Aruna Chandaraju sets out to find a museum in Hyderabad only a few have heard of and comes away impressed with what she sees
I had heard of the world's longest walk-in wardrobe. Also of exquisite caskets and models....all displayed somewhere in a museum in Hyderabad. This was all that was stowed away in my memory. Like most Hyderabadis, I had actually not got down to making the visit to the Nizam’s Museum.
It took a little nudging, however, to actually make the visit. Sitting in the Haritha restaurant of Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad, sipping tea with a friend, I was reminded of this little gem by C.H. Srinivasa Rao, Deputy Keeper, Salar Jung Museum. He urged us to visit it, informing us that it was located in Purani Haveli in the Old City. We made it. But only after making much effort to locate it and running around in circles. Almost no one we met on the way while asking for directions, had heard of the place. I called a few friends and they all asked me in return, “Nizam's Museum? What's that?” Finally, the landmarks mentioned to us — Princess Durru Shehvar Children's Hospital and Mukarram Jah school — were recognised by shopkeepers near the museum and they guided us.
A small board indicated the entrance to H.E.H The Nizam's Museum, which was located on the first floor of a nondescript two-storey-building, set in a corner of a sprawling, grassy ground that houses the Mukarram Jah school. We went in through a shabby-looking entrance and ascended an over-a-century-old, spiral wooden staircase to reach the small museum which was actually a row of rooms. It housed fabulous artifacts and the world’s longest walk-in wardrobe — a phenomenon by itself. This museum showcases the collection of Nizam Osman Ali Khan, the seventh and last Nizam and also his father’s (sixth Nizam’s) wardrobe. “The nucleus of the museum is the gifts, mementos, and other presentation articles given to the seventh Nizam on the completion of 25 years of his reign. The completion was in 1936 but the function was held in 1937 which is when the gifts were received,” explained Dr D. Bhaskara Rao, Chief Curator, H.E.H The Nizam’s Museum.
Facing the entrance was a huge, impressive Hyderabad state map, made of lead, in 1936. There were many beautifully designed silver caskets containing ‘addresses’ or formal declarations given to him. These gifts were given by individuals, associations, government departments, religious associations, and labour unions.
We found many artefacts carefully preserved in glass cases — exquisite jewellery boxes, elegant perfume-containers, daggers and drinking glasses, all studded with pearls. There were also manuscripts, a silver tea-set, silver cigar case, dinner-plates, decorative items, and a stunning three-tier, pure-gold tiffin-box studded with Golconda diamonds.
In one room, we saw superbly crafted silver models of landmark buildings of Hyderabad — like Public Gardens, Arts College, Mozamzahi Market, High Court... nearly all of which were built during his reign.
Among the bigger displays were a wooden throne burnished with gold used by the Nizam during that silver jubilee celebration — it was made for this occasion. Also, a large swing in wood and silver. There were portraits of all seven Nizams.
We arrived at the show-stealer, the magnificent walk-in wardrobe. The two-level storage space stretches 120-ft on each side, and is made of Burma teak. As is the nature of aged teakwood, it appeared shining and well-polished. This belonged to Mir Mahbub Ali Khan, the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad (1866-1911), and father of the seventh Nizam. The sixth Nizam was very fond of dressing well. He wore both traditional and British-style clothes and donned hunting costumes when hunting. However, there was almost nothing in the wardrobe from his personal collection, except for one sherwani and some hunting boots which are presumed to have been used by him, we were told. All the rest of the costumes and footwear displayed are from a later period.
Are you are wondering, like we did, why it did not contain his own costumes? We were given different reasons. The curator said textile preservation was not so much of a concern during those times and neither was it easy during the early 19th century. The guide told us that the legend was that the sixth Nizam never repeated his clothes and so, once worn, the clothes were given away.