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How an art collection turned nat’l treasure

How an art collection turned nat’l treasure
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Highlights

In this city of Charminar and Golconda Fort, of pearls and palaces, Salar Jung Museum stands tall as it boasts of the largest oneman collection of antiques and art treasures in the worldLocated on the banks of Musi River, Salar Jung Museum welcomes you as you enter the Old City, popular for historical monuments, opulent palaces, mouthwatering cuisine and a distinct culture

Dar-ul-shifa: In this city of Charminar and Golconda Fort, of pearls and palaces, Salar Jung Museum stands tall as it boasts of the largest one-man collection of antiques and art treasures in the world.Located on the banks of Musi River, Salar Jung Museum welcomes you as you enter the Old City, popular for historical monuments, opulent palaces, mouth-watering cuisine and a distinct culture.

As one walks through 40 galleries of this spectacular museum, it takes a visitor through an amazing journey to a bygone era rich in aristocratic history and culture. The artefacts on display at India's third largest museum though popular as the world's largest one-man collection of antiques, it is actually the collection by three generations of a family of nobles who served as prime ministers of Nizams, as the rulers of princely State of Hyderabad were known.

The zeal for acquiring art objects from around the world started with Nawab Mir Turab Ali Khan, Salar Jung I. His prized possessions included the 'Veiled Rebecca', an enchanting marble statue acquired by him from Rome in 1876.Mir Laiq Ali Khan, Salar Jung II, died at the young age of 26. The majority of nearly 50,000 artefacts were collected by Nawab Mir Yousuf Ali Khan, Salar Jung III. An art connoisseur, he resigned as prime minister of the Nizam in 1914 and devoted his life to collecting artefacts from various parts of the world.

Yousuf Ali Khan visited Europe and other parts of the world to collect art objects. Later, traders from various countries used to come to Hyderabad to sell their artefacts to him."He invested his money in purchasing rare pieces of art which over a period of time thousands of articles were stored in his palace Diwan Deodi until a time came when he realized that there was no more space in his palace. So he planned to shift them to another palace but passed away before he could execute his plans," Nawab Ahteram Ali Khan, a direct descendant of the Salar Jung family and a member of Salar Jung Museum Board, said.

As Yousuf Ali Khan died a bachelor in 1949, the vast collection of precious art objects and library were arranged in a museum in Diwan Deodi to perpetuate the name of Salar Jung as a world renowned art connoisseur. It was opened to the public by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, on December 16, 1951. Thus, the Salar Jung Museum came into existence. The museum was administered by Salar Jung Estate Committee till 1958, when the Salar Jung family donated the entire collection to the Government of India.

Ahteram Ali Khan, whose grandfather Nawab Mir TurabYar Jung was the first cousin of Salar Jung III, said TurabYar Jung was of the view that by donating it to the nation they were not doing any favour but were only saving their own articles as preservation and restoration would incur lot of expenses and only an institution like the Government of India could take care of them.

In 1961 by an Act of Parliament, Salar Jung Museum was declared an institute of national importance and from 1961 its affairs were managed by the board headed by the state's governor. In 1968, the collection was shifted to a new building constructed on the banks of the Musi river. Mir Turab Ali Khan Bhavan (Western Block) and Mir Laiq Ali Khan Bhavan (Eastern Block) came up in 2000.
Spread over 10 acres of land, the museum has 9,000 manuscripts, 43,000 art objects and 47,000 printed books.

The biggest attraction at the museum is the 19th century British Musical Clock. Visitors assemble in the clock hall every hour to watch tiny mechanized figures emerge through a door to strike the toy bell.The other prized possession of SJM includes veiled marble statue of Rebecca created by Italian sculptor GB Benzoni. Veiled Rebecca, he points out, is one of the four fabulous sculptures, Benzoni spent all his life on. The other three are in France, UK and Italy.There is a set of ivory chairs presented by Louis XVI of France to Tipu Sultan of Mysore.

Ahteram Khan says, "If you walk into Salar Jung Museum, you see life everywhere. Even the best of European collections are without life. There is a dent in French collection. We have dressing table of Marie Antoinette (the last Queen of France before French Revolution) Can you imagine. They would die to keep something like this in their country."
"The collection comprises more foreign than Indian artefacts and most of the art objects are decorative pieces. We have collections from almost 33 countries," said A. Nagender Reddy, Director, Salar Jung Museum.Every day 3,000 to 4, 000 people visit the museum and on weekends and holidays the numbers go up to 6,000. Sometimes 12,000 to 13,000 people visit the museum on a day.

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