The erstwhile SPS museum is getting a major facelift to be upgraded as a ‘heritage museum’ that will allow visitors to take a glimpse into the oldest social and cultural heritage of Kashmir.
On the initiative of the Ministry of Culture, the restoration of the museum named after the Dogra king Sri Pratap Singh has already begun.
“We have decided to restore the glorious museum with the help of conservationists from outside,” said Sarmad Hafeez, Secretary in the Department of Culture.
“The museum’s reuse and restoration plan can help us preserve the rich heritage of Kashmir through various artifacts,” Hafeez said.
For many years, the old museum building has been closed, though thousands of unique exhibits were once preserved here. Now, the first challenge before the department is to complete the retrofitting of the building and then determine the action plan for the restoration with the help of art and heritage conservationists.
Hafeez said that the culture department had taken two major heritage projects in Srinagar for restoration including the SPS museum and the transformation of Shergari complex into the prestigious ‘Srinagar Museum’.
“These projects have already been approved and the basic funds required have already been released,” he said.
The tenders for the intricate restoration work is also being finalised now the department has to work out the execution plan with the expert consultants to be appointed for the restoration work through a bid.
The old SPS museum building came into being in the latter part of the 19th century with the intervention of Maharaja Pratap Singh, the then Dogra ruler.
Kashmir is historically known as the oldest habitation in Asia with a recorded and documented history of 5000 years. However, the region was without a museum for public display. It was only towards the end of the 19th century that historical sites, habitations, and artifacts came to be recognised as the representative cultural treasures of this civilization.
In 1898, the Dogra ruler Maharaja Pratap Singh started the museum in the existing building after he received a proposal from his younger brother Raja Amar Singh and a European scholar Captain S.H Godmerry.
The first exhibits and artifacts displayed in the museum belonged to the region of Jammu, Kashmir, Baltistan and Gilgit.
The museum had once consisted of some of the unique collections, both organic and inorganic in nature.
These include Sculptures ? stone, metal artifacts (bronze), terracotta tiles, and clay. -- Painting Gallery ? miniature and oil painting. -- Textile Gallery ? Shawls and some carpets. -- Anthropology/Natural History ? Birds, Animals, and insects stuffed. -- Numismatic ? Gallery-Gold, Silver, and Copper coins. -- Mineral Gallery ? Stone, minerals, and clay models
The cuboidal building of the old SPS museum and its pyramidal roof having a square pavilion at the center is constructed as a Kashmiri architecture present in shrines and mosques.
Presently, the Department of Archives, Archaeology, and Museums is working on the retrofitting of the building with the help of experts from the tourism department.
The museum building which was severely damaged in the 2014 floods is based on a square plan, with linear galleries serving as extended porches on all four sides, as per Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).
“This basic almost square layout is in turn divided into nine bays with a large central square bay measuring 91ft x 82 ft surrounded by linear outer bays around 20ft wide,” said an INTACH report.
“These linear bays or galleries which formerly served as open wooden arcaded porticos are juxtaposed with square rooms at the corners that were originally designed as two storey blocks. These galleries have now been incorporated within the building to provide extra display space,” the reports said.
Mushtaq Ahmad Beigh, Deputy Director at the Department of Archives, Archaeology and Museums said they were planning to restore the building as per the old layout.
“We have got the old pictures, sketches and paintings of the old building. We will restore the museum accordingly. But, before the intricate restoration, the retro-fitting will be completed to strengthen the building and wall murals,” he said.
The internal walls of the main bay of the museum building are covered with decorative painted frescoes and plaster frescoes. The building ceiling also comprises beautiful papier-mache panels.
The building ceiling comprises decorative papier mache ceiling panels in most of the rooms.
The panels in the central portion of the building on the other hand depict some of the best ceiling design based on the shawl tarah (paisley motif) and the mellowed luster of these panels is highly alluring for the viewer even today, after a passage of more than a hundred years.
The INTACH report said the presence of timber within the structural and non-structural system of Kashmiri buildings proved effective during earthquakes, the same material put the buildings at severe risk during incidents of fire.
“Between 550 and 1935 AD, there have been at least 19 recorded outbreaks of fire in Srinagar city which wiped away large portions of historic mohallas (neighbourhoods),” it said.
“Floods have ravaged the Valley since early times. Between 1900 and 1965 AD, at least 15 major floods have been recorded. Considering that most traditional/historic buildings in Kashmir had mud brick, mortar and render as an essential feature, apart from wood (which is prone to rotting on prolonged exposure to moisture or water), the built stock would invariably be affected in the event of a flood which either did immediate or long term damage to the building,” the report said.