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Historical shrine gutted, Srinagar tense

A historical shrine of an 11th century saint, Peer Dastigeer, has been gutted in a fire that broke out early in the morning today.

india Updated: Jun 25, 2012 18:17 IST

A historical shrine of an 11th century saint, Peer Dastigeer, has been gutted in a fire that broke out early in the morning on Monday.

The incident which led to clashes between police and protestors has left many injured, some seriously. According to police, 20 people including 10 policemen were injured in the clashes.

Considered to be one of the most revered shrines of Kashmir, the 206-year wooden structure of the Shrine, which for centuries has been the seat of spiritualism as well as sufism in the valley, housed relics of Shiekh Abdul Qadir Geelani, an Islamic preacher who is highly esteemed by Muslims across the world.

Sheikh Qadir is considered the patron Saint of the Kurds and is held in great veneration by the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. Among followers in Pakistan and India, he is also known as Ghaus-e-Azam. Reverence for the 11th century saint in Kashmir cuts across religious barriers.

While Muslims call the saint Ghaus-e-Azam, the Hindus revere the saint as Kahnoow.

While the structure is completely damaged, the Shrine authorities however say all holy relics have been saved.

An adjacent under construction structure was also damaged in the blaze, which reportedly has been brought under control.

"Today morning fire broke out in the Ziyarat Dastgeer Sahib, Khanyar, Srinagar, in which the shrine and Jamia Qadeem got damaged. The roof of the Zanan Khana and Jamia Jadeed also got damaged. The holy relics of the shrine are safe," said Ali Mohammad Sagar, law minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

According to officials the fire broke out early in the morning, around 6.15am when the morning prayers were on, short circuit is suspected.

Eyewitnesses said the fire started from one of the top minarets of the shrine, hence could not be doused manually.

"The Shrine authorities managed to save the relics as they were in a fire proof vault," said an official.

The government has constituted a committee headed by the divisional commissioner to ascertain the cause of fire.

While authorities are trying to investigate the reasons behind the fire, the damage to shrine has led to wide spread agitation in the valley.

The old city in Srinagar, where the Shrine was located is tense, something that can worry the government in peak tourist season.

Blaming authorities for late 'action' the devotees resorted to stone pelting at many places in the vicinity of the shrine.

"It was a minor fire but fire brigade reached an hour late, besides out of the four fire engines three hardly had water," said Altaf Ahmad, a devotee.

"Fire station is just a few kilometers away, by the time they reached fire had spread. Initially only two trucks were sent and they too didn't have enough water," added another local resident Manzoor Ahmad.

"We sent two fire tenders first but the water wasn't enough, so we had to ask for more engines and generators," said a fire official on the spot.

"Three of our firemen have been assaulted and they had to be hospitalised," he added.

The clashes have led to heightened security in the entire valley. Most of the routes to the shrine have been blocked by the security agencies and movement is restricted in the police stations adjacent to the area.

Most of the markets in the vicinity observed spontaneous shut down. The separatists have however called for a 'hartal' in the entire valley on Tuesday.

"We received 40 casualities, three of them are serious and have been refered to SMHS and Sheri Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences," said Dr Masarat Saheen, MS of Gausia Hospital near the Shrine.

Most injured received burn injuries while trying to save the relics from the Dargah or during clashes with stonethrowers.

Police however said situation was under control.

"We are trying to investigate what happened. Things are under control and there is no curfew on at any place in the city," said SSP Srinagar, Ashiq Bhukari.

The shrine is an old traditional architectural structure made mostly of timber, with walls and ceilings made of hand carved wood and paper machie.

The shrine had many antique chandeliers which adorned the centre of the big hall, where people visiting the shrine would pray.

A new adjacent under structure was also damaged in the blaze. Despite being a heritage structure, new buildings were allowed to come up near the shrine.