Salar Jung Museum: One-man Wonder
Salar Jung museum is the fantasy of an art visionary come to life which waited for its consummation for another great lover of art Jawaharlal Nehru to visit the historic city of the Quli Qutab Shahs and inaugurate it on 16 December, 1951 when the collections were hurriedly assorted and housed in Diwan Devdi, residence of the Salar Jungs. Every year a million visitors pay homage to this great repository of art and history. The priceless collections were moved in 1968 to a new site from the 100-year-old palace Dewan Devdi of the prime ministers. Legend has that the museum houses art collections of three generations of the Salar Jung family, beginning with Salar Jung, who was prime minister under
The incomparable treasures of the museum, consisting only of a part of the original collection, are an amazing amalgam of antiquity and modernity, the three Salar Jungs scouring continents for objets d'art and returning home with shiploads of artefacts. It is believed that during the colonial period a lot of the art wealth of the country was shipped to the metropolitan countries and the Salar Jungs are credited with bringing back some of it to enrich the collection. The museum represents, in popular belief, the largest one-man collections of the world. They reflect the stunning range of time and place of these treasures, some of them belonging to different civilisations and dating back to the first century and retrieved from nearly every nook and corner of the world. However, the chief architect of this great and magnificent congeries of art is believed to be Salar Jung III, i.e. Nawab Mir Yusuf Ali khan.
The museum is home to 43,000 art exhibits and 50,000 books collected from all over the world. Old timers believe that the present collection constitutes only half of the original art wealth amassed by Salar Jung III. His employees siphoned off part of it, since Salar Jung was a bachelor and depended upon his staff to keep a vigil. Some more art pieces were lost or stolen during the shifting of the museum from Dewan Devdi to the present site. The museum, declared an institution of national importance by an Act of Parliament in 1961, overlooks another landmark, the languid Musi, of the four hundred-year-old city founded by Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah. This great treasure trove is a tribute to man's eternal quest for beauty and elegance, particularly India's remarkable cultural diversity and heritage.
The marvellous expose unveils the art heritage of India, Asia, Middle East and Europe and includes Persian carpets, Chinese porcelain, Japanese lacquer ware, sculpture, invaluable collections of jade, bronzes, enamelware, paintings, wood and inlay work from Tibet, Nepal and Thailand etc. There are Aurangzeb's sword, daggers belonging to empress Noor Jehan, emperors Jehangir and Shah Jehan, the turbans and chair of Tippu Sultan, furniture from Egypt, paintings etc. Among the sculptures stands out the world famous statue of Veiled Rebecca, her beautiful face hazily visible through; hold your breath, a marble but gossamer veil. The visitor may mistake it for a gorgeous woman draped in a wet garment. Equally captivating is a double-figure wood sculpture done by G.H. Benzoni, an Italian sculptor, in 1876. It stands before a mirror and shows the facade of a nonchalant Mephistopheles and the image of a demure Margaretta in the mirror.
A bewildering variety and array of clocks greets the visitor in the clock room. Seen are the ancient Sandiaers in the form of obelisks to huge and modern clocks of the twentieth century. Others in the range vary from miniature clocks which need a magnifying glass to imbibe their beauty and complexity to stately grandfather clocks from as far away as France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Britain. A visual delight is the musical clock Salar Jung bought from Cook and Kelvy of England, a virtual mechanical marvel. Every hour, a timekeeper emerges from the upper deck of the clock to strike a gong as many times as it is the hour of the day.
Other attractions are a gallery exclusively devoted to the celebrated family of the Salar Jungs, a children's section, a reference library and a section devoted to rare and ancient Arabic Urdu and Persian manuscripts, including a handwritten miniature Qoran. On display are unique mementos like the panegyric in Urdu presented to Sir Salar Jung and Nizam VI in memory of their visit to Delhi to witness the Imperial Proclamation of Queen Victoria in 1877. The first room houses the personal items of the Salar Jung household such as various mementoes received by the Salar Jungs, embroidered sherwanis and a commodious and arresting masnad (ceremonial throne-like chair used by Salar Jung III). In the room, you can also see a large portrait of Mir Yousuf Khan, the clothes of the nobility, their books and furniture and bric-a-brac.
Walking through the museum is walking through the ages of several civilisations, Indus, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Roman to name a few and is bound to disengage the visitor from the present, the current and the immediate and transport him to a world he is familiar with only through reading. Throughout your trek through the endless halls, rooms, galleries and corridors of the museum, you are in a daze.
Stunning is the jade room or gallery hosting items articulating the delicateness and elegance of jade, which is not found in India and believed to have been introduced during the Mughal rule. Though the stone is imported, the articles of jade on display in the gallery were all the handiwork of Indian artists. Jade, soft and lucent, was carved into handles for small daggers studded with precious stones and inlay work. A jade wine bowl you can see here is a thing of beauty, dainty and transparent. Also striking are the wine cups made of jade with leaf and flower motifs. You can also see small and cute jade platters which at one time adorned the dining tables of the Salar Jungs.The jade collection also includes a jade stand of Altamash (1209-10 A.D); fruit knife of Mughal empress Noorjehan (17th century); hunting knife of emperor Jehangir; an inscribed archery ring of emperor Shah Jehan done in dark green jade (17th century).
The textile gallery is a depository of Indian textile art in cotton, silk and wool, dominated by a collection of brocades woven with silver and gold thread and the world-famous Kashmiri shawls. Gold and zari add to the value of the embroidery, which showcases also phulkari embroidery work from Punjab. An entire rich and brick-coloured cotton expanse disappears behind a fine façade of intricately woven silk thread in a burst of colours.
You can also see glassware from England, Austria, Ireland, France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Turkey besides glassware belonging to Ming and Ching periods.
Manuscripts on show include the great Arabic Al Quran in Nashq done by Yakut-al-Mustsami bearing the autographs of Moghul emperors, Jehangir, Shahjehan and Aurangzeb; Roudat-ul-Muhabbin by Amir Hussaini Saadat (1379 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.
There is the Ivory Room resplendent with intricately carved items and articles among which worthy of mention are chess sets, statuettes, painted objects done by using the cutaway technique. About the technique an article appearing in the Hindustan Times says, Here the ivory is first carved with a lacy surface design. The space behind it is cut away till the design shows up like a screen. And further carving continues at deeper levels of the ivory. The object then acquires a trellis-like case and the forms within forms are created out of a single piece of ivory.
Every form of art in its ancient glory finds its representation in the museum. Statuary includes a standing Buddha image of limestone from Nelakondapalli (2nd or 3rd century A.D.); Mukhalinga from Kausambi (4th or 5th century A.D.); Ananthasayi Vishnu with his ten avatars carved on top (12th century A.D., Kakatiyaa, Warangal); Jain, Buddhist and Hindu bronzes dating back to later Pallava and Chola periods and the two most famous exhibits of the museum the Veiled Rebecca and a sycamore wood carwing portraying a double statue of Mephistopheles and Margaretta. The mammoth collection includes paintings such as Soap Bubbles by Fransesco Hayez of Italy; Piazzo of San Marco by Antonio Canaletto (1697-1768) and Venice by Marc Aldine of Italy. Pottery items range from Dresden (Germany), Sevres (France), Capodimonte (Italy) to Wedgewood and English porcelain.
In short, the museum is a standing monument to the artistic genious of mankind throughout the space-time spectrum.