Situated on the southern banks of the Musi River in the Capital City of Hyderabad, Telangana, the Salar Jung Museum with its prized collections dating back to different civilizations is one of the National Museums of India, which was originally a private art collection of the reputed Salar Jung family and later endowed to the nation after the death of Nawab Mir Yousuf Ali Khan, famously known as Salar Jung III.
The invaluable family collection, housed in Dewan Deodi, the ancestral palace of the Salar Hung family, was opened to the public in the form of a museum named Salar Jung Museum, by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India on 16th December 1951. Later, the museum along with its library was declared an Institution of National Importance in 1961 and subsequently, it was transferred to its present building at Dar-ul-Shifa and inaugurated by Dr Zakir Hussain, the then President of India in 1968.
The Salar Jung family is one of the most illustrious families in Deccan history, five of them serves as prime ministers in the erstwhile Nizam rule of Hyderabad.
Nawab Mir Yousuf Ali Khan, who later came to be known as Salar Jung III and was appointed Dewan or Prime Minister by Nawab Mir Osman Ali Khan Nizam VII in 1912, had a good upbringing and became the heir to enormous wealth when he inherited a huge estate of 450 villages spread over 1480 square miles of land, with annual revenue of Rs 23, 00,000. He was an aesthete, known for his refined taste and had the inclination for collecting rare pieces of art from all over the world. Finally, he relinquished the post of Dewan or Prime Minister in November 1914 on health grounds, only to devote his life towards the expansion and enrichment of his treasure trove of arts and literature. He had agents abroad who sent him catalogues and lists from well-known antique dealers and also made purchases personally during his tours abroad to Europe and the Middle Eastern countries. Apart from collecting antiques, artefacts and rare manuscripts, he also patronized poets, writers and artists, encouraging literary and cultural activities. He also arranged for the publication of many books on his family members.
The semicircular building of the Salar Jung Museum, with the unique distinction as the third largest museum in India, is equipped with 38 galleries spread across two floors, 20 galleries on the ground floor and 18 on the first floor.
Representing the mirrors of the past human environment, ranging from the 2nd century BC to the early 20th century AD, with its 43,000 art objects and 50,000 priceless books and manuscripts, the museum offers a royal treat to visitors, although it is alleged that the present collection constitutes only half of the original art treasure collected by the Nawab, while a substantial part of it was siphoned off by his employees, on whom the Nawab depended to keep a vigil.
The huge collection of the museum are displayed in separate galleries, divided into different sections namely, Indian Art, Nepalese Art, Middle Eastern Art, Persian Art, Far Eastern Art, which includes Chinese and Japanese Art and European Art. In addition to that, a special gallery, named the Founder’s Gallery, is devoted to the illustrious Salar Jung family, containing several portraits of Salar Jung III and other members of the family.
The Indian Art collection consists of Miniature paintings, Modern paintings, Bronzes, Textiles, Ivory, Jade, Bidriware, a metal handicraft from the city of Bidar in southern India, Arms and Armour, Stone sculptures, Wood Carvings, Metalware and manuscripts. The rich collection of arms includes jade-crafted daggers of Mughal Emperors Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Nur Jahan, the chief empress of Jahangir and weapons belonging to Emperor Aurangzeb, Muhammad Shah and Bahadur Shah, Tipu Sultan of Mysore and Abul Hasan Qutb Shah, the last ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty of the Kingdom of Golkonda. It can also boast of its collection of about 600 Coins back from the Vijay Nagar dynasty to the Bahmani Empire, Moghul Empire and Modern India, even some Punch Mark coins from the Kushan dynasty. The Indian Art section also contains Indian sculptures from the Gandhara and Chola periods and Indian miniature paintings of Mughal, Rajasthani and different Deccan schools. After Salar Jung Museum was declared as an Institution of National Importance in 1961, several works of modern Indian artists were added by the acquisition committee to the original collection, which include works of Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore and Nadalal Bose of Bengal school and works of other eminent Indian artists like Raja Ravi Verma and Maqbool Fida Husain.
The Eastern Art Gallery houses Japanese artworks, porcelain artefacts, Samurai swords and sculptures from China, Japan, Tibet and Burma and the European Art section of the museum exhibits several excellent oil paintings, including the works of the British, French and Italian schools, containing works of Canaletto, an Italian painter from the Republic of Venice, considered an important member of the 18th-century Venetian school, French academic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau and the Italian painter Francesco Hayez, considered one of the leading artists of Romanticism in mid-19th-century Milan. In addition, it contains art objects ranging from aesthetically beautiful glass objects to exquisite furniture from the time of King Louis IV and Napoleon, splendid examples of ivory, enamelware and a good number of clocks, ranging from ancient sundials in the form of obelisks to huge and modern clocks of the twentieth century, procured from different European countries such as France, England, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and the like. The variety of clocks includes Bird cage clocks, Bracket clocks, Grandfather clocks, Skeleton clocks and the miniature clocks which need a magnifying glass to perceive their delicate beauty. However, perhaps the most treasured masterpiece of the museum is the piece of marble sculpture named Veiled Rebecca, created by the famous Italian neoclassical sculptor Giovanni Maria Benzoni and collected by Sir Mir Turab Ali Khan, Salar Jung I, during his visit to Italy in 1876. During the same tour, he also purchased the Double Statue of Mephistopheles and Margaretta, a hypnotic wood sculpture created by an unknown French sculptor sometime around the 1870s, which now stands on a polished dark pedestal on the second storey of the Salar Jung Museum.
The Middle East Gallery in the Salar Jung Museum is represented through its art objects procured from Persia, Syria and Egypt, covering a wide range of figurative and narrative Persian carpets, manuscripts, ceramics, glass, metalware, furniture, Lacquer and others, while the Far Eastern Gallery displays Japanese and Chinese art objects of Porcelain, Bronze, Enamel, Lacquer-ware, Embroidery, Paintings, Wood and Inlay work. The museum also houses a Children’s Gallery, providing informal education to the children, apart from providing delight, along with porcelain, metal and jade objects, toy armies and a train from the early 20th century that even runs a short distance to the delight of the kids.
Apart from the galleries, the museum has a rich library of rare books and illuminated manuscripts, along with a reading room, publication and education section, chemical conservation lab, sales counter, cafeteria and a window for the visitors to make them understand the arts of India and the opportunity to view different aspects of the art of other countries of the world.