The former SPS museum is undergoing a major facelift to be transformed into a ‘heritage museum’ which will allow visitors to take a peek at Kashmir’s oldest social and cultural heritage.
At the initiative of the Ministry of Culture, the restoration of the museum named after King Dogra Sri Pratap Singh has already started.
“We have decided to restore the glorious museum with the help of conservationists from outside,” said Sarmad Hafeez, secretary of the Department of Culture.
“The museum’s reuse and restoration plan can help us preserve Kashmir’s rich heritage through various artefacts,” Hafeez said.
For many years the old museum building has been closed, although thousands of unique exhibits have been kept here. Now the first challenge for the ministry is to complete the renovation of the building and then to determine the action plan for the restoration with the help of the curators of art and heritage.
Hafeez said the culture department took two major heritage projects in Srinagar for restoration, including the SPS Museum and the transformation of the Shergari complex into the prestigious “Srinagar Museum”.
“These projects have already been approved and the necessary basic funds have already been released,” he said.
The tenders for the complex restoration works are also being finalized, now the department has to work out the execution plan with the expert consultants who will be appointed for the restoration works through a tender. .
The old building of the SPS museum was created at the end of the 19th century with the intervention of Maharaja Pratap Singh, then sovereign Dogra.
Kashmir is historically known as the oldest settlement in Asia with a recorded and documented history of 5,000 years. However, the area was without a museum for public display. It was only towards the end of the 19th century that historical sites, dwellings and artefacts were recognized as the representative cultural treasures of this civilization.
In 1898, Sovereign Dogra Maharaja Pratap Singh opened the museum in the existing building after receiving a proposal from his younger brother Raja Amar Singh and a European scholar, Captain SH Godmerry.
The first exhibits and objects on display in the museum belonged to the region of Jammu, Kashmir, Baltistan and Gilgit.
The museum was once comprised of some of the unique collections, both organic and inorganic in nature.
These include the sculptures ? stone, metal objects (bronze), terracotta and clay tiles. – Painting gallery ? miniature and oil painting. – Textile gallery ? Shawls and some rugs. – Anthropology / Natural History ? Stuffed birds, animals and insects. – Numismatics ? Gallery-gold, silver and copper coins. – Mineral Gallery ? Stone, mineral and clay models
The cubic building of the old SPS museum and its pyramid roof having a square pavilion in the center is built like Kashmiri architecture present in shrines and mosques.
Currently, the Department of Archives, Archeology and Museums is working on the modernization of the building with the help of experts from the Department of Tourism.
The museum building which was badly damaged in the 2014 floods is based on a square plan, with linear galleries serving as porches extended on all four sides, according to the 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 91 feet x 82 feet surrounded by linear exterior bays about 20 feet wide,” an INTACH report said.
“These linear bays or galleries that once served as porticoes with open wooden arcades are juxtaposed with square rooms with angles originally designed as two-storey blocks. These galleries have now been incorporated into the building to provide additional display space, ”the reports said.
Mushtaq Ahmad Beigh, deputy director of the archives, archeology and museums department, said they plan to restore the building according to the old plan.
“We have the old photos, sketches and paintings of the old building. We will restore the museum accordingly. But, before the complex restoration, the renovation will be completed to strengthen the building and the murals, ”he said.
The interior walls of the main span of the museum building are covered with decorative painted frescoes and plaster frescoes. The building’s ceiling also features beautiful papier-mâché panels.
The building’s ceiling features decorative papier-mâché ceiling panels in most rooms.
On the other hand, the panels in the central part of the building represent some of the best ceilings based on the tarah shawl (paisley pattern) and the softened chandelier of these panels is very alluring to the viewer even today after a passage of more than a hundred years.
The INTACH report said that the presence of wood in the structural and non-structural system of buildings in Kashmir has been shown to be effective during earthquakes, the same material putting buildings at risk in fires.
“Between 550 and 1935 AD, there were at least 19 outbreaks of fires recorded in the city of Srinagar which swept away much of the historic mohallas (neighborhoods),” he said.
“Floods have ravaged the valley since ancient times. Between 1900 and 1965 AD, at least 15 major floods were recorded. Since most traditional / historic buildings in Kashmir had mud bricks, mortar and plaster as an essential part apart from wood (which tends to rot with prolonged exposure to moisture or water), the built park would invariably be affected in the event of a flood that caused immediate or long-term damage to the building, ”the report said.