Burzahom is included among the most famous Neolithic-Megalithic sites, not only in India and South Asia, but perhaps in whole world
Burzahom is a well known name in the world of Prehistoric Archaeology. Unfortunately, this internationally recognised archaeological site is merely reduced to a playground and the site is now on the verge of complete destruction. Burzahom is included among the most famous Neolithic-Megalithic sites, not only in India and South Asia, but perhaps in whole world due to its unique set of material remains in the form of menhirs, pits, burials, artefacts and ecofacts, exposed during excavations. Burzahom is about 10 km north east of Srinagar, situated on Yenderhom wuder (Karewa). Burzahom can be regarded as an index of our prehistoric period, whose date line can be stretched to 3000 BCE. Hence, the site is at least about 5000 years old.
Material culture from Burzahom has been found to have parallels in neighbouring regions such as China, Pakistan and Central Asia. During the third millennium BCE, the site acted as a bridge between northern regions and Gangetic plains, peninsular India. The site is regarded as a unique comprehensive story teller of life between 3000 BCE to 1000 BCE. The unique set of material culture found in Burzahom and other Neolithic sites of Kashmir, led to its distinct classification, and as part of Northern Neolithic complex or Inner Asian Complex. The exposed material remains from the site are not heaps of garbage or bunch of useless objects. But, it has helped in the reconstruction of past scenario of our great ancestors. It facilitated the reconstruction of the Paleo-subsistence, Paleo-climate, Paleo-environment, and settlement pattern of the site. Moreover, it throws light on our ancestor’s lifestyle, ancient crafts, ancient tools and technologies, ancient surgical practices, beliefs and rituals, trade and economy, and many more. Hence, representing cognitive and thinking ability of our ancestors. Many unique evidences were found from the site, such as trepanation of skull, oldest supernova recorded on a stone slab depicted as hunting scene, ritualistic animal and human burials, burial with red ochre on the bones, man buried with his dog, Kot dijian style horned deity (early harappan) painted on a globular pot, menhirs, pits (dwelling/ granaries), copper objects, carnelian beads, bone needles, spindle whorls etc
Cultural heritage is significant in the present, both as a message from the past and as a pathway to future. Cultural heritage of any region acts as a resource enabling the cultural identification and developmental processes associated, both tangibly and intangibly, with its inhabitants. However, this world famous archaeological site has been transformed into a favourite cricket pitch, garbage dumping site and an upcoming graveyard. Burzahom archaeological site is now hosting annual cricket tournament viz; Burzahama Premier League (BPL).Therefore attracting hundreds of visitors, manipulating the restricted area and damaging the material culture beneath and on the surface. The world famous menhirs, one of which is still somehow erect on the site, are highly vandalised by spectators .These have been marked with painted advertisements and usually climbed during tournament. The administration is not far behind; a tar road has been constructed by them up to the excavation site. They have been running metal rollers to level the pitch, pinch tents, and bring vehicles to reach the top, leading to heavy encroachment. And hence damage the underlying stratigraphy and archaeological wealth buried under the ground. Although sports activities constitute an important part of life but it is unacceptable, if it acts as a source of destruction and threat to rich cultural identity. Cricket can be played anywhere and in any ground in contrast to archaeological sites which are insitu in nature, hence cannot be shifted elsewhere. Both commoners and officials are equally culprit in its destruction. The active role of locals and district administration in participation, organising and facilitating the Burzahama Premier League on the archaeological site of Burzahom, is tragic and unacceptable. According to Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains act 2010 ( section 30A, 30B and 30C ) ,both the people and officials are punishable for such crime ,which includes two years of imprisonment or one lakh rupees fine or both. The question here arises: why is the administration supporting this crime? The lack of knowledge of the people and the lack of willingness of administration to preserve heritage is nothing but a deliberate act of destroying our own heritage and hence killing our own identity, with bare hands. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been acting as a mute spectator, in case of preservation and conservation of archaeological wealth of Kashmir in general and Burzahom in particular. The archaeological treasure excavated from the site, taken for identification and dating purpose, is still out of Kashmir and few of them are on display in different museums of the country. This reflects another hurdle in the Kashmir archaeology.
The way we are behaving with our cultural and natural heritage, it is evident that in the very near future, our rich identity will be lost completely and the future generations will recall us as murderers of ancient heritage of Kashmir. A famous Urdu idom “apne pairun pe kulhadi marna” is well retiable here and describes our firsthand role in destroying our own cultural identity. If we are unable to preserve it professionally, we should neither destroy it intentionally and unethically. All the inhabitants of Kashmir, whether educated or not, whether local or living far from Burzahom, whether commoners or administrative officials, whether affiliated to archaeology or not, all are equal stakeholders. However, responsibilities lie more on educated youth and concerned authorities. The locals of Burzahom and organisers of BPL should wakeup for the sake of our own cultural identity and demand separate playground from the administration or at least change the venue, as the tournament hosts teams from different localities of the district, therefore can be hosted anywhere in the vast district. If the administration and state archaeology department are directly unable to preserve the site, they should at least follow the guidelines from AMSAR act and intervene positively in the matter as soon as possible, to restrict further destruction of the site. If the site could have been well preserved and maintained, as purposed initially, it could have been an internationally recognised tourist hotspot, inviting huge revenue for the locals and administration.
A ray of hope emerged, when after years of struggle for the excavation permission from ASI, prominent archaeologists of Kashmir viz, Dr Mohammad Ajmal Shah and Dr Mumtaz Ahmad Yatoo, of University of Kashmir, were scheduled to excavate and expose the mysteries of our ancestors at Burzahom, but unfortunately due to the current pandemic it has been deferred. However, it is sad to mention that the annual cricket tournament has been smoothly started from first week of August and is still ongoing.
Keeping the above facts mentioned under consideration, it is our responsibility to save our own identity. No one will save it for us! Therefore, to save the Burzahom for the sake of our rich past and identity, we all must come on frontline, play our part and work together at ground level.
(Author is a Postgraduate in Archaeology, University of Kashmir)