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Museums in JK reflect its cultural heritage

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By: Mohammad Hanief

The historical revelations of Jammu Kashmir are beautifully displayed in its museums. It boasts of rich history laden with nobility of its various rulers and deep impact of invaders. It has been in existence since mythological era. What makes it more intriguing is the beauty with which these magnificent structures are still standing tall and proud. It is a delight for historians with numerous excavations relating to bygone eras and evidences of most powerful dynasties having ruled over this land.

Jammu and Kashmir has remained as a centre of cultural and social hub as its heritage has been preserved by the museums that display the daily affair, regality and the cultural wealth as they stand witness to the execution of sculptures of various gods which acted as the benchmark of the culture which goes back from seventh and eleventh centuries.

Museum in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh behold various items including paintings, shawls, arms, utensils of copper, Ladakhi handicrafts and silver images. Other items of archeology include terracotta tiles, pottery, stone and metal substance wchic date back to the time of the 2nd to 12th century Anno Domini. Another vivid description included the life size statues of Vishnu, Shiva and even Bhuddha. Also highlighted are the great art of calligraphy in Arabic and Persian scripts which highlight the excellent art of the state. Not only that, clothing and even libraries are present in some museums.

Other than this, Excotic and rare works of art are here from various schools of art like Jammu, Kangra and Basoli. They have been displaying the beauty of the art for the viewer’s eyes. Photographs are also well preserved in the state meuseum which depict the architecture which was seen in palaces, forts and the temples along with weapons etc. Apart from that, Fine example of Metallurgy from the era of the Mughals is also put on display in these museums.

Amar Mahal Museum – Jammu

This is a palace turned into museum. This splendid structure in the city of Jammu is inspired from French Chateau in its architectural style. It was the official residence for Maharaja Amar Singh, the last Dogra King and descendant of Suryavanshi clan of Rajputs. The striking design of this palace attracts visitors with a distinctive charm and its artifacts. It was designed and built in 1890s by a French architect. Until 1967, it was used by the royal Dogra family of Jammu. Then in 1975, it was converted into museum and library by Dr. Karan Singh. This museum carved in red sandstone is also called as Dogra Hall of Museum. It is run by Hari-Tara Charitable trust.

Rarest artifacts related to Pahari and Dogra culture are displayed in Amar Mahal Museum. It has an exquisite throne belonging to Maharaja Hari Singh. This throne made from gold weighing 120 kg is beautifully designed with golden lions on all its sides. It is placed in an enclosed hexagonal room of the palace and can be viewed through glass chambers.

Dogra Art Museum – Jammu

This is a significant museum in Jammu Kashmir. It is located in the Pink Hall of famous Mubarak Mandi complex in Jammu. It houses many artifacts of historical significance. This museum was opened in 1954 at Gandhi Bhawan of Jammu. Later on, in 1991, it was shifted to Mubarak Mandi complex. It has rarest collection of miniature paintings from Basholi and Dogra School of art. It also displays other relics like metal objects, manuscripts, Akhnoor terracotta heads, Dogra dresses, jewelries, sculptures, and decorative art pieces. But the most outstanding treasure of this museum is the golden bow and arrow of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.

Also, there are Persian manuscripts of Shahnama and Sikandarnama. This museum is an excellent place to explore the martial culture of Dogra kings. It houses their weapons and warfare like swords, pistols, guns, daggers, arm plates, helmets, chains, etc. Due to its diversified and rich collection, this museum is a prime attraction of J&K. It holds special significance for history and archeology enthusiasts. While visiting Mubarak Mandi Complex, you must plan a visit to Dogra Art Museum.

Shri Pratap Singh Museum – Srinagar

This museum is located in famous Lal Mandi area of Srinagar. It was earlier the summer palace of kings in Kashmir. Later, it was established as museum in 1898 by Maharaja Pratap Singh. The sole purpose behind establishing this museum was conservation of cultural and archeological reminiscences of Jammu and Kashmir along with Baltistan and Gilgit regions. Kashmir is one of the earliest human settlements which are more than 5000 years old. As such, it has rich arts scattered all over its landscape and an enviable cultural heritage to share with the world.

Artifacts displayed in this museum include rare terracotta heads related to 3rd century AD. In the archeological section of Shri Pratap Singh Museum, you can explore collection of terracotta and metal art pieces from excavation sites of Pandrethan, Avantipora, Parihaspur, Ushkur (Baramulla), and Harwan. These plaques display the artistic richness of Kashmiris. There are figurines of Lord Buddha and other Buddhist deities in this museum along with Ladakhi artifacts, paintings, shawls, arms, and coins. The most significant feature of this museum is an ancient brass model of Lokeswara and a green stone sculpture of Lord Vishnu sitting on the Garuda. Along with many other Dogra style showpieces, weapons, utensils, furniture, carpets, textiles, leather, willow articles, and musical instruments, there is a copper image of Buddha carved in Gandhara style in this museum to allure you with its sheer magnificence.

Craft Museum – Srinagar

Craft Museum is one of the best museums in Srinagar as it exhibits the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir handicrafts. They house a collection of antique arte facts from different cultures in Kashmir. The museum provides an array of gallery pieces and traditions. In addition, they offer the designs of Kashmir handicrafts in a design unit called the school of designs more colour and life. The museum has a collection of antique artefacts from several Kashmiri traditions, including Kani shawls, papier-mache, Sozni embroidery, copperware, and Namdha carpets. They truly become a treasure of masterpiece designs. They have many creations of new designs and reorientated old designs and articles had to be made to catch the market to boost the industry. The model has done an excellent job by building on old designs and creating thousands of new designs.

Kanchenjunga Museum – Gulmarg

It is an Army warfare museum in Gulmarg. This museum is located within High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) of Indian Army. Here, various tools and equipments used by military since 1947 for mountain climbing and mountaineering are displayed. It was set up in memory of Indian Army’s first summit to Kanchenjunga in 1997.

All other successful expeditions including the one to Mount Everest are also displayed in this museum. There are two sand models separately prepared for each expedition along with equipments used to scale the heights of Himalayas by military personnel over the years. For the young breed of soldiers, it instills confidence to cross the toughest terrains of valley including glaciers, ridges, and streams.

Stok Palace Museum – Leh

This museum situated within Stok Palace must be a part of your itinerary while travelling to Ladakh. It has beautiful artifacts related to royal family of Ladakh on display. This palace is still used by Royal family to reside during summers. One room of this royal manor has been specially designed and converted into museum. Here, you can explore the valuable possessions of royal and nobles of this region.

There are ancient copper coins, tea kits, crowns, heirlooms, jewelries, equipments, gemstones, and items related to their traditions. It also houses sacred Dzi stones also called ‘Pure Happiness Pearls’ and 16th Century Thangkas that depict various teachings of Buddha. In this museum, one can also catch glimpse of a priceless gold crown embellished with corals, rubies, and lapis lazuli. It is still worn by the Head of Royal Family of Ladakh on special occasions. There are also swords coupled with knot by King Tashi Phutgal for displaying his power and strength.

The museum has quickly become a must-visit destination for tourists seeking to delve into the region’s heritage, boasting an impressive collection of vintage photographs, antique arms, and other unique artifacts.

(The author is a regular columnist and can be mailed at [email protected])

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