Recognizing his contribution, the Jammu and Kashmir government has honoured retired bureaucrat Muhammad Saleem Beg with a Lifetime Achievement Award. But the award is not just for acknowledging 35 years of his service. He is also known as the “Heritage Man” of Kashmir for his contribution towards heritage conservation in the state.
In 2004, after his retirement from government services as Director General Tourism, Beg formally introduced heritage conservation by opening J&K chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), a globally renowned group specialized in this field.
As Convener INTACH for around a decade, he went for “specialized mapping of historically significant buildings” in the Valley. This mapping technique has recorded the architectural details of over 800 structures so minutely that in the case of any damage “the same can be reconstructed brick-by-brick.”
Beg and his team also worked on the restoration of monuments that were otherwise decaying fast. Centuries old structures like Aali Masjid, Manasbal Temple, Gulmarg Palace and Mughal Gardens were magnificently restored to pristine glory. As the word of his work spread, Beg was taken as a member of the prestigious National Monument Authority(NMA). Having completed his tenure there, he is back to INTACH Kashmir.
Born and brought up in congested old Srinagar or Shaher-e-Khaas, Beg says iconic shrine of Shah-e-Hamdan on the banks of Jhelum always inspired him to conserve the heritage.
“I belong to an old town that is culturally very rich not just in terms of heritage but in also traditions, culture, and values. Khanqah-e-Maula (shrine) did my mental makeup,” Beg told InUth during an interview.
After joining government services as a young man in 70s, Beg got an opportunity to serve Kashmir’s handloom sector for 12 years where he focused on the promotion of famed Kani shawl weaving.
However, Beg says a major change in his life towards heritage conservation came during his three-year stint as director in the union ministry of handlooms and textiles in the 80s. “It was a lifetime opportunity to learn what all really needed to be done for conservation of our culture and heritage.”
As of now having been honored with Lifetime Achievement Award, Beg who is also an ace golfer says it’s a “humbling experience.”
“Insha Allah we’ll continue to work with more vigor because a lot more needs to be done. And, for the conservation of our rich heritage, it needs to a collective effort of every Kashmiri together we can make it happen!”