All together now: Treasures from the Islamic Art gallery at Salar Jung Museum

Updated on Mar 19, 2022 03:03 PM IST

Jade rings, ornate daggers, Mughal-era shields and ancient manuscripts of the Quran — India’s first such gallery will display items from around the world, united by a shared artistry.

Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s jade archery ring (designed to protect an archer’s thumb) is so dark green, it’s almost black. (Image courtesy Salar Jung Museum) PREMIUM
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s jade archery ring (designed to protect an archer’s thumb) is so dark green, it’s almost black. (Image courtesy Salar Jung Museum)

Swords, ceramics, celestial globes and astrolabes that mapped the positions of the stars, miniature paintings and ancient manuscripts signed by Mughal emperors: it will be a mix of the religious and the secular at the new Islamic Art gallery being readied at the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad.

Due to open in 2023, it will be India’s first gallery dedicated to Islamic Art. There are currently Islamic Art galleries at museums around the world, including London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The former houses over 19,000 items from the 7th through the early 20th century CE; the latter has over 15,000 objects, from as far west as Spain and Morocco and as far east as Indonesia.

“The Islamic Art gallery at Salar Jung museum will be along those lines,” says museum director A Nagender Reddy. It will house over 2,500 exhibits.

These will include archery rings (designed to protect an archer’s thumb) worn by 17th century Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, in jade so dark green it looks from a distance almost black. A 17th-century fruit knife with a jade hilt, inlaid with precious stones, crafted to resemble the head of a parrot perched on gold leaves. The fruit knife is said to have belonged to Mughal empress Nur Jahan, wife of the fourth Mughal emperor Jahangir, Shah Jahan’s father.

A folio from the Quran written in the Kufic script. (Images courtesy Salar Jung Museum)
A folio from the Quran written in the Kufic script. (Images courtesy Salar Jung Museum)

In both the knife and the archery rings, calligraphic inscriptions combined with geometric and vegetative motifs mark them out as Islamic Art.

Also on display will be a miniature Quran stand or rehal in jade, inscribed with the name of “Shamsuddin Iltamish”, the Delhi Sultanate ruler of the Mamluk dynasty of the 13th century CE known to us as Iltutmish; autographed manuscripts bearing the seal and signature of 16th century Mughal emperor Akbar and 17th century emperor Aurangzeb; and a very rare miniature manuscript of the Quran, 2.4 cm high, from the 9th century.

“The gallery will be spread over 15,000 sq ft on the second floor of the Eastern wing,” says Reddy.

The Islamic artefacts currently at the Salar Jung Museum are spread across galleries arranged geographically, as works found in India, the Middle East and Persia. Others are classified by type of object or material. “Most of the items are already on display, but we will bring them all into one gallery, and add objects that have never been displayed, such as 400-odd rosaries and 700 manuscripts,” Reddy says.

A 17th-century fruit knife with a jade hilt, inlaid with precious stones, crafted to resemble the head of a parrot perched on gold leaves. The knife is said to have belonged to Mughal empress Nur Jahan, wife of the fourth Mughal emperor Jahangir. (Image courtesy Salar Jung Museum)
A 17th-century fruit knife with a jade hilt, inlaid with precious stones, crafted to resemble the head of a parrot perched on gold leaves. The knife is said to have belonged to Mughal empress Nur Jahan, wife of the fourth Mughal emperor Jahangir. (Image courtesy Salar Jung Museum)

The museum’s collection includes pieces from around the world acquired by generations of Salar Jungs, a family that served as prime ministers to the Nizams of Hyderabad. The collection was begun by Mir Turab Ali Khan (1829 – 1883), also known as Salar Jung I, who acquired what is still the museum’s most prized possession, the Italian sculptor Giovanni Benzoni’s late-19th-century Veiled Rebecca.

Most of the museum’s 1.14 lakh artefacts, books and manuscripts was amassed by Mir Yousuf Ali Khan (1889-1949), Salar Jung III. The Salar Jung Museum opened soon after his death, in 1951, in the family’s ancestral mansion. With the consent of the family, its administration was taken over by the union government’s Ministry of Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs in 1958. It was shifted to its current location on the banks of the Musi River 10 years later.

Now, it promises a first for India, with its new gallery. Islamic Art encompasses all of the rich and diverse cultures of Islamic societies, rather than just religious art, Reddy says. “Many people have a misconception that it is only religious artwork. It is in fact not limited to a single religion, time, location or medium. It spans many centuries, lands and populations.”

Enjoy unlimited digital access with HT Premium

Subscribe Now to continue reading
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Saturday, November 26, 2022
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals