On the south bank of Musi river in the city stands a majestic building that houses a mammoth collection of art, sculptures, paintings, etc. It’s the famous Salar Jung Museum (SJM).

Now, the SJM will have another first. It will have India’s first Islamic Art Gallery, open by the end of this financial year.

Nearly six years after it was conceptualised, the museum has completed selecting objects for the gallery that will be housed in a 15,000 sq. ft. space at the current location.

The logic of having a separate Islamic Art Gallery? The Museum has a large collection of Islamic objects and bigger museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the British Museum, London have it.

“We have a collection of 46,000 objects and about 15,000 are on display. The new gallery will have about 2,500 objects. Some of them already on display will be moved there and some will be taken out of the repository,” informed A. Nagender Reddy, director of the museum.

The museum which currently displays five copies of Koran, will soon be showcasing 200 out of the 300 Korans it has. SJM has the largest collection of art objects acquired by one person, Mir Yousuf Ali Khan Bahadur, popularly known as Salar Jung III, prime minister during the reign of Nizams. Inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1951, the collection moved to a new location on the banks of the Musi on July 24,1968.

Among the objects that will be housed in the Islamic Gallery will be Noor Jahan’s fruit knife, Shah Jahan’s jade archer’s ring with a gold inscription with the legend

(lord of conjunction and one of the titles of Mughal Emperor Shahjahan).

A diamond-encrusted gold watch with Arabic inscription of 1895 which was gifted to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru by the Bey of Tunis. Nehru, in turn, gifted the pocket watch to the SJM when he came to lay the foundation stone for the new building in 1963.

“All the objects that will go on display are not religious like Korans, rosaries or prayer carpets. Some of them have inscriptions from Koran or detailing in Arabic. There is a revolver of Tipu Sultan. There are jackets worn by soldiers while going for war with lines from Koran. There is Egyptian furniture with Arabic inscriptions. All these will form part of the 2,500 additional objects on display,” said Mr. Reddy.

The installation of air curtains, dehumidifiers and air filters have improved the experience of visitors to the gallery where the foul smell of Musi used to pervade earlier.

Indian visitors

According to the museum figures, the number of Indian visitors has seen a spike while the number of international visitors has actually declined over the past few years. In 2010-11, 11,51,932 Indians visited the museum, the numbers rose to 13,20,120 in 2015-16. In contrast, the number of foreign visitors has dipped from 10,258 to 8,803 in the same period.

Once it opens, the new gallery is sure to change the fortunes of the Museum since a large number of tourists from West Asia come to Hyderabad.

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