Rohtas Fort conservation begins with glitzy show
By Shahzad Raza
ISLAMABAD: The labourers building Rohtas Fort for Ustad-e-Badshahaan, Sher Shah Suri, back in 1541could not have imagined how a project to restore their work to its original lustre would be kicked off.
The Wednesday-evening extravaganza at the fort that opened the conservation project attracted some high profile personalities, including General Pervez Musharraf and his wife Sehba. They were treated to a sound and light show sketching the rise and fall of the great ruler of Hindustan and exquisite fireworks to formally inaugurate the project.
The sound and light show portraying the life of Sher Shah Suri was presented by Serendip Productions. “It was a memorable experience,” chief guest Gen Musharraf said. “There is an abundance of talent in Pakistan that can put on such shows.” He told the audience he had seen sound and light shows at the pyramids, “but this was something unique”.
Gen Musharraf said a nation’s cultural heritage was a source of pride, besides and attraction to foreign and local tourists. He regretted that the conservation of cultural heritage had never been on a Pakistani government’s agenda. “We are performing poorly in this respect.” He said public-private partnerships were a good way to conserve heritage sites.
He said a restored Rohtas Fort would make foreign dignitaries’ visits to Islamabad more interesting. “Whenever a high profile foreign official visits Islamabad, we have little option but to take them to the Faisal Mosque,” he said.
A number of dignitaries, diplomats, high-ranking government officials and corporate heads attended the event, which was sponsored by Shell Pakistan.
The outstanding drama on Sher Shah Suri’s life showed the young Fareed Khan (Sher Shah’s real name) as an amiable, personable and highly ambitious son of Mian Hassan, a soldier and a landlord. Young Fareed’s energies are poured into administration and military tactics, but he finds time to fall in love with Rajput princess Chandravati.
After achieving some token victories, the ambitious Fareed turns his cavalry to his arch-enemy, Mughal Emperor Humayun. The young general’s innovative use of strategy to exploit his enemy’s weaknesses put Humayun on the run. After dethroning the Mughal emperor, he adopts the title of Sher Shah Suri.
During his five-year rule, Sher Shah Suri reveals his excellent administrative skills to build several forts and the Grand Trunk Road, which became the most important commercial track in India. He also introduced a government that believes in social justice. The manner of his death is still disputed among historians.
Sher Shah Suri built the strong fortified complex at Rohtas after defeating Humayun. The main fortifications consist of large walls more than 4 kilometres long; they are lined with bastions and pierced by monumental gateways. The fort is an exceptional example of Muslim military architecture in South Asia.
In his speech, Shell Pakistan President Farooq Rahmatullah said his company was committed to the conservation of Rohtas Fort as part of its social responsibility programme.
Culture Minister Rais Munir Ahmad said that the restoration of Rohtas was an immense undertaking which would require many years of support from all sectors of society.
However, not everyone was full of praise at the event. Some guests criticised the conservation work on one of the fort’s gates, the Chand Wali Gate, saying it looked unprofessional.
According to others, the lavishly organised function must have cost the organisers nearly Rs 3 million, money that might have been better spent on conservation rather than in giving Pakistan’s business elite a few hours of entertainment.
As the president and other high profile guests visited the fort, hundreds of commandos and policemen roamed around inside and outside the fort for security.
The conservation of Rohtas Fort is being carried out by the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation, Ministry of Culture, Shell Pakistan and National Fund for Cultural Heritage.