Kashmir’s first private museum shines rare ethnographic lens on the Valley’s hinterland

The late educationist Atiqa Bano collected over 7,000 artefacts over the course of her lifetime in a unique initiative to be promoted by the district administration in the tourism circuit

July 31, 2023 07:49 am | Updated 10:12 am IST - SRINAGAR

Mapping the life and customs of 18th and 19th century rural Kashmir, the Valley’s first ever private museum, its collection curated by the late educationist Atiqa Bano, was officially launched in Baramulla’s Sopore area in north Kashmir on July 21, and looks set to be part of the tourism circuit and educational tours.

The dynamic website, meerasmahalmusuem.com, showcases over 7,000 artefacts, providing an ethnographic lens into the rich cultural heritage of the Kashmir Valley’s hinterland.

“It is a great initiative of Atiqa-ji. The cultural heritage of Kashmir is preserved in the over 7,000 articles she accumulated over her lifetime. This is a unique and one-of-its-kind initiative. The district administration is including it in our tourism circuit, and promoting it through the Education and Culture Department,” Syed Sehrish Asgar, District Commissioner, Baramulla, told The Hindu.

The Span Foundation, Delhi, and the Kashmir chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), jointly worked on the museum and website. The collection includes rare utensils, agricultural tools, clothing, earthenware, and manuscripts from the 18th and 19th centuries that have disappeared from the hitherto multicultural lifestyle of the Valley .

“This museum is unique because it tells the people’s history. The collections recreate the lifestyle. Each artefact is linked to seasons and its significance in the life of Kashmir over 100 years. These objects draw a timeline about how we have reached where we are today,” Saleem Beg, convenor of INTACH, Kashmir chapter, said.

The museum is the outcome of the late Bano’s exemplary efforts. A teacher by profession, till she died of cancer at the age of 77 in 2017.

Rare terracotta artefacts from the 4th century Kushan period, coins from the pre-Islamic era, and 10th century Didda (the queen who ruled Kashmir from 950-1003 AD) period bear testimony to the efforts of Bano, a woman from a small village in Sopore.

“These artefacts are the result of door-to-door collections. She [Ms. Bano] was taunted by many but continued to pursue her passion. She hired horse-driven carts and even trucks to ferry these artefacts from farthest corners of Kashmir over the course of her postings to create such a huge and unparalleled repository in Kashmir,” Muzamil Bashir, Ms. Bano’s nephew, told The Hindu.

Mr. Bashir said that during the last days of her life, she had only been concerned about the museum. “Four days before she passed away, Atiqa-ji told me that she may not live, and willed that the museum was protected,” Mr. Bashir said. He said the virtual museum spotlit her efforts, and added, “It has started to generate interest among locals as well as students. Atiqa-ji’s dream will be realised when people use her repository for learning and research.”

“The virtual museum is the consequence of the persistent efforts of one woman despite her own meagre resources and limited network. She worked hard for gender equality and women empowerment,” Mr. Beg recalled.

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