History In Shambles

Set up to preserve the cultural heritage under Dogra regime, Srinagar’s Sri Pratap Singh Museum is nowadays lying in shambles. Not only are the historical artefacts and exhibits lying unattended and undocumented but they require urgent restorative care to stop their decay, Tasavur Mushtaq reports.

Photo: Bilal Bahadur

Located on the banks of Jehlum river in Srinagar, Sri Pratap Singh Museum was set up in 1898 by the Dogra rulers of Jammu and Kashmir state to house artefacts of Jammu, Kashmir, Baltistan and Gilgit region. The museum which houses around 2400 objects was supposed to be the refuge of the Kashmir’s rich cultural heritage but, over the years, there has not only been a gradual dwindling of artefacts and exhibits but the ones left at the museum are facing a threat of extinction due to lack of proper documentation and preservation.

Last year, the Valley Citizens Council led by Imdaad Saqi, a journalist, filed a petition before J&K High Court seeking necessary protection and conservation of artefacts, monuments, and excavation sights, accountability of missing artefacts and return of antique valuables that have been displaced from the museum.

The court passed an order on July 26, 2012, and a committee comprising of three senior officers was constituted to look into the issue and make its recommendations. In its report filed on December 7, 2012, the committee raised questions about the functioning of the government to manage the most important asset of the past and highlighted some grave issues.

The report stated that a large number of items have been given on loan to Central Asian Museum at the University of Kashmir in 1980 and to some institutes outside the state while some items have been seized by the state’s anti-corruption department on August 1, 1984.

“In 1955, the state assembly passed a resolution under which the state archaeology department was given under the control of Central Archaeology Department with its all assets and staff with the result the department of archaeology, research and museum disintegrated. The research wing was separated and the historic museum lost its grace.” SPS Museum is presently under J&K state archives, archaeology and museums department.

The committee found that the general accession register and original record of artefacts at the museum carried certain insertions and cuttings. Also, a few of the classification registers and their respective entries are without attestation by the competent authority. “Accession registers pertaining to silver and gold coins, and anthropology sections are without attestation. The register pertaining to the archaeology section has got maximum cuttings and insertions,” the report reads.

Photo: Bilal Bahadur

To preserve artefacts on modern lines, the government had started construction of building in September 2007 at an estimated cost of Rs 30.74 crore for civil works and Rs 17.29 crore for interior designing including consultancy charges. But the committee found that the maximum objects of museum collection are deteriorating due to poor and lack of conservation.

The report claims that the museum was understaffed with certain objects of archaeology and coins section lying in the custody of the anti-corruption department, municipal magistrate Kulgam and Shergarhi police station in Srinagar.

Out of the total 685 items in the painting section, five accounts have been transferred to the University of Kashmir’s Central Asian Museum. While a portion of Hazrat Shah Hamdan’s portrait is available in the museum, the authorities have recovered ten times cost from the person who misplaced the painting of Radha Krishna.

There are 342 undocumented items in textile gallery section where Pashmina shawls, Shah Pasand Kani shawls and antique carpets are housed, of which nine have been transferred to Kashmir University while 30 per cent items require immediate restorative attention. The anthropology section has 60 items; all of them attested but without photo documentation.

As per the report, a few of 623 items lying at natural history gallery were transferred to Moti Lal Nehru Children Centre, Lucknow on November 8, 1958. The arms and armoury gallery has 357 items; one rifle with a bayonet made during the reign of Maharaja Ranbir Singh has been transferred to Shimla Museum on September 26, 1973.

The decorative art gallery displaying the art of Kashmir with 1120 items is also without any proper photo documentation. More than two dozen items have been transferred to the University of Kashmir and Moti Lal Nehru Children Centre, Lucknow

The priceless manuscript of the Holy Quran written with an ink blended with gold and saffron by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb was stolen from the museum on September 11, 2003, with the J&K police declaring it untraceable. Stolen item apart, most unbounded manuscripts are being consumed by insects with a part of the rare Gilgit manuscript lying deteriorated.

The numismatics gallery is the most affected with coins transferred to other institutions including the museum in Shimla, Moti Lal Nehru Children Centre, Lucknow and the University of Kashmir. In the missing list are coins seized by the municipal court, Kulgam, in 1967 and till date are in their possession.

The committee says the objects are yet to be verified by a mineral expert in geology and mineral gallery where 900 objects are present. The same concern has been raised for jewellery whose authenticity and genuineness is to be verified.

The petitioners alleged that besides in-house artefacts, sculptures lying in the garden of the museum are subjected to weathering, with nothing to shield them from the effects of climate. Urging for restoration, the petition says the legacy of Kashmir’s ancient and medieval past will be “wiped off forever if the present situation is not brought under control.”

The experts have suggested a number of measures including proper maintenance of records, attestation of entries, conservation treatment and to continuously assess the state of preservation. Besides, the committee suggested setting up proper storage facilities using technology to protect the artefacts, steps to take possession of seized antiquities, and early shift to the new building.

“The periodical inspection of the museum objects whether kept in reserve collection or in display need to be done to access the state of their preservation. Sophisticated storage lockers should be purchased so that the objects kept in the reserve can have better and safe storage,” the reports says.

The report also recommended improving the security of the museum galleries by enhancing the staff strength and installing CCTV cameras in the museum galleries.

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