Monday, 20 December 2010

The missing objects of Falaknuma Palace

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: “The Falaknuma Palace has been painstakingly restored to its original glory,” claim the Palace authorities. But old timers, who have observed the Falaknuma Palace from close quarters, point out that some of the royal arts, artefacts, marble statues and  precious articles that once adorned the Palace walls and rooms are conspicuous by their absence in the now “restored” Palace.

Every object in the Falaknuma Palace, one of the most secretly kept royal palaces in the  world with access only to a privileged few in the last 100 years till it was turned into  a Palace Hotel last month, is unique and one of its kind, each adding to the grandeur and  majesty of this “Mirror in the Sky” (as Falaknuma is known in Urdu). But the absence of  some of these objects, old timers argue, has robbed the Palace of its “original glory”.

According to close observers, one of the piece de resistance now missing is the  translucent marble statue of a little boy in tears. The statue is a masterpiece of art in  that the tear drop rolling from eyes was majestically eternalized in marble. It once  adorned the unique 101-seat dining room in the Palace, the longest dining hall in the  world.

“I have observed the statue a number of times in the old Palace. I remember the boy was  holding a still bird in hand, and perhaps mourning over its loss. The highlight was the  tear drop so beautifully sculptured in specially selected translucent marble stone from  Rome. It is equal in art value to that of the veiled Rebecca in Salarjung Museum. I have  closely observed the restored Palace during a party hosted by the hotel last week but  could not find the marble statue,” a senior city historian with close contacts to the royal family told this correspondent.

Another object now not seen in the Palace premises is a simple, yet historic, weather cock fitted to a long pole with a triangle at the top. The weather cock had been showing the wind direction ever since the Palace was constructed about 120 years ago. Since the Palace is located on a hill, 2000 ft above the ground, the Nizam might have thought the weather cock would be quite useful to him. The Asaf Jahi flag used to flutter atop the pole fitted with the weather cock, just in the foreground of the main Palace. According to sources, the object was removed after the pole had rusted for want of maintenance.

The Palace reportedly had a beautifully crafted swing with golden chains. The Nizam VI, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan, was said to have specially ordered for the swing for his children to play. The swing is now not seen in the restored Palace. The famous Jade Room once had a rare collection of precious objects, some of which are now valued hundreds of crores of Rupees. What is now left in the Jade Room now are a set of wooden furniture, chandeliers and a few artefacts. The “old glory” is said to be missing.

According to an old timer, the Jade Room was the centre of attraction for the VVIP dignitaries during the regime of the Mir Mahboob Ali Khan and his successor, Nizam VII Mir Osman Ali Khan. He alleged that rare paintings, marble statues and artefacts had been shifted from the Palace before it was handed over to the Taj authorities.

Sources point out that there was no inventory of the objects in the Falaknuma Palace till one was made in mid 1990s during the handing over of the Palace to the Taj Group. Almost 20 lorry loads of material was said to have been removed from the Palace between 1980 and 1995. Some of the objects are said to have been kept in the store room of the Palace.

The Palace had been virtually deserted after the death of Mir Mahboob Ali Khan on August 29, 1911. Within a month of his demise, the royal family including the new ruler, Mir Osman Ali Khan, vacated the Palace. Except for a few occasions the Palace was kept locked. The Palace fell on bad days after the death of Mir Osman Ali Khan and the objects were clandestinely sold to pay off debts and salaries of the staff.

City historians note that marble statues and chandeliers were imported from Europe by the hundreds to adorn the Falaknuma Palace. Marble statues of Roman goddesses and nymphs were specially brought from Italy during the regime of Mir Mahboob Ali Khan. There were also unique sketches and murals, many of which are now not seen.

The Taj Group of Hotels, which now maintains the Palace, has clarified that it has not moved out any art or artefact after the Palace was handed over to it. "Since Taj has taken on the palace, we have not moved out any art or artefact from the palace. We have in fact, carefully and painstakingly restored all that was there in the Palace. In regards to the particular statue (of boy) that has been referred to, we have not seen this statue in the palace since we have come here," a Taj spokesman pointed out when asked about the objects now reportedly missing from the Palace.

There have been instances of the Nizam’s objects being auctioned outside the country. The shoes of the one of the Nizams were sold to a leading footwear manufacturer. They are said to be one of the 10 most expensive footwear ever made. Other royal items auctioned abroad were a rare Lorenzoni system
flintlock repeating gun (1770 CE) and a rare Indian flintlock dagger pistol.

“Since the Nizam collection is purely personal, the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 does not 
apply as long as the objects are sold within the country. “The law applies only if the objects are moved out of the country,” says senior advocate AK Basha.

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