation.
With her book, she has attempted to document the cultural and architectural heritage of the city, which was once like Lahore – the hub of culture.
Islamic history has played an important part in the construction of the “City of Saints”, as Multan is sometimes referred to as. But Fauzia has gone beyond this single narrative and tried to showcase the rich and vast influences that have shaped the history of Multan.
The monuments and buildings she has documented include Sufi shrines, colonial buildings, Hindu temples and Muslim-built monuments. During her speech at the launch of her book, she emphasised strongly on this aspect of the city that more or less gets ignored. “Many people in the general public would not even know about the existence of some very important Jain and Hindu temples in the city of Multan, such as the Prahladpuri Temple and the Narsinghpuri Temple,” she said. “And this is what needs to be brought into the general public’s consciousness.”
For this reason, the book contains detailed drawings of all these historical sites and their architectural elements, and carries a concise history of the monuments in question, along with the significance of their patrons.
Fauzia is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is specifically involved with conservation work. She has led the conservation work under the aegis of the master plan for conservation of Rohtas Fort, Lahore Fort and Shalimar Gardens, and conducted infrastructure studies for both world heritage sites.
She hopes her book will be a resourceful guide not only for students and academics but also those involved with the conservation of heritage sites in Pakistan.
During her speech, she also made an appeal to the Punjab government to take notice of the ruins that stand within the city of Multan. “Many of Multan’s heritage sites such as some smaller Sufi shrines and Hindu temples are almost completely dilapidated and beg for immediate conservation efforts.”
She also pointed out the horrific status of the Damdama tower that used to be the top-most point in the city from where the entire city could be viewed.
That tower has now been pulled down by the city government of Multan, and instead a concrete tower has been erected in its place. “It is horrible what the city government has done to such a monument. Instead of dealing with the rainwater that was seeping in and conserving the historical site, a new structure has been built that is the antithesis of the Damdama tower.”
Fauzia protested against this blatant ignorance of history and emphasised it to those present at the event, including artists, architects and former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was the chief guest on the occasion.
Renowned artists such as Nayyar Ali Dada, Fakir Aijazuddin and Ajaz Anwar were also present and were invited on stage for a panel. All three artists discussed the history of Multan and its rich influences. They also emphasised on the conservation of historical sites so that the history of the city and its people could be preserved in its entirety.
At the end of the ceremony, Fauzia thanked her photographer, Samiur Rahman “without whose help and support, the book could not have been possible”. She also thanked Gilani for his financial support and moral encouragement and thanked her entire team of young architects at her firm, Unicorn, and her family for all their help and support.

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