Nestled in the lap of the Himalayas, Kashmir lies at the confluence of West Asia, Central Asia, Tibet and the Indian subcontinent. Geographically, it has been gateway to the Indian peninsula, a land contested for millennia by great empires. Ashok the Great is believed to have laid the foundation for modern Srinagar which was known as Srinagari in the Mauryan Era.
Empires have come and gone and over the ages, Kashmir metamorphosis in to a rich blend of tradition and culture. Sopore, in North Kashmir boasts of the only private museum in the valley. Set up by Atiqa Bano, a renowned educationalist in 2001, the Meeras Mahal (also known as Meeras Museum, Heritage Palace Museum) showcases over 1000 artefacts. The Museum houses a vast collection of ancient coins, ornaments, intricate wood and stone work, tools and implements over a thousand years old, utensils and traditional textiles.
The museum was established in 2001 by Atiqa Bano with just one Kangri (firepot) followed by hand written books of her grandfather, Ghulam Mohammad. Born in 1940 in Sopore, Atiqa Bano was a Masters in Economics and Urdu and started her career as a teacher in 1958. She rose to be the Joint Director of School Education of Jammu & Kashmir in 1994. Known for her social work, she also established the Majlis-e-Nisa, an organization dedicated for the upliftment of women.
Unlike many museums that focus on the history and culture of princely kingdoms, the Meeras Mahal focuses on the artefacts used by the common man over eras. These artefacts give an insight into the daily life of a Kashmiri, until the advent of the modern age. The items on display include terracotta pots and pans, metal implements, wicker craft and jewellry in common use in different eras. The three storied building of this museum also houses a large number of manuscripts in Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit. Manuscripts and literary works adorn the ground floor. A hand written Quran on display is approximately 300 years old. The first floor has a coin display with briefs on all the coins. The museum has an entire section dedicated to the evolution of the Kashmir ‘Pheran’. A variety of Kashmiri caps used in different eras are also on display. A skill development Centre on the top floor imparts training on traditional craft.
Meeras Mahal is privately funded and has received minimal patronage of the state. The Aliph foundation, a Geneva based organization dedicated to conservation of heritage has recently sanctioned a grant for renovation of the Meeras Mahal. The project aims at creating a virtual spaTweet