The Woman who is preserving the treasure of Kashmiri culture

Muzamil Bashir
2nd December, 2016

We can achieve anything in this world if we have the will and dedication; these words were in her mind while she realized her dream of preserving culture and heritage of Kashmir by setting a Museum into reality.

Located around 65 kilometers from Srinagar, Chinkipora village in North Kashmir’s Sopore town has a remarkable feature which has remained unnoticed by all that is the ‘Meeras Mahal’ Museum, which captures and preserves Kashmir’s heritage, artifacts and traditions in a beautiful way.
The museum was established in 2001 by Atiqa Begum, the first woman director of Libraries in Kashmir. She is also a well known social and cultural activist from Sopore, who by her indomitable dedication and hard work has taken the museum to new heights of heritage preservation and it has become an important Centre for preservation of Kashmir’s Glorious heritage. Atiqa throughout her career had dreamt of working for the preservation of Kashmiri culture, but it was only after her retirement from government services that her passion to work for the conservation of Kashmir’s heritage bloomed and she gave a practical shape to the ‘Meeras Mahal’ museum. Atiqa has a unique and immense contribution in preserving and revival of Kashmir’s history. She has become a torch bearer for others in conserving the ancient Kashmir.

Although Atiqa Begum has established this museum over a decade ago, but it is only in the last couple of years due to her consistent efforts it has got some recognition but still it continues to remain unnoticed. Most of the people do not know about this museum, which should have been the main centre of attraction for the people of Kashmir valley to know about their past cultures. The museum is playing a crucial role in the preservation and protecting of rich cultural heritage of Kashmir valley. It showcases a treasure of Kashmiri artifacts.

What is not recorded is not remembered, I have always believed in the importance of our unique history and heritage. It is important that our future generations remember our “Purana Kashmir”, its background, culture, tradition and keep it alive. My dream is to keep the ancient Kashmir alive,” Atiqa says insistently.

‘Meeras Mahal’ museum displays an impressive collection of artifacts and objects collected and conserved by Atiqa Begum. The collection includes ornaments, paper machie, traditional dresses, traditional utensils etc. The museum also houses a treasure of manuscripts that include books on religion, ethics, poetry, literature, grammar, historical accounts, bibliographic accounts, commentaries on Quran written in Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Kashmiri and Urdu, masterpieces of Islamic calligraphy, and manuscripts of Quran mostly from the 18th century onwards. The museum possesses interesting lithographic and archaeological selection and other numerous precious artifacts of high value reflecting elite ritual life style, culture and heritage of Kashmir.

Sadly our culture, language and traditions are changing with time. People are adapting a new alien cultures leaving behind their own glorious culture and traditions. Today, there is hardly anyone among us who is interested in knowing about our culture, literature, history and heritage. The aim of my museum is to preserve our own culture and create awareness among people about our magnificent past. People should be proud of their culture and I want to enhance a sense of pride among them,” Atiqa laments.

Presently, the museum is functioning from a rented space in a two story building which includes facilities like administrative area, display galleries and open air display.

She is however unhappy with the insensitivity of government for ignoring and neglecting the museums which are the important sources of information about the past history, literature, heritage, cultures and traditions for the future generations.

Government should encourage the preservation of artifacts and other traditional items, for that they should give attention towards building the infrastructure in the museums. We don’t have security in this museum; precious artifacts are in open space here. We have financial problems. We have a dearth of space and manpower. We have to pile artifacts on one other. We need more space for displaying the artifacts which can catch the attention of people. The government is not interested in protecting and promoting museums here. I approached the government number of times for financial assistance but they did not show any seriousness,” a disappointed Atiqa Begum said.

I preserve artifacts by local treatments like using chilies; I don’t use any special chemicals for preservation of precious artifacts as it needs lot of money which I hardly get from government. We need support from government,” she adds.

Official sources however said that there is a proposal of shifting Meeras Mahal to Zabarwan, Srinagar. Opposing the government decision, Atiqa Begum said there is no question of shifting museum to Srinagar.

“We only want our artifacts to get publicized and for that purpose we need some space in Srinagar to exhibit our artifacts, so that the locals as well as outsiders can visit and get aware about our culture and heritage. Majority of people even in Sopore town do not know about Meeras Mahal and its artifacts, I want to get this museum recognized and appreciated,” she said

While speaking about the significance and uniqueness of her museum, Atiqa says that Meeras Mahal is a place dedicated to Kashmir culture.

I want Meeras Mahal to be a hub that will make the Kashmiri culture alive within and outside the valley and it should be the main attraction not only for locals but people from other states and foreign countries. I want to revive the Kashmiri culture,” Atiqa added.