The Family Gold

A Jammu jewellers’ family owns some of the rarest pieces of Islamic calligraphy and it includes two specimens of the Quran which require a magnifying glasses and are extremely rare, reports Masood Hussain

These drawings are nearly a century old but it seems as fresh as if they were drawn yesterday. The Jammu family has meticulously invested in the collections of their grand-father’s treasure and it is perhaps one of the rarest collections of the Islamic art as well.

Suresh Abrol at the Srinagar exhibition in June 2018. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

There are three items which are exclusively distinct. One is a series of portraits that have been drawn with golden ink on vellum. These are names of the Allah and certain small chapters from the holy Quran. Drawing on vellum is an old practice. Vellum is basically a translucent or opaque material produced from calfskin that had been soaked, limed and un-haired, and then dried at normal temperature under tension. The painter whose name is not known has drawn the names of the Allah on the Vellum and it looks fresh.

The second is a collection of two hand-written pieces of the Quran. One is in the form of a scroll and another is a square sheet. The scroll is basically the handmade paper and the square sheet is a cloth. In both the cases, the Quran has been written by a pen and it needs magnifying glasses to read it.

“Earlier, we were keeping the scrolls folded but then we sought advice from some experts who said it will get damaged and must be mounted on a sheet and framed,” said Suresh Abrol. “We did exactly what the experts said. And since then we do not have worries.”

The third is a unique drawing listing various Abraham prophets from diverse sources. Also written with golden ink, the peculiarity of this scroll is interesting. It mentions a prophet and offers details of the entire family. It starts from Adam and concludes with the prophet Muhammad. This is a long list of the Imams which indicates that the scroll has Iranian origins.

These impressive works are part of the vast collection of a Jammu family, the Abrols. It was INTACH‘s Salim Beg and the J&K Academy for Art, Culture and Languages that encouraged the family to get the collections to Srinagar and become part of a calligraphy exhibition, the Shereen Qalam. Earlier during winters Beg and many other Kashmiri art lovers visiting Abrol’s private museum and planned an exhibition.

The origins of the collections are rooted in Kashmir durbar. A professional jeweller, Lal Rekhi Ram was Maharaja Hari Singh’s family jeweller. Jewellers have historically remained interested in artworks and that could have been the reason for Lekhi Ram to start collecting the special artworks in his personal possession.

“We have around 500 manuscripts in Persian, Takri, Shardha, Sanskrit and Prakrit,” Suresh Abrol said. “Most of these manuscripts are about Ayurveda.” He said the family is taking care of this collection for the last 95 years.

Besides, we have 250 pieces of special calligraphy which has either paper or a vellum base. In only two cases, the cloth has been used in these pieces of calligraphy. “The Vellum calligraphy is in two sizes – 30 x 27 inches and 20 x 24 inches and it is all gold embossed with vegetable colours and stone,” Suresh said.

“We have three painting series of Guru Nanak and everyone has almost 100 paintings,” Abrol said. “From Kashmir school of painting, we have around 250 pieces.”

The family also owns 20-25 kgs of archaic silvery jewellery as well; It includes designs, which have faded from public memory.

“We have hired a building which has been converted into a family museum and all these things are stored there professionally,” Abrol said. “We are four brothers and we contribute and manage the recurring costs of the museums and over the years we have evolved the systems to ensure the artefacts are not getting impacted by the weather conditions especially during the rainy season.” The building has been named Shashvat Art Gallery (Museum & Manuscript Library).

“I am amazed that my grandfather had the foresight of owning this collection,” Abrol said. “He was an illiterate and then how my father Lal Mast Ram, who had barely read up to eighth class, continued preserving all this.” Suresh is a professional jeweller like his three brothers but has studied a stream, of medical science and well being.

Interestingly, Rekhi Ram died in 2008 at the age of 102. “He never got into a car because he believed the car will meet an accident and he will die,” Suresh said. “Unlike Rekhi Ram, his son and my father died in 2010 at the age of 64.”

The significance of the exhibition, Salem Beg said is that there was somebody in the durbar who was interested in collecting Kashmir art and obviously there was somebody in the system who was encouraging him. “This explains why culture is not one-dimensional. Even if the Maharajas did it for their own collections, they eventually collected these rare things for us too. And that is exactly the story of Research Library that was initiated for Sanskrit but ended up one of the best collections of the Persian art and literature.”

Beg said in this collection, the two specimens of the Quran are “extremely rare” for us. He has no idea about its origins. For vellum calligraphy, Beg said these must-have Isfahan origins. For the chronology of the prophets scroll, Beg said these are essentially Iranian based, either originals or copies.


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