14th SAMAAJ KHAYAAL: Cultural Heritage of Gilgit Baltistan: Rock Carvings and Inscriptions

The NUMS Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities held its 14th session of “Samaaj Khayaal”- a monthly series, which aims to transcend disciplinary boundaries, find connections and bring to light issues of social relevance. The session titled “Cultural Heritage of Gilgit-Baltistan: Rock Carvings and Inscriptions” was held on September 22nd, 2021 at NUMS PWD Campus. Prof. Dr. Azam Chaudhary, who is currently serving as the Dean Social Sciences and Humanities and Professor of Anthropology at NUMS had kindly consented to be the guest speaker. With academic and professional expertise in Anthropology from University of Heidelberg, Germany and an extensive field research in the Gilgit Baltistan region, Dr. Azam took the audience to a journey of the region which boasts of a rich cultural heritage.

The session opened with Dr. Azam introducing the multidisciplinary onsite and online audience including students, faculty and management to the discipline of anthropology and its research approach i.e. field work and participant observation. Using the administrative and political maps of the region, he elaborated the various routes in Gilgit Baltistan region and the specific areas where rock carvings and inscriptions have been observed. Sharing anecdotes from the field, he also sketched the cultural context of the locale of his study which provided a glimpse into the political, religious, economic and social life of the people in the region. 

Discussing the significance of the rock carvings and inscriptions, Dr. Azam shared how the different types of artistic expressions found on natural cliffs, rocks, caves and surface of boulders, provide a view of the past life which also facilitates an understanding of the present day social realities. These artifacts form a sequence from the early pre-historic time to the historic period and are mostly on black hard rocks. Sharing pictures of a variety of rock art, the guest speaker uncovered the meanings behind the figure drawings, temples and inscriptions from different eras. He also narrated the stories of rituals, hunts and celebrations as observed in the rock carvings. He shared how project team members used to observe the rock art at different times of the day and night, owing to the changing sunlight and moonlight patterns that also changed the outlook of the rock art.

Following the presentation, audience asked the questions which were addressed by the guest speaker. It was discussed how the northern areas, along with providing a natural landscape of lakes, rivers, mountains and valleys was also home to a rich cultural heritage. An audience member mentioned how the various unplanned development projects should take into consideration the possible consequences to these rich cultural sites. Faculty and students alike highlighted the need to create awareness and sensitivity towards these artifacts and make attempts to document and preserve them.

The session ended with informal interaction over tea.