KARACHI: Judging from the nervousness of museum director Mohammad Shah Bukhari, one could understand the risk involved in putting on display the rare artifacts and ornaments. “It is for the first time that I am taking these out for the public at the National Museum of Pakistan,” the museum director told Dawn on Friday.
The extremely valuable artifacts in the museum, like at all other big museums of the world, are kept under lock and key. They are only brought out at heavily guarded exhibitions or on very special occasions. The International Museum Day was as good an occasion to do it for the very first time here.
Among the excavated pottery, old texts, stone and metal artifacts in one of the museum’s 11 galleries, the Islamic Art Gallery, there are four or five special glass display tables. One has a beautiful 300-year-old copy of the Holy Quran, another showcase displays solid gold Gandhara Civilization jewellery, while the third has a pair of small gold bulls with the last one exhibiting the original King Priest.
“The King Priest is South Asia’s biggest archaeological symbol,” the museum director said. “You must have seen it many times in textbooks, postcards, posters or on television. Well, all those are only casts of the original. We have never brought out for display the original King Priest before this day,” he said.
Anwar Hussain Khan, the museum’s model maker, said that he had been creating replicas in clay and plaster of Paris, but the original was made of white stone. “Most Gandhara objects are made of the same white stone,” he said.
Commenting on the priceless King Priest, Mr Khan joked that if sold the amount fetched in exchange can take care of Pakistan’s years of debts. “But seriously, the biggest buyers of such art pieces are in Japan. They can give you a lot of money for it but no one in their right mind would even think about selling such a piece. It is just priceless,” he said.
Meanwhile, the museum director said that even if they took it out of the country for exhibitions, its insurance itself came to billions of dollars.
The other artefacts on display include the jewellery comprising two bangles and as many necklaces with stones embedded, like clear glass Kundan work. “They are some 1,800 years old,” said Mr Bukhari.
There is also a pair of small gold bulls. “They are not gold-plated but pure, solid gold ornaments,” he said. “Both are Indus Valley Civilisation pieces, excavated from Quetta during the construction of Serena Hotel there several years ago,” he added.
The copy of Holy Quran in Naskh script by Abu Al-Barkat Sayyid Mohammad Makki is dated back to AH 912/ 1506 AD. “It has been passed down through several generations and the museum acquired it in 1957,” he said.
“We usually hold our exhibitions in the main lobby of the museum but considering the preciousness of these items and the risk involved in bringing them out, we decided to put them on display in the Islamic Art Gallery, which seems more secure,” said Mr Bukhari.
He said they had made extraordinary security arrangements for the very special artifacts.
The exhibition, which opens for the public on May 18 when the world celebrates International Museum Day, will continue for 15 days.