The Report – SAARC Research Seminar on Islamic Cultural Trails: Journey through Time and Space – Minarets and Mosques, Tombs, Trade, Tradition and Technology
Kabul Serena Hotel, Afghanistan
From 28th to 30th August 2019
The third SAARC Research Seminar on “South Asian Cultural Trails” approved by the 14th SAARC Summit held in Kathmandu in 2014 was held in Kabul, Afghanistan under the theme “Islamic Cultural Trails: Journey through Time and Space – Minarets and Mosques, Tombs, Trade, Tradition and Technology”. This was held in collaboration with the Archaeology Institute of Afghanistan which was named by the Government of Afghanistan. Honoured Member States of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka nominated Official participants while the Member State of Maldives forwarded the documents of one Other Participant. All participant details were received through the SAARC Secretariat. Participation details are as follows:
- Afghanistan – 15 Official Nominees, 12 Other participants,
- Bangladesh – 5 Official Nominees,
- India – 1 Official Nominee, 3 other participants,
- Maldives – 1 Other participant,
- Pakistan – 4 Official Nominees,
- Sri Lanka – 4 Official Nominees, 1 Other participant.
The Research Seminar had 4 sessions and 20 papers were discussed during these sessions which were under the themes of Archaeology, Architecture, Architecture and Intangible Cultural Heritage. The papers included both analytical and documentative research on the historical developments, archaeological and architectural findings and conservation and current status of Islamic sites in their respective countries with emphasis on the tangible and intangible elements of Islamic culture, art, and traditions.
The inauguration of the Seminar was held at the Kabul Serena Hotel on 28th August 2019 with the patronage of H.E. Ms. Hasina Safi, Acting Minister of Information and Culture of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. H.E. Ms. Hasina Safi, H.E. Mulawi Abdul Hakim Munir Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs in Afghanistan, H.E. Air Chief Marshal Mr. Gagan Bulathsinghala Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Afghanistan, Ms. Renuka Ekanayake Director of the SAARC Cultural Centre and Mr. Noor Agha Noori Director of the Archaeology Institute of Afghanistan were at the head table.
The inauguration started with the singing of the national anthem of Afghanistan followed by a Quran recitation to invoke blessings for the Seminar. Mr. Noor Agha Noori, Director of the Archaeology Institute of Afghanistan (AIA) made the welcome speech. Ms. Renuka Ekanayake, Director of the SAARC Cultural Centre introduced the concept of South Asian Cultural Trails in her address and stated that SAARC Region has mutually enriched, nourished and nurtured exclusive and shared aspects of our cultural heritage, creating a culture which is united in its diversity. H.E. Ms. Hasina Safi acting Minister of Information and Culture welcomed the delegates to Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul and remarked that common cultures of South Asia is the strength that bind the Region together and therefore she stressed the importance of making efforts to protect common traditions of the past so that they would be a guide for next generations in the respective countries. Further, she requested the SAARC Member States to give emphasis on the role of women in culture.
Message from H.E. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was read out by Head of Bakhtar News Agency, Mr. Najibullah Shinwari. In his message, President Ghani emphasized that cultural heritages and works from past were key elements in studying the human history, so they need to be protected. Afghanistan playing a pivotal role in the Islamic heritage and culture in Central and South Asia in the past, has a key role to play in this regard.
Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs, H.E. Mulawi Abdul Hakim Munir also addressed the gathering emphasizing the importance of preserving both tangible and intangible cultural heritage for posterity and the importance in investing in cultural heritage of a country.
Ms. Patricia McPhillips UNESCO representative in Afghanistan, representatives from the Kabul University and the Academy of Sciences in Afghanistan also shared congratulated the event and shared their views of the importance of such academic discussion. Vote of Thanks was delivered by Ms. Bindu Urugodawatte, Deputy Director Research of the SAARC Cultural Centre.
Mr. Rasul Bawary, Deputy Minister of Culture, Government of Afghanistan, Mr. Abhishek Singh Deputy Head of Mission from the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan and Mr. Muhammad Iqbal of the Indonesian Embassy in Afghanistan, Mr. Shafiq Ahmadzai, Director of the National Museum in Kabul Mr. Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, Executive Secretary to the Minister of Information and Culture, Government of Afghanistan, etc., were among the distinguished invitees at the inauguration.
The Ambassador of Sri Lanka in Afghanistan H.E. Air Chief Marshal Gagan Bulathsinghala invited the participants for dinner as the host Member State of the SAARC Cultural Centre. Deputy Minister of Culture Prof. Bawary, Mr. Shafiq Ahmadzai, etc., also graced this occasion.
A plenary session jointly chaired by Mr. Noor Agha Noori, Director of the Archaeology Institute of Afghanistan and Ms. Bindu Urugodawatte, Deputy Director Research of the SAARC Cultural Centre was held to discuss the current issues related to development of archaeology, art, architecture and research in the SAARC Region. Suggestions included themes for future activities, to have a past participant of the SAARC Cultural Centre as a focal point in each country to facilitate the process, training programme requirements were discussed.
Cultural Tour – City of Herat, National Museum of Kabul and the Babur Gardens in Kabul
The international participants of the Seminar, accompanied by some of the Afghan participants who were experts joined in an excursion the ancient city of Herat on 29th August 2019. Participants were able to visit Guzargah the shrine complex of Khwaja Abdullah Ansari dating from 11th to 15th century CE and recently restored was the first stop of the tour. Minarets of Herat and Gowhar Shad Begam Mausoleum dated 15th century was our next stop, the five remaining minarets with their beautiful brick and tile work was enjoyed by all and decorative art and architectural details were discussed at length. The next stop was the newly restored ancient citadel of Herat (Qala Iktyaruddin) and the Museum within the Citadel and the medieval period water reservoir. Our last stop in Herat was the Jami Masjid of Herat also known as the Blue Mosque which has been in existence since the 13th century CE. The most interesting part of the visit to the mosque was the introduction to the intangible heritage of tile making by hand a craft which is in danger of extinction. The Director of the Department of Culture of the Herat Province accompanied us in this tour and provided all researchers with the information and happily answered our questions.
On the 30th August 2019 brief visits were made to the National Museum in Kabul accompanied by the Director of the Museum Mr. Mr. Mohammad Fahim Rahimi and the Babur’s Garden (Bagh e Babur) in Kabul, facilitated and escorted by Mr. Ahmad Shah Wardag, General Manager of the Babur’s Garden.
The Closing Ceremony was hosted by the acting Minister of Information and Culture Ms. Hasina Safi and presided by the Deputy Minister of Culture of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Prof. Rasul Bawary as the H. E. Safi was suddenly called away. The Closing Ceremony was held at the newly restored Chilstoon Garden (also spelled as Chihilsitoon Garden) in Kabul from 6:30pm onwards. Mr. Noor Agha Noori, Director of the Archaeology Institute of Afghanistan made the opening remarks and the Deputy Minister of Culture Prof. Bawary At the Closing Ceremony certificates were awarded to all participants and the Archaeology Institute of Afghanistan gave some valuable books as gifts to the international participants. The participants were entertained by miming theatrical performance of peace and a traditional music performance. Atan the national dance of Afghanistan was performed by the Afghan participants and enjoyed by all. This was followed by a traditional Afghan dinner.