Kashmir’s lone Shri Pratap Singh Museum is a treasure trove for art lovers, history enthusiasts and curious minds as it houses rare artifacts and items of historical significance, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the state. The museum was established in 1898 AD by then Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, Maharaja Pratap Singh, in his summer guest house, largely based on collections transferred from the state ‘Toshkhana’ (palace treasury).
A century later, the museum got a new building – adjacent to the old one. Though it has not been completed yet, the museum was thrown open for public recently owing to widespread demands from different quarters.
Approximately 80,000 artifacts and objects ranging from archaeological items, sculptures, numismatics items, decorative art, weapons, paintings, anthropological and natural history items and textiles are housed in the museum. The three-storey building has 10 major galleries – archaeology, numismatic, decorative art, jewellery, culture and society, arms and armoury, textile, painting, manuscript and natural history.
It provides a multi-layered history of the cultural heritage of the state. The ground floor exhibits the antiquity of a man in Kashmir followed by the developments that gave rise to the settlements around 5,000 years ago. “The work of art in terracotta, as old as second century BC, stone and bronze showcases the archaeological development and the vastness of the cultural heritage of the state,” Director, Archives, Archaeology and Museums, Jammu and Kashmir, Mohammad Shafi Zahid told PTI.
Zahid said the new museum complex is designed in a way that a visitor starts his journey of Kashmir’s history corresponding to the start of 5,000 years. “The archaeological gallery narrates the history of a man in Kashmir from around two million years down up to 5,000 (BP-before present) when he settled down and built villages to introduce farming for sustenance and invented arts and crafts.
“The terracotta gallery is exhibiting the works of art from first to eighth centuries that mostly remained associated with the Buddhist faith in Kashmir,” he said. The director said the museum has sculptures of various Hindu deities from eighth, ninth and tenth centuries, carved in single stones. The bronze sculptures from ninth century exhibited in the museum belong to various religions.
Zahid said while most of the galleries have been transferred to the new complex, there are some like the painting, manuscripts and natural history galleries which are still housed in the old building. “Once the construction is over, we will shift all of the items to the new building which offers healthy environment for prolonging the life of the collections,” the official said.
The new building has large open spaced reserves and new display techniques for dissemination of knowledge. “The new complex is disabled-friendly, has children’ discovery rooms, auditorium and a seminar hall. The museum also provides guided tours to the visitors,” he said.
The new museum complex has a 65-foot deep foundation, and is quake and fire resistant, damp-proof and highly secure. It has been designed by local architects and the exteriors depict the traditional Kashmiri architecture even as the interiors have state-of-the-art facilities.