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US museum to exhibit Kashmiri art

Ninth century sculptures of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Kali have been selected for exhibition, reports Rashid Ahmad.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2006 19:59 IST

Two historical sculptures of Hindu deities Lord Vishnu and Goddess Kali of ninth century Kashmir have been selected for exhibition of Kashmiri art in America, next year. The exhibition would be held under the aegis of Asia Society and Queens Museum of Art, New York in October 2007 and 2008.

Dr Pratapaditya Pal, scholar and curator of Indian art, Asia Society was recently in Srinagar during which he selected the two invaluable artefacts in possession of department of Archaeology, Archives and Museums, Jammu and Kashmir.

Dr Pal is the author of a masterly book on Kashmir's bronze art - Bronze Art in Kashmir. The two sculptures were excavated from Zurhama village in northern border district of Kupwara, early this year.

Lord Vishnu is a four-headed figure, riding on a garuda - eagle-like bird. "It is the rarest and unique piece of bronze art in our possession", said Mohammad Sahfi Zahid, deputy director, Archaeology department, Jammu and Kashmir.

He said that two more sculptures of goddess Umma Maheshwari and Baharvi were also recovered during excavation in the village. The goddess Maheshwari has the heads of Shiva and Parvati carved on her right thigh.

The Zurhama is the 8th finding of the state's Archaeology department in the past three years. The most attractive of these findings was the excavation of first century terracotta tile pavements at Kutabal in south Kashmir, reflecting the aesthetics of Kashmiri people and their devotion to art and beauty even in primitive period.

"Motifs on these tiles depict human beings, some resembling the mythological creatures like satyrs and fauns", says Zahid. Similar tile pavement had earlier been found at Hutmara, Harwan and Pahalgam villages, which bear the images of animal, geometrical figures and flowers as well. "Some of these tile heads resemble Lord Buddha", adds Zahid.

The Archaeology department maintains a Museum in Srinagar, which is a treasure trove of Kashmir's ancient civilisation. The antiques have been classified in various galleries quite like an archive.

Two huge sculptures of Vishnu and Shiva on the main entrance of the Museum with other stone and brass images of Lord Buddha and Hindu gods arranged in a row, give the impression of a temple.

The earliest sculptures have been excavated from Bijbehara, a township in south Kashmir, founded by 6th century AD ruler King Vijaya. First known as Vijayavada, Bijbehara had been the seat of learning in Kashmir. An official in the Archaeology department says that the unique findings in Bijbehara were the headless Durga and Kartikeya, dressed in Hellenistic style.

Besides, stone sculptures, the Museum has around 50,000 copper, silver and bronze coins. These include 3rd century BC punch-mark coins to the 19th century AD Afghan ruler Atta Mohammad Khan's currency. The Afghan ruler's currency bears the names of two great Kashmiri Sufi saints - Shaikh Nooruddin and Makhdoom Jahan.

A 500-year old document written on the pulp of a birch tree (bhoj patra) is in the revered possession of the Museum. The document, bearing the signatures of great Islamic scholars of that time, is an affidavit giving ownership rights on a huge piece of land to the Sufi saint Shaikh Hamzah Makhdoom Jahan in old Srinagar. The Sufi saint and his disciples remain buried there.

Around 700 paintings and portraits, depicting different mythological legends and love stories also form the part of invaluable possession. The stories of Lord Krishna, Durga and Sudhama have been portrayed in a series of Pahari miniatures. A Kangra painting reveals the story of a disappointed damsel (nayika), who could not meet her beloved prince.

A hand-written copy of holy Quran, with the seal of Mughal king Aurangzeb on its back page, and hand-written copies of Bhagwat Geeta, Persian poet Firdousi's Shahnama and Shaikh Saidi's Gulistan are other invaluable manuscripts in the Museum.

The Archaeology department is celebrating heritage week these days where rare antiques and historical arts pieces have been kept on display.