In an effort to educate the younger generation about the rich cultural heritage and tradition of Kashmir, an NGO based in the valley has established a heritage museum “Bait-ul-Meeras” in downtown Srinagar.
Established by the HELP Foundation in September 2021, Bait-ul-Meera is the second largest private museum in Kashmir after Meeras Mahal in Sopore. It is located on the banks of the Jhelum River in the Ael Kadal district of the city and has hundreds of items to display.
Inside a four-storey heritage house that represents the architecture of traditional Kashmiri houses in the city center, the museum’s collection includes ancient ornaments, traditional dresses, utensils, clothing, art and crafts, and other attractions.
HELP Foundation Chairman Nighat Shafi told Rising Kashmir that the idea behind establishing Bait-ul-Meeras was to educate the younger generation about the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir.
“Our children are not aware of their culture; they live in the virtual world. For lack of interest, they have forgotten their heritage and their cultural heritage. We should be proud of what we have,” she said. declared.
Nighat says that Bait-ul-Meeras is an effort to recover artifacts and other items from bygone times that have disappeared from the cultural landscape.
“Over the past year, we have received an overwhelming response from visitors. They were pleased with our efforts to preserve and protect our history,” she said.
About Shahi Masnand which was brought by Abdul Aziz Mir Bow, a resident of Rajpora region in south Kashmir, Nighat says Bow was his great-grandfather. “It is an ancient piece in Kashmir and it must be over 110 years old. In our family we used it for special occasions including weddings. Last year I decided to keep it in the museum so let people know,” she said. .
Nighat says they are trying to have more things in their museum. It is a place where people can display their precious collections like religious manuscripts and family heirlooms on special occasions. Additionally, art exhibitions and cultural events are held from time to time, she said.
As for the current plans, Nighat said they are still collecting the rare items across the valley. Whatever history we find in any part of the valley, we add to the collection, she said.
Nighat believes that museums are the best guardians of objects of historical significance. “Here, objects are preserved and documented properly so that their value grows. Private museums are the safest bet for this heritage because we do it out of passion and not for profit,” she added.
Describing Bait-ul-Meerasas as the place where children can come to experience their culture and heritage, she said: “It has become a breathing space for the local people and remains buzzing with activities throughout the year”.
Most of the artifacts on display are daily use items that were commonplace in Kashmir until the end of the 20th century.
Some of the artifacts present in the gallery include Tathul Patar (Water Barrel), 200 Year Old Kanz, Dhul, Watni Gor (Walker), Nout, Masnand, Waguv, Gabea, Namdha, Lacquer Pillars, Izbaand Siz, paper mache lamp stand, Samovar, Kashmiri Hoka, Gurue Mandun, Ganj Baan, Tash Set, Judge, Yinder etc.
Bait-ul-Meeras project coordinator Hakeem Javeed said people are becoming aware of their heritage and this initiative is a small effort to preserve the rich history and heritage of Kashmir.
“We had been looking for a good space along the Jhelum River for several years and finally found it last year in the heart of downtown,” he said.
Javeed says that with the owner’s coordination, the dilapidated building was later renovated. For decades this building stood empty and there is also a story behind it.
“This building was constructed during the time of King Dogra Maharaja Partap Singh and was a property of the Kaul dynasty who were influential and reputed Kashmiri pandits.” he said, adding “after 1947 most members of the Kaul dynasty left Kashmir and sold it to the Muslim family known as ‘Halwae-wean’.
Later, we launched a campaign across Kashmir to secure a collection for the Museum, he said. “Some have donated utensils, musical instruments and other things. It’s been a tough journey for all of us,” he said.
He says Kashmiri women have always been inclined to wear jewelry. “Our museum has about 50-60 types of jewelry used by women in the past.”
Some of these items include, Kaskar, Waje, Baved, Patar, Qamarbano, Halkaband, Kundan, Chokar globand, Gunsa Raaz, Chapeo Khol, Haechz Kaur, Matarmall, Surma Dani, Saban Dain, Door Kash, Sindoor Dani, Kani Waji and many other stuff.
In clothes, the museum has Heirloom Kimkhab Pheran, a 150-year-old wedding dress, costumes, Dastaar and Pulhor.
Javeed says it is our collective responsibility to safeguard our heritage. “This museum is a rich cultural heritage. It is our collective responsibility to preserve it and pass it on to our future generations so that our identity is protected,” he said.
“In today’s highly connected world, young people travel and interact with their counterparts around the world, so they need to be aware of their roots, culture and able to explain and define where they come,” he said.
Javeed says there are other sections of Bait-ul-Meeras including Art and Craft and Downtown is a hub of artisans who have inherited the art from their ancestors.
“We act as a dynamic platform for them. We train and teach students how traditional Kashmiri handicrafts are made. Some of the traditional crafts include Ari, Sozni, Pashmina and carpet weaving,” said he declared.
Javeed says that for a live demonstration, yender (spinning wheel) and looms have been set up in this section to educate the younger generation about their rich heritage.
There is also a public library with a variety of books suitable for different age groups. “From history to fiction books, our library is home to every book,” Javeed said.
Bait-ul-Meeras representatives say they will continue to work hard so that there is more such platform for our youths in Kashmir.
“Anyone can donate their belongings (which have museum value) to us and we will display them in our museum,” Javeed said.