AKLF 2019: Exhibition on the begums of a bygone era at Kolkata Centre for Creativity

A rare display of antiquities of the Rampur royal family reveals prized nuggets about the cultural decadence of a lost era

Sharmistha Ghosal Published :  18th January 2019 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  18th January 2019 12:00 AM

Wedding finery of the Rampur Nawabi family

Kolkata is going to get a glimpse of the cultural heritage and lifestyle of the Rampur Nawabi family at an exhibition starting from January 20 called Gold Dust of Begum Sultans as a part of the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival.

The eight-day-day exhibition on display at  Kolkata Centre for Creativity is inspired by Zubaida Sultan’s Sunehri Rait, an Urdu work of fiction based on historical facts, written in 1966. The book had been translated into English as Gold Dust of Begum Sultans by sisters Zakia Zaheer and Syeda Hameed. The book traces the the history of late nineteenth and early twentieth century and since it is a story in which ladies, representing three generations – Qamar Zamani, Jahan Ara, Mumtaz and Shehzadi -- play pivotal roles, the translators added Begum Sultans to the title.

Miniature doll furniture and utensils on display at the exhibition

The exhibition, interspersed with audio-visual displays, has been conceived and designed by eminent curator and designer Ranesh Ray and documentary filmmaker Iffat Fatima. 

Ray mentions that the cultural heritage of Rampur during that period will be traced through several artefacts and documents belonging to the Nawabi family, including 77 banners, a few nikahnamas (marriage deeds), century-old dolls, doll weddings, furniture and silver utensils for dolls, silver trays, clothes including Farshi Ghararas, wedding finery and Karchob Dupattas, jewels and mourning rites and rituals of Rampur.

“We have tried to recreate the culture and ethos of an era, which is today fast being forgotten,” says Iffat. 

Rampur Nawabi family's wedding fineries

She further adds that the dolls were extremely important to the women in the zenana, who couldn’t freely mix with outsiders. Elaborate and decadent weddings used to be organised for these dolls replete with tailor-made clothes for the relatives, bespoke jewellery and kingly feasts for the guests. There were proper rituals and even miniature furniture were carved out of wood for the dolls. “These dolls were an escape route for the women who hardly had any free contact with the outside world,” Iffat explains.

Rampur was established in 1774 by nawab Faizullah Khan when he was ousted by the Nawab of Oudh from Bareilly with the help of the British. It was the only Muslim state to have survived the revolt of 1857 and became a cultural hub with poets from Mughal and Awadhi courts flocking to the state after their decline. The migration of singers and poets also led to the formation of Hindustani Classical school of Music later.

Royal fineries

The show also has panels with excerpts from the books, which have been installed alongside three audio-visual clips, put together by Iffat that will be on loop for the visitors. Iffat has used clippings from Satyajit Ray’s movie, Jalsaghar, to show the decadent nawabi culture. There is a short film depicting majlis held during the Islamic month of Muharram since the Rampur Nawabi family belongs to the Shia community. Besides, there will be clippings of three women from the royal family, -- including Hameeda Srivastava, who has contributed some of the artefacts for the show -- reminiscing the lost glory of the family.

(All pictures: Monica Dawar)

The exhibition will be on till January 27 at Kolkata Centre for Creativity from 11 am to 7 pm