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She spent 2 decades collecting rare artefacts from around J&K, a new museum now gives them a home | India News


Inside a palatial building on the outskirts of Sopore, Muzamil Bashir proudly pointed to an intricate two-foot-long wooden artefact. “It looks exactly like an ear dangler. In olden times, it was used to beautify the rooftops of the houses of the elite. They are no longer used now,” he said.

The artefact was one of thousands housed in the building, which is now Jammu and Kashmir’s first major private museum, Meeras Mahal, showcasing the cultural heritage of the region. Bashir is the president of Meeras Mahal Trust, which runs the museum.

For two decades, his aunt, Atiqa Bano, scoured the villages of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh – from Gurez to Poonch to Leh – tirelessly collecting the artefacts.

Six years after her death, her enormous collection is being showcased in the museum, which opened its doors to the public last month. The vast, three-storey museum houses 7,000 artefacts, including jewellery, pottery, relics of grass craftsmanship, and Kashmir’s traditional, intricate and rare woodwork.

“Every piece of this museum is a relic, has a history behind it and a story of how it got here,” said Bashir. He accompanied Bano on almost every expedition. “It has been an arduous task, only she (Bano) could have embarked on,” he said.

Festive offer

Bano believed that one could not move forward without seeing the past. Her passion for collecting historical artefacts developed when she was J&K’s Director of Libraries and Research. After she retired in 2001, she devoted most of her time and energy to the preservation of relics.

jammu and kashmir museum The vast, three-storey museum houses 7,000 artefacts, including jewellery, pottery, relics of grass craftsmanship, and Kashmir’s traditional, intricate and rare woodwork. (Express Photo)

“I don’t think there is a village in the Valley that we have not travelled to in search of these artefacts,” said Bashir. “She was old, but she never let her age get in the way of her passion.”

Recalling an incident from the early 2000s, Bashir said Bano asked him one morning to get ready to go to Gurez, a remote area on the Line of Control that remains cut off for more than three months. At the time, even officials would stay away fearing cross-border firing and mortar shells.

“It was 2003 or 2004. One morning, she asked me to get ready and we set off for Gurez in a Maruti 800 car. The road was so treacherous that everyone looked at us in shock,” Bashir said.

“We reached Gurez in the evening. We were so tired that we couldn’t even move a limb, so we went to the guesthouse and slept. In the morning, the staff of the guesthouse frantically knocked on our door. When we woke up, we realised that a shell from across the border had hit our window during the night. We were so tired that we had no idea. The staff had presumed we were dead.”

For two decades, Bano collected old musical instruments, rare, hand-written manuscripts, old metal jewellery, 400-year-old earthen pots and terracotta tiles.

She ran a College of Education after her retirement, and displayed these artefacts – a few hundred of them in 2004 – in a 20-foot by 12-foot room there.

As people started dropping in, she was inspired to search for more. By 2016, when illness stopped her from travelling, she had collected around 7,000 artefacts, and displayed those in several hostel rooms of her college.

She died at the age of 77 in 2017, and it was several years later that her dream of setting up a museum came true.

The Delhi-based SPAN Foundation, a non-profit that also focuses on the preservation of cultural heritage, together with the Kashmir chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), decided to turn the college hostel into a modern museum building inspired by the traditional architecture of Kashmir.

“I could not have thought of a better project to be associated with,” said Jaspreet Kaur, trustee of the SPAN Foundation. “Atiqa Bano ji lived a remarkable and fascinating life… Her most remarkable achievement has been the creation of a huge repository of artefacts through door-to-door collections. Through her collection and cataloguing, she ensured the preservation of crafts and artefacts of Kashmir,” she said.

While a large number of artefacts are on display at the museum, there are hundreds more still waiting to be put on display.





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