Meeras Mahal is Kashmir’s only private museum situated in north Kashmir’s Sopore town. It was set up by noted educationist Atiqa Bano, who died at the age of 77 on October, 4, 2017.
The museum houses a collection of old ornaments, paper machie objects, traditional dresses, and traditional Kashmiri utensils. It has manuscripts of the Holy Quran and other masterpieces from Islamic calligraphy.
The two-storied museum was set up by late Atiqa Bano, who was popularly known as Behan-Ji in the entire Kashmir. She was born in an educated family in the 1940s and she completed her Bachelor’s from Women’s College Srinagar followed by Masters in Urdu and Economics.
Later, she also pursued an M.ED degree from Rajasthan. In 1958, she joined the school education department and retired in 1997 as Director Libraries and Research, Jammu and Kashmir.
After serving in the education department, Bano had in her mind that she wanted to set up her own museum in the year 2002 in Sopore town depicting the culture and diversity of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh.
She spent her life for her dream including a full 16 years in preserving the culture. Presently her nephew is the caretaker of the museum.
Caretaker of the Museum, Muzamil Bashir Masoodi told Rising Kashmir that the museum depicts 90 percent of the Kashmiri culture and has been one of the emerging tourist spots in the entire North Kashmir.
“It was her idea for setting a unique museum that will reflect the collection of all three regions of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
Masoodi said before 2019, people used to come here to visit the place and explore the various sections of the museum. Now after Covid-19, some schools and colleges have started visiting the place, he said.
Masoodi said her paternal aunt had a unique passion to keep ancient Kashmir alive by preserving art and culture. For years, she was going door to door in search of valuable additions to her 'heritage palace', he said.
It also has a good collection of woven Kangris, tens of wood and jute footwear, traditional Kashmiri costumes, Ladakhi caps, Shawls, and gowns, scarfs, hats, jewelry, watches, clocks, headgears, necklaces, bracelets, rings, ear-rings, stone utensils, tools, radio sets, milk pot and other items, he said.
“We have also preserved earthenware, grass works, dresses, woodcraft, old paintings, stone crafts, and even some fossils. Some copies of an old weekly newspaper ``Diler '' are also preserved here,” Masoodi said.
“There are house tiles which were used in Kashmir some 2500 years ago and traditional Kashmir used before a century. She worked day and night for the setting of this museum.”
About the idea of setting up a museum in Sopore, he said, she started initially with clay pots of traditional Kangri, 32 books of his grandfather Ghulam Mohammad Hanfi, who was a noted author.
“Apart from those books, there are thousands of books including handwritten and rare books. The collections of the museum are stored in 7-8 rooms including a separate Kashmiri traditional house (Dahati Ghar).
He said over the past several years, the government had approached the family to shift the museum belonging to Srinagar but the family was not ready for this decision.
“Even they promised me a government job in return for shifting the museum but I refused. I want to forward her (Atiqa Bano) mission and maintain its lost charm,” Masoodi said.
He said they had also requested archaeology department officials to visit the museum but things have remained unchanged on the ground. “We are now managing it all. Once the government provided us with preserving acid but after that, they never helped us in any way,” he said.
“Job can last only for 20-25 years but the legacy of having a museum remains for centuries. It gives us unique peace of mind. We want to work on this project and explore more possibilities in the future, Masoodi said.
Regarding present plans, Masoodi said they are also still collecting the rare objects across the Valley. “Whatever historic artifact, we find in any part of the Valley, we add in the collection,” he said, adding that they have some collection from Rajasthan also,” he said.
He said there is a dearth of space in the museum and as they have five to six rooms full of a collection of cultural items. “We are planning to expand it in the future,” he said.
He said they have a traditional Oil Spoon (Till Krund) and lightning instrument (Tchoong). 18th-century coins of Kashmir (Sansu of approximately 6.2 gm). Traditional Kashmiri basket, Pann Dabb, Samawar, Sorma stone, wooden kitchen vessels. Traditional Kashmiri Kitchen, cooking on the earthen hearth (Dambur).
Bano was suffering from cancer and she passed away in the year of 2017. “Deadly cancer could not deter her struggle, love, and affection towards her work and community. She continued to visit her college and other offices till her last breath,” Masoodi said.
About her paternal aunt, he said she had also set up Kashmir Women’s College (B.ED College )in 2001 and also was contributing to society by setting up Islamic Darasgah’ in nearby villages of Sopore, where she used to facilitate children for religious and modern education.
“She had set up 15 Darasgahs for the children and she was paying for the preacher (Molvi Sahibb) and rental accommodation. After her death, those schools have been closed now,” he said.
Masoodi said she has been the inspiration for the young women in north Kashmir and was also Vice President of Adbee Markaz Kamraz Jammu and Kashmir, which is the oldest and the largest cultural and literary organization of J&K focused on promoting and preserving Kashmiri culture, literature and art.
"Atiqa Ji will always be remembered for her great contribution to Kashmiri society and its rich culture," he said.