For the first time in the history, archeologists and conservationists have been able to restore a 393-year-old Mughal era hammam (royal bath used as spa) to its pristine glory in the famed Shalimar garden here.
An architectural marvel, the royal hammam built by Emperor Jahangir in 1620 in the Shalimar garden was lying in ruins before the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Jammu and Kashmir chapter, took-up the restoration work a few years ago.
Estimated to have cost Rs70 lakh, the restoration work was completed in three years by INTACH in collaboration with J&K floriculture department. Special care was taken to ensure that architecture significance of the structure is not disturbed.
The Shalimar hammam is part of the architectural ensemble which includes the Diwan-i-Aam, Diwan-i-Khas, and other buildings. The hammam is a U-shaped structure accessed from a large recessed opening which is preceded by a portico.
The entrance leads to a central chamber (hammam) and two side chambers (ante-rooms). Most of the chambers are lit by skylights. The rooms have flat domed ceilings. The hammam consists of features like the bathing pool or hau, toilet and change room (jamwar khana).
“Shalimar hammam was a royal bath used as spa. More so it was leisure place for the Mughals. However it was suffering from lack of protection, vandalism and excessive vegetative growth. There were piles of debris in and around the structure. The hamaam was used as unofficial public convenience (by people),” Saleem Beg, head of INTACH, Jammu and Kashmir Chapter told dna.
Enter the conservation plan, the experts used careful archaeological exploration to reveal the original building fabric and associated functions which lay hidden under a layer of garbage and debris.
“As the building had greatly suffered due to decay and erosion of masonry surfaces on the external facade, it was decided to undertake lime pointing of the exposed surfaces to prevent decay etc. Traces of original lime plaster on the internal as well as external wall surfaces have been retained. Similarly various vents within the building used for the purpose of heating have been cleaned and repaired, thus serving as a valuable insight into the way these hammams functioned,” said Beg.
After three years of restoration work the Shalimar royal hammam has been thrown open for public.
“Anybody can go and see this architectural marvel. Though hammam cannot be used, it generates enthusiasm among the public about our history,” said Sunil Misiri, director, J&K floriculture department.
Misiri hoped that the restoration of this hammam will go a long way to boost the tourism sector in the Kashmir Valley. “It will definitely augur well for the tourism sector of Kashmir,” he said.