The museum currently has largest collection of Gandhara art around the world
By Muhammad Shahid
PESHAWAR: The centenary celebrations of the Peshawar Museum, which began on January 8, ended yesterday (January 13).
The celebrations included an International Conference on Frontier Archaeology from January8-9, painting exhibitions, declamation contests, lectures for archaeology students and setting up of stalls displaying clay pots, embroidered clothes and woollen garments. The dignitaries from numerous countries, including The United States, the United Kingdom, India, Iran, Afghanistan and Greece, were given a Tonga tour around the city on January 10, 2006.
The Peshawar Museum, situated between the Cantt Railway Station and the Old City, currently has 14,156 items including Gandhara sculptures, coins, manuscripts and copies of the holy Quran, inscriptions, weapons, dresses, jewellery, Kalash effigies, paintings of the Mughal era and later periods, household objects and local and Persian handicrafts.
The main hall of the museum was built in 1906-07 in memory of Queen Victoria at a cost of Rs 60,000, out of which Rs 45,000 were donated by the public of NWFP and Rs 15,000 by the Indian director general of archaeology. The museum, set up in 1906, was originally called the Victoria Memorial Hall.
The two-storey building, an amalgamation of British and Mughal architectural styles, originally consisted of a main hall and two side aisles on the ground and first floor, surmounted by four elegant cupolas and small pinnacles on all the corners. Another two halls were added in the eastern and western side of the building in 1969-70. Four years later, a second floor was added to the side halls.
A new block, under the project “Extension of Peshawar Museum,” was approved in 2002 at a cost of Rs 33.11 million. In 2004-2005, the construction was completed of an Islamic Block with two galleries, a conservation laboratory, two halls for the reserve collection, offices for the provincial directorate of archaeology and a cafeteria, in addition to complete remodelling of the existing building by replacing the show cases, lighting, labelling, display in all the galleries of the existing main building, along with revamping the floor and ceiling, etc. NWFP Chief Minister Akram Khan Durrani on January 8 (Monday) inaugurated the newly constructed Directorate of Museums.
The museum’s collection is divided into five main sections, given in the following lines:
Gandhara Section: Peshawar Museum has the largest collection of Gandhara Greco-Buddhist art in the world. In total, there are 4,247 Gandhara pieces including Buddhist stone sculptures and panels, stucco sculptures, terracotta figurines, relic caskets and toiletry objects. The subject matter of Gandhara Art in the main hall includes Buddha’s life stories, miracles, worship of symbols, relic caskets and individual standing Buddha sculptures.
Coins Section: The coins collection of Peshawar Museum, 8625 items in all, includes Punch marked coins, and coins from the Indus Greeks, Scytho-Parthians, Kushans, White Huns and Hindu Shahis. Also included are Islamic coins of the Ghaznavids, Ghaurids, Slave Dynasties, Tughlaqs, Lodhis, Mughals, Durranis, Sikh and British periods. The coins are in gold, solver, copper and billion and are found in round, square and rectangular shapes.
Islamic Art: This gallery exhibits wooden facades of mosques, Arabic and Persian inscriptions, Multani tiles and ceramics, and the dresses and weapons of Syed Ahmad Shaheed Barailvi, a freedom fighter. Some of the best works are the Islamic metal artefacts in bronze and silver and calligraphic specimens as well as scrolls from as far back as 1224 AD.
Ethnological Section: This section exhibits the culture and life of the major tribes of NWFP and the Kalashas of Chitral. It presently exhibits 348 items including twelve commemorative effigies of world famous Kalasha male and female figures. Numerous swords, daggers, spears, bows, arrows, shields, muzzle loaded guns, revolvers, pistols and gunpowder boxes are also exhibited.
Iranian Section: The Iranian Consulate in Peshawar donated 97 pieces to the Peshawar Museum in 2003. This section contains modern calligraphic specimens, paintings, photographs, ornamental objects in silver, bronze, ivory and glass, toiletry objects and pen holders. There are also 24 models displaying the various tribal and regional dresses of Iran.
Talking to Daily Times, Museums Director Saleh Muhammad Khan said that museums were like institutions where visitors rediscovered rare pieces of olden times and that work on nine new museums in the province would soon be completed.
Asked if the government was doing something for the preservation of modern culture and civilisation, Saleh Muhammad said that for modern civilisation’s preservation needed the construction of more museums, “and our future generations will see the relics of our civilisation after centuries.”
“According to the law, the relics must be preserved in the area where they are found, and a museum must be constructed towards this end,” said the museums director.