Like the towns and cities, Kashmiri villages have been no less interesting with their glorious locations, colorful traditions and common but shared life styles. The villages exhibited the wonderful, social, cultural and architectural aspects which are quite distinctive and indigenous in nature though, unfortunately, we have not been able to preserve much of that.
It is easy to create model villages not just because the government is sponsoring such ventures but also because of the new and invigorated rural development possibilities where horticulture, agriculture and other fields are advancing rapidly. Gone are the days when villagers were looked down upon by the urban as the economical disparity has long disappeared with villages enjoying almost everything at par with the city and towns.
However, this rapid growth in various sectors has also changed the living standards of village people to a large extent-so much so that villages hardly look like villages now. Apart from other things, the construction patterns and the very look of the villages has undergone tremendous changes and one is sure that if such a trend continues with the same pace, no village would appear any different from cities and towns.
Traditionally, a village was composed of different colonies (Mohalla’s in Kashmiri) usually named after the professions of people living in that particular colony- for instance a colony where barbers would live would be named as ‘Barbers colony’ (Hajam Mohalla in Kashmiri).
Bestowed with natural beauty, the villages in Kashmir are pristinely located and have peculiar feathers like gushing water streams, lush-green agricultural fields, well connected links from one Mohalla to another and a typically positioned mosque which would usually be located at the center. Most of the villages in Kashmir also house one or more Sufi shrines also and such places are the centre of activity and many a functions are held around here.
There are also yarbal’s (river banks), streams, brooks and springs places of meeting and informal get-together of village woman where they go for cleaning washing and fetching water.
The most important feature of a village was its glorious architecture. Today, like our cities and towns, village have advanced very much and one can hardly spot a typical Kashmiri house that preserves the antiquity of olden days. But the picture I am attempting to give to my readers is that of an olden village. Although these days it is difficult to explore such a classical village but I have been able to discover not many but a few villages which still exhibit the glory of their past days.
The mud and thatch houses were common in Kashmir. Sometimes these are covered over by wooden slates and earthen tops. Sir Walter Lawrence who has been in Kashmiri villages during Maharaja Pratab Singh’s period has drawn an interesting picture of village houses. He writes, “The houses are made of unburnt bricks set in wooden frames, and timber of cedar, pine and fir, the roofs being pointed to throw of snow. In the loft formed by the roof wooden and grass are stored, and the ends are left open to allow these to be thrown out when fire occurs. The thatch is usually of straw. Rice straw is considered to be the best material, but in the vicinity of the lakes reeds are used. Near the forests the roofs are made of wooden shingles, and the houses are real log huts, the walls being formed of whole logs laid one upon another, like the cottage of the Russian peasantry. Further away from the forests the walls are of axe-cut planks fitted into grooved beams. Outside the first floor of the house is a balcony approached by a ladder, where the Kashmiri delights to set in the summer weather. Later the balcony and the loft are festooned with roofs of dry turnips, apples, maize-cobs for seeds vegetable marrows and chilies, for winter use. Sometimes in the villages one finds the roofs of the larger houses and of the shrines (Ziarats) made of birch bark with a layer of earth above it. This forms an excellent roofs and in the spring the housetops are covered with iris, purple, white and yellow, with the red turk’s head and the crown imperial lilies.’
In some of the larger and better houses there are pretty windows of lattice-work, open in the summer and closed by paper in the winter. As spring approaches the paper is torn down and the windows look ragged and untidy. On the ground floor the sheep and cattle are penned, and sometimes the sheep are crowded into a wooden locker known as the dangij, where the children sit in the winter and where the guest is made to sleep, for it is the warmest place in the house. One might imagine that the Kashmiri houses are neither comfortable nor healthy, but as a matter of fact they are warm enough. In the summer weather the houses are airy, and as winter comes on the chinks are stopped by thatch and grass and the dwelling is kept at a hot-house heat by the warm breath of the cattle and sheep, which comes up through openings from the ground floor to the first floor where the family lives. Some houses have fire places, but as a rule the villagers depend for warmth in winter on their sheep. For lighting purposes they use, oil and in the higher villages torches made of pine wood are employed.
Broadly speaking the thatch roofed houses were in majority in villages, the birch bark roofs were seen only on religious shrines.
All most all the ancient village houses were rectangular in plan facing commonly to south and rarely to east, but never to north or west. The shrines excluding mosques and temples also faced to south. The site plan of the houses was measured in Asta’s (a local measuring unit equivalent to 2 ft’s) the plinth was formed of local stones called Kashir Ken (a bolder stone) usually extracted from Nallah beds (rivulet beds). Over the plinth was placed a row of wooden logs, locally known as ‘a Das’. It served as DPC which locked the plinth. The Das was followed by brick pillars. The plinth was kept wide and so were the brick pillars, the minimum width of the walls measured a meter.
The gaps in between the brick pillars were covered by Inderdus (earthern wall).
The linter was of wooden logs or axe cut planks which were placed on the row of wooden logs called Ked. It served as another lock of the entire structure.
Like towns and cities, the villagers also preferred to have their houses double and triple storeyed. The ground was usually occupied by cattle while the other two floors by the inmates. The upper floor which was called Kani was used in summers while the first floor was useful for winters.
Nowadays, things have changed drastically and concrete has found inroads in villages as much as in cities and towns. The classical glory, the splendid exhibition of natural elements is gone and there are fewer such villages which need to be preserved for future generations to see.