For the past year and a half, Arshad Ahmad has spent at least one weekend every month at the Bait-ul-Meeras museum in Aali Kadal in downtown Srinagar. The private museum is just about 10 minutes from his house but he says its transports him back through centuries of Kashmiri history.
“I’d heard about the tathaar or the coal-based water heater that was used in the last century from my grandparents, but I only got to see one in the museum,” said Ahmad, 36, a social activist.He is also interested in the centuries-old masland carpets on display in the museum.
Also read: Travel: Jodhpur beyond the fort and food
Opened in September 2021, the Bait-ul-Meeras is a museum of everyday objects from Kashmir’s past. The museum, run by a local non-governmental organization Help Foundation, is housed within a four-storey heritage building dating to the 1880s when it was used for private gatherings. Apart from the government museum in Srinagar and another private museum in north Kashmir’s Sopore area, this is the only place to get a glimpse of Kashmir’s cultural heritage, and diverse arts and handicrafts.
Many of the objects on display were used in daily life but have been forgotten today, such as the 100-year-old guras mandun, a wooden butter churner, a rarepaan daan with tiny compartments of copper and intricate detailing, and the Kashmiri pulhor or grass sandals that could be used in all weather conditions.
“Many of these utensils and jewelry are no longer in use,” saidproject coordinator and curator Romaisa Nisar. “Some of the old musical instruments and furnishing items date back to Maharaja Pratap Singh’s reign.We have a farmaan box or messenger case that was used until 1953.” Simpler but no less important objects of daily use include akanz that was used till the 1950s to remove husks from grains. The clothing collection includes the antique khem khaab, which women wore during weddings.
“It took us around two and a half years to collect these articles. Most of the items were donated by residents, from things they had at home but were no longer using,” said Nisar.“The idea behind establishing the museum was to get Kashmir’s younger generation interested in their past, in their cultural heritage through daily objects.”
Some of the items are also on loan to the museum. “Those who do not want to donate their articles because they are sentimentally attached to them just loan them to us for some time,” said Nisar.
Bait-ul-Meeras also houses an open library with about 1,000 books on history, religion and literature. In future, the museum intends to collect old manuscripts and Kashmiri literature as well. The museum has also started to host cultural programs, including workshops for school students from across Kashmir. The programmes include Kashmiri language teaching workshops, pottery workshops, theatre and art workshops. On Fridays, activities such as calligraphy and painting are organized for students.
“We want our younger generation to know about the art, culture and traditions of Kashmir as they are mostly growing up with concrete around them,” said Hakeem Javid, the museum coordinator. “We have hundreds of old items on display and the visiting students experience and understand how people lived,” he said. “It’s fascinating for them and makes them aware of the way of life of their forefathers.”
In time, the museum intends to provide space for the traditional artisans of Sheher-Khas (downtown Srinagar) as well as expand the collection. In addition to residents and students, the museum also gets visitors from different parts of the country and the world. In the past year, the museum has had about 2,500 visitors.The J&K Tourism Department's City Legacy Tour of downtown Srinagar includes a stop at Bait-ul-Meeras. “For some old Kashmiri visitors, it is a nostalgic trip down memory lane to see items that were once part of their life,” said Nisar.
Also read: The 10 best golf courses in India