At Salar Jung Museum

On Sunday, Taraka took me to Salar Jung Museum, the third largest museum in the country, and a hot seat of cultural splendour containing antique pieces and artefacts from nearly all epochs of history.

The museum is considered to be the only museum that has the largest compilation of personally collected artefacts from across the world, and is situated on the southern bank of the Musi river.

As it was weekened, the place was crowded and there were several students standing patiently in a queue to enter the building.

After entering the museum, it was like a dream come true for me, for I loved to take long trips along the musty pages of history. After all, I studied History as one of my subjects in the college days 🙂

After entering the first room, Taraka and I realised that one needs to devote an entire day for touring the museum.

The semi-circular building was a magnificent architectural edifice with 38 galleries spread across two floors of an imperial building. Each gallery had its own specialty with one housing the Nizam’s personal belongings, another housing Indian artefacts. Others displayed a plethora of items ranging from paintings, musical instruments, preserved stages showcased in glass cabinets, Kashmiri furniture and handicrafts as well a multitude of other valued historical relics.

The Founder’s Gallery told the history about Salar Jung also. The existence of the museum is credited to Nawab Mir Yousuf Ali Khan or Salar Jung III as well as the Prime Minister of the seventh Nizam, whose passion lay in collecting priceless antiques. However, the collecting artefacts was started by his father Nawab Mir Laiq Ali Khan also known as Salar Jung II and his grand father Nawab Mir Turab Ali Khan known as Salar Jung I.

We also learnt that Salar Jung III spent millions of rupees over 35 years to collect artefacts. Salar Jung III was born on June 13, 1889 in an extremely wealthy family that produced five Prime Ministers. In 1912, at the age of 23 he became the Prime Minister to the Nizam, but resigned two-and-a-half-years later. Thereafter, antiques and art were the only passions in his lonely life.

Salar Jung spent half of his annual income (Rs 10 lakh) on his hobby. He collected everything, from the rarest relic to commonest bric-a-brac with the same excitement.

He died in 1949, a bachelor. He left behind 40,000 pieces scattered over 78 rooms of Dewan Devdi, his ancestral city palace, which were shifted to Afzalgunj’s Salar Jung Muesum in 1968, and was under the jurisdiction of the Governor of Andhra Pradesh, who was acting as the ex-officio chairperson under the Salar Jung Museum Act of 1961.

The portraits of the Salar Jung, the Nizams of the Hyderabad city can be found in the Founder’s Gallery.

The Indian art is exhibited in an assortment of stone sculptures, bronze images, painted textiles, wooden carvings, miniature paintings, modern art, ivory carvings, jade carvings, metal-ware, manuscripts, arms and armour and so on.

Middle Eastern Art in the collection of carpets, paper (manuscripts), glass, metal-ware, furniture, lacquer, collected from Persia, Arabia, Syria, and Egypt are also on display.

The museum also displays porcelain, bronze, enamel, lacquerware, embroidery and paintings, which have been skillfully done in China, Japan, Tibet, Nepal and Thailand.

The European chamber of artefacts in the Salar Jung Museum comprises of oil and water paintings from England, France, Italy and Germany.

I was astonished to see the beauty of the Veiled Rebecca statue carved by Italian sculptor Giovanni Maria Benzoni. It is an amazing white marble statue which is splendidly carved. In the Hebrew Bible, Rebecca is the bride of Isaac. She is covered in a transparent veil during their wedding. This sculpture represents innocence and purity, as Giovanni Benzoni skillfully creates the appearance of a transparent veil, an outstanding artistic creation. Rebecca is seen drawing her veil about her before being presented to her future husband.

It is believed that Benzioni made four copies of this statue. One is among the collection at the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad. There is also a copy at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia (USA). Another one, completed in 1866, is in the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (USA). An interesting difference between the Veiled Rebecca statue at the Salar Jung Museum and the other statues is that the statue at Salar Jung draws her veil with her right hand while the other copies do so with the left hand.

The crafted knives of Mughal Emperor Jehangir and Queen Noor Jehan were other attractions.

When we were making the rounds, we found many people sitting in a gallery looking curisously at something and when we joined them, we saw a huge clock in which a tiny soldier comes out to strike the gong. The entire process was even displayed on a LCD screen to help the visitors. The top half of the clock showed a rustic scene: a blacksmith beating the seconds on his anvil. A huge bell hung silent in the centre, but everyone’s eyes were on the left where a door remained shut. At the appointed time, the door opened and a military looking man stood on the threshold. With a few seconds to spare, he took a step forward, and with a hammer in his hand, banged out the hour on the bell and the door again was shut for another hour.

The museum will be open on all days except Fridays and public holidays between 10 am and 5 pm.

In nutshell:

Gallery 1 and 2 or the Founders gallery: Personal artefacts, mementos received and portraits of the Salar Jungs and the Nizams. Royal clothes, porcelain and silver bowls, books furniture like the ceremonial throne used by Salar Jung III.

Gallery 3 and 3A: Indian art and articles. Indian textiles; bronze images of Jain, Buddhist and Hindu deities dating back to later Pallava and Chola periods; stone sculptures including a Bharhut rail slab, standing Buddha statue, Ananthasayi Vishnu, red stone sculptures of Kushanas and so on; brass idols belonging to the period of Pallavas, Cholas and Kakatiyas dynasty and brass articles belonging to Vijayanagar dynasty; Pancha Teertha Jaina statue, statues of Somaskadha, Shiva and Nataraja in Ananda Tandava posture, Narasimha, Ganesha and so on; Kalamkari paintings on cloth with various scenes of Ramayana, ‘Parvati Kalyana’, Lord Krishna along with Gopis and so on.

Gallery 4 and 5: Minor arts of South India and wood carvings. Statue of Vishnu of 1st and 2nd centuries found in Nagarjuna hill; wooden chairs, doors, statue of gods, carved screens, chariot wheels and so on. There is also a brass carving of ‘Rama Pattabhisheka’ from Thailand.

Gallery 6: Printed and embroidered fabrics in cotton, silk and wool belonging to Indian culture. Brocades woven with silver and gold thread, silk saris of south India, Kashmiri shawls, muslin waistcloth, famous ‘phulkari’ embroidery work from Punjab, appliqué temple hangings from Rajasthan, zari coats, chicken work from Lucknow and so on.

Gallery 9,10 and 11: Children’s section. Has a collection of toys from across the world. Puppets, model trains and objects acquired by Salar Jung III during his childhood.

Gallery 12: Stags, deer and other animals in glass cabinets.

Gallery 14: Carved ivory works belonging to 18th and 19th century. Ivory chairs presented to Tipu Sultan by Louis XV of France, inlaid tables, early 20th century German circus figures, chess sets, mat with ivory thread, lantern from Mysore and so on.

Gallery 15 and 16: Metal ware and European artefacts including the world famous statue of Veiled Rebecca, her beautiful face hazily visible through a flimsy marble veil. Another equally famous sculpture is a 19th century double-figure sycamore wood carving done by G.H. Benzoni, an Italian sculptor. The front view of the figure shows the facade of Mephistopheles and the back view of the figure showing Margaretta seen reflected in the mirror placed behind.

Gallery 16A: Guns, daggers, shields and swords, including that of Mughal emperor Aurangazeb, Tipu Sultan, Mohammad Shah and from the Qutb Shahi period with engravings of the Dasavatara and so on.

Gallery 17 and 17 A: Ornately decorated metal ware like huqqa, trays and so on; oil paintings by Ravi Verma and Abanindranath Tagore.

Gallery 18: Indian miniatures like Mughal, Rajasthani, Pahari and Deccani paintings.

Gallery 20: European paintings. The vast collection includes ‘Piazzo of San Marco’ by Antonio Canaletto (1697-1768), ‘Soap Bubbles’ by Fransesco Hayez of Italy, 19th century work, ‘Venice’ by Marc Aldine of Italy, and so on.

Gallery 21 to 23: European pottery, furniture, bronzes and glassware. Pottery items ranging from Dresden (Germany), Sevres (France), Capodimonte (Italy) to Wedgewood and English porcelain.

Gallery 24: Glass ware from England, Austria, Ireland, Venice, France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Turkey and so on.

Gallery 25: Stunning exhibits of jade. Jade imported from abroad were carved intricately and inlaid with stones by Indian artists. The workmanship can be seen in the dainty jade wine bowl, wine cups with leaf and flower motifs, swords, small jade platters used by the Salar Jungs and inscribed jade book stand of Altamash (1209-10 AD), hunting knife of Mughal Emperor Jehangir, fruit knife of Mughal Empress Noor Jehan (17th century), 17th century dark green jade inscribed archery ring of Mughal emperor Shah Jehanand so on.

Gallery 28: Clock room is one of the best galleries displaying over 300 clocks in various sizes ranging from Sandiers to modern day huge pieces. There are tiny pieces set in magnifying glasses to huge and stately grandfather clocks from France, England, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. An interesting exhibit here is a musical clock from Cook and Kelvy of England with a toy figure of a watchman, who pushes open the door every hour in a great hurry, to beat the melodious gong to indicate time.

Gallery 29: Ancient and rare collection of manuscripts in Arabic, Urdu and Persian languages. It includes the great Arabic Al Quran in Nashq (1288 AD) done by calligrapher Yakut-al-Must’sami bearing the autographs of Mughal emperors, Jehangir, Shahjehan and Aurangzeb; Roudat-ul-Muhabbin by Amir Hussaini Saadat (1329 A.D.); Urdu poetic composition Diwan-e-Mohamed Quli Qutub Shah (1595 A.D.) done by Quli Qutub Shah himself acquired from the Golconda Royal Library and so on.

Gallery 31 to 36: Far east and Chinese and Japanese porcelain. The display includes pieces from Sung (960-70); Yuan(1279-13650 Ming and Ching periods.

Gallery 32: Kashmiri room with arts and crafts from Kashmir.

Apart from the galleries, there is a reference Library, reading room, publication and education section, chemical conservation lab, sales counter, cafeteria and so on.

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