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Two women & Meeras Mahal

Atiqa Bano’s heritage palace in Sopore is now helmed by Jaspreet Kaur

Two women & Meeras Mahal

The building and interiors have been redesigned as per international standards for museums.

Naseer Ahmad

Sopore in north Kashmir is known as the ‘apple town’. Having faced turmoil in the 1990s, today, it is a peaceful place where democracy flourishes, going by the high voter turnout in the recent elections.

At the far end of Sopore, a remarkable cultural place has emerged that draws intellectuals, educators, students, architects and history enthusiasts alike — Kashmir valley’s first private ethnographic museum, Meeras Mahal.

The museum houses an extensive collection of artefacts, all gathered by Atiqa Bano, whose grave lies next to the museum. The collection numbers a staggering 7,000 items. Bano, who passed away in 2017, devoted her life to preserving these artefacts. She aimed to save everyday items from Kashmiri life that were on the brink of disappearing.

Atiqa Bano

Before the 1990s, these items were used in some areas of rural northern Kashmir. However, rapid urbanisation changed lifestyles significantly, leading to the vanishing of these artefacts. Meeras Mahal, meaning ‘Heritage Palace’, preserves this culture.

The museum, established before the militancy period by Bano on her property, serves as a testament to rural life. It shows how people lived and worked; how Kashmiris, both Pandits and Muslims, celebrated festivals and coped with different weather seasons over the centuries.

The collections are categorised into terracotta, woodwork, wicker and grassware, metal (including jewellery), stone, textiles and manuscripts. The terracotta collection features everyday kitchen items like pickle jars, clay stoves and water pitchers, each bearing the mark of Kashmir’s artisanal heritage.

Jaspreet Kaur

The museum displays a rich collection of wicker baskets and traditional Kashmiri firepots, skilfully crafted from terracotta.

Meeras Mahal houses an exquisite collection of white metal handmade jewellery, including necklaces, head pendants, earrings, chokers, bracelets, arm jewellery, mas kaent (elegant hairpins), kasabtsisin (kasab pins), and embellished buttons.

Born in Sopore, Atiqa Bano conceived the idea of Meeras Mahal while working in the Department of Education. During her various stints across Kashmir, she collected artefacts, often purchasing them herself. Even after retiring, she continued her efforts. The museum’s collection includes handwritten Korans in Persian and Arabic, Sanskrit manuscripts, as well as 300-year-old handwritten books. Visitors can also find historical coins and a detailed history of the Kashmiri pheran. Pottery and tools related to the making of the exquisite Pashmina fabric are also on display.

In 2017, Jaspreet Kaur, an architect and designer by training, joined the efforts to preserve Atiqa Bano’s legacy. She came to Kashmir for a visit and fell in love with the place. Kaur met Saleem Beg, head of the INTACH chapter in Jammu and Kashmir, who introduced her to Bano’s work. Inspired by Bano’s dedication, Kaur’s Delhi-based SPAN Foundation backed INTACH’s refurbishment and renovation programme for the museum.

The building and its interiors were redesigned to create galleries accommodating around 30 per cent of the museum’s collection, following international standards for museums. On November 25 last year, at the museum’s soft inauguration, Jaspreet Kaur had only one request, that the community should embrace and adopt it.

#Democracy #Kashmir

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