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State Bank Museum: The treasures that time forgot

The State Bank Museum building which was previously the Imperial Bank of India.— Muhammad Umar
The State Bank Museum building which was previously the Imperial Bank of India.— Muhammad Umar

The sprawling brown stone building of the State Bank Museum stands tall and lonely; one of many reminders of the British era that remain intact amidst the high rises on I.I Chundrigar road.

The museum that was once the Imperial Bank of India, now houses the archaeological treasures of the subcontinent. But the historical gems that the structure houses, remain unseen by many.

The building stands aloof, waiting to be admired by the outside bustle, which seems to be oblivious to the history inside.

Unveiling the gems

From the entrance to the mezzanine floor, this place offers a captivating journey through time; here you will find the earliest form of money used in the subcontinent, coins issued under Alexander the Great's rule, currency used during World War II and close to home, the largest collection of murals by Sadequain.

It took six years of research to compile the artifacts that are on display and with such wonders on offer, it comes as a surprise that the archaeological gems seem to attract very little visitors.

The interior of the building. — Muhammad Umar
The interior of the building. — Muhammad Umar
Japanese Invasion Money used during World War II.— Muhammad Umar
Japanese Invasion Money used during World War II.— Muhammad Umar
Stone used by the natives of Yap Island as money. — Muhammad Umar
Stone used by the natives of Yap Island as money. — Muhammad Umar

Coins of grandeur

Inside the Governors’ Gallery where the furniture used by the first Governor of SBP, Zahid Hussain, is kept.— Muhammad Umar
Inside the Governors’ Gallery where the furniture used by the first Governor of SBP, Zahid Hussain, is kept.— Muhammad Umar
Note printing machine. — Muhammad Umar
Note printing machine. — Muhammad Umar
Photograph of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah inaugurating the former State Bank building (now Supreme Court) and other rare photos.— Muhammad Umar
Photograph of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah inaugurating the former State Bank building (now Supreme Court) and other rare photos.— Muhammad Umar

The tour of antiquities begins with the splendid coin collection, which dates back to a time when uneven shapes of silver, weight about the same, were embossed with very simple but symbolic motifs ranging from animals to other elements of nature.

I was told that these were the first form of currency found in the subcontinent, dating back to 5th century BC

Fast forward to 300 BC and Alexander's incursion into the subcontinent, there's a marked difference in the look of the coins. Designs which conveyed stories about Greek gods and their prominence.

The coins depicted figures from Greek mythology, with the head of Herakles, also known as Hercules, on the front and of Zeus, 'the King of Gods', on the back, appearing on the majority of them.

Some historians have argued the image of Herakles was Alexander himself, there is no convincing evidence of this.

Apart from the regular currencies, the rare commemorative coin issued by Alexander after winning the 'Great War in Jhelum' against King Porus, is also secured in the museum as remnants of the King's biggest battle.

“A ruler was only considered powerful after he had issued a coin, it was a manifestation of a king’s prestige,” explained Tanvir Afzal, antiquity registrar at the museum.

The relics of the Greek civilization and the rulers that came in the subcontinent after Alexander, remain preserved in the State Bank museum in the form of coins.

It became apparent that these small pieces of metal not only had monetary value but also transferred the beliefs and cultures of that era. For centuries to come, the coins depicted warriors, kings on horseback, gods and deities.

A collection of coins in the gallery. — Muhammad Umar
A collection of coins in the gallery. — Muhammad Umar
The coin galleries are divided between pre-Islamic and Islamic era. — Muhammad Umar
The coin galleries are divided between pre-Islamic and Islamic era. — Muhammad Umar

With the coming of the Mughals, a paradigm shift occurred in civilisation; a Muslim era began and the change became evident in design and construction as well.

There were no more armours, nor any horses or king’s faces seen on the coins from this period. Instead, Persian calligraphy took over.

Among all the Mughal emperors, coins during Akbar’s era stood out in design.

They had decorative floral motifs, dotted borders and quatrefoil. Akbar’s coins were both round and square in shape typically with the kalma on the obverse (upper side) and “Jalaluddin Mohammad Abkar” engraved on the back.

“The coins during Akbar’s rule had variety and were also well refined. Upon introducing his religion Deen-i-ilahi, special coins were introduced,” says Afzal.

The Deen-i-Ilahi coins read “Allahu Akbar” which means God is great.

The lowest denomination coin was called “dam” and upon our curiosity, the museum registrar told us about its value. “From one single dam 20 kgs of raw materials could be bought at that time.”

As we ventured further, we were enlightened with more facts that we had previously not even wondered about.

The term “rupee” that is dominantly used in subcontinent to this day was derived from Sher Shah Suri’s ‘rupiya’, a Sanskrit term for silver coin

What was even more interesting was the coin that was issued in his era. It was a perfect round with an engraved Star of David on one side.

“Since Sher Shah Suri was a trader, this symbol may have been added to show solidarity with a country,” Afzal adds.

Coins issued by Sher Shah Suri bearing the Star of David.— Muhammad Umar
Coins issued by Sher Shah Suri bearing the Star of David.— Muhammad Umar
A gold weighing machine used in the British era.— Muhammad Umar
A gold weighing machine used in the British era.— Muhammad Umar

Another particular coin that stood out had Nur Jehan’s name, who became the only Mughal empress to have her name engraved in silver coins.

With the end of the Mughal era, once again the coinage of the subcontinent changed and was replaced with a broad variety: portraits of British rulers used by the East India Company, Sikh coins showing Guru Nanak, elephant engraves during Tipu Sultan’s rule.

Largest collection of Sadequain's murals

Sadequain's ‘Industry and Agriculture'.— Muhammad Umar
Sadequain's ‘Industry and Agriculture'.— Muhammad Umar
Inside the Sadequain gallery.— Muhammad Umar
Inside the Sadequain gallery.— Muhammad Umar
Sadequain's hand written notes.— Muhammad Umar
Sadequain's hand written notes.— Muhammad Umar

The mezzanine floor of the museum houses four magnificent murals of Sadequain, making it the world’s largest collection of the artist’s work.

The columns are adorned by his collages, and a smaller room in the gallery resonates with glimpses of his life. A summary of all his works is displayed, as well as his own hand-written messages.

The mural ‘Treasures of time’, which is hard-to-miss, is displayed on a massive 60’ by 8’ canvas featuring 46 thinkers who had a lasting influence on the world for many years.

Interestingly, Sadequain included his own portrait amongst the mathematicians, scientists and philosophers. His murals ‘Industry and Agriculture I and II’ depicted the contrast yet harmony between a farmer and an industrial worker.

A timeline of Sadequain's works.— Muhammad Umar
A timeline of Sadequain's works.— Muhammad Umar
Painting "Freedom Fighters" by Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq in the Contemporary Art Gallery.— Muhammad Umar
Painting "Freedom Fighters" by Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq in the Contemporary Art Gallery.— Muhammad Umar
Paintings in Contemporary Art Gallery.— Muhammad Umar
Paintings in Contemporary Art Gallery.— Muhammad Umar

Another room in the gallery is devoted to the young contemporary artists whose work is displayed without any cost.

“This gallery is solely for the artists who wish their work to be put up for public, anyone can approach us for it,” says Mohammad Zubair, paintings and gallery officer.

In the midst of deteriorating heritage in the country and ill-kept artefacts, this museum stands out with the efforts put in the preservation, a worthwhile visit for anyone looking for an insight into the treasures of the subcontinent.

Collage by Sadequain.— Muhammad Umar
Collage by Sadequain.— Muhammad Umar
In the central hall is sculpture by Ismail Gulgee which is  calligraphic piece with verses of the Quran.— Muhammad Umar
In the central hall is sculpture by Ismail Gulgee which is calligraphic piece with verses of the Quran.— Muhammad Umar
The souvenirs shop inside the museum.— Muhammad Umar
The souvenirs shop inside the museum.— Muhammad Umar

So why doesn't anyone know of the marvels stored at the State Bank Museum?

One of the possible reasons for this neglect maybe the fact that since this is a government-run museum, many people wrongly view it as a drab that 'couldn't possibly have anything interesting in it.' That it is hardly promoted does not help its cause either but according to the Director of the State Bank Dr Asma Ibrahim, the problem may be as simple as a lack of parking space which repulses even the bank staffers let alone avid museum goers.

The other reason could be the fact that the museum is not open on Sunday.

“Though I tried my best, it is difficult to defend heritage anywhere in our country. Hopefully there will be better days for our country, I am optimistic about it," Dr Asma says.

There are always two sides to a coin and for those seeking to reinvent Karachi as a safe, diverse cultural landscape, the forgotten corridors may be the place to start. Besides, who would want to miss a chance to be in the presence of Sadequain?


Photos by Muhammad Umar



Comments (77) Closed



Nisar Mar 17, 2015 01:39pm

Great work, hopefully it get Tourists and i pray to Allah, the enemies of Pakistan don't attack this.

Indeed Mar 17, 2015 01:46pm

Definitely a must see. It was a pleasure to visit with my toddler last year.

Agha Asad Raza Mar 17, 2015 01:52pm

A good article and a MUST see place the next time I am in Karachi

Sheikh Bani AL-Sadr Qureshi Mar 17, 2015 01:55pm

rare treasures. time capsule.

Tariq Amir Mar 17, 2015 02:02pm

A great collection indeed.

Jay Patel Mar 17, 2015 02:03pm

Wow.. Great article. dawn.. appreciating your work.

vijaykumar Mar 17, 2015 02:03pm

Fantastic

Dashrath Babu Mar 17, 2015 02:05pm

MY HEARTY CONGRADULATIONS to Government of Pakistan to maintain such a beautiful & Educative MUSEUM, definitely this will be useful to all the STUDENTS , who are eager to know the History of MONEY.

Danish Mar 17, 2015 02:16pm

Thanks for this wonderful artile. Will definitely pay a visit to this treasure trove of history.

Naqi Akbar Mar 17, 2015 02:22pm

One of the possible reasons for this neglect maybe the fact that since this is a government-run museum, many people wrongly view it as a drab that 'couldn't possibly have anything interesting in it.' That it is hardly promoted does not help its cause either but according to the Director of the State Bank Dr Asma Ibrahim, the problem may be as simple as a lack of parking space which repulses even the bank staffers let alone avid museum goers.

cannot say more!

kind-hearted Mar 17, 2015 02:31pm

Please establish similar museum in other parts of the country, hats off to SBP and entire team. Thanks you DAWN for sharing this.

Kalander Mar 17, 2015 03:02pm

Why misc coins? They should show the Mauryan, harappa, Indian coins too. Since mugal to British era there is a huge coin collection available but not much at display.

OOps... Mar 17, 2015 03:31pm

"Man that's treasure.."

Anas Ali Khan Mar 17, 2015 03:41pm

It is still heartening to see, once you start looking for places to visit that have some academic value, you will find a number of museums. Originally from Karachi and having settled in Islamabad, I wanted to impress my children with the past grandeur of the metropolis when I visited the city two years ago. Here's where we went: National Museum, State Bank Museum, Maritime Museum, Air Force Museum, Frere Hall and a few commercial centres-Park Towers, Dolmen Mall, Port Grand etc. The children, who at that time were aged 6,7 and 8 were thoroughly impressed.

Farooq Mar 17, 2015 04:22pm

Truly a treasure of Pakistan.

A.Masum Mar 17, 2015 04:36pm

Great work hopefully more and more people will appreciate

M.S. Mar 17, 2015 05:14pm

Nice work! Love the pictures!

Aslam Khan Mar 17, 2015 05:32pm

A splendid article that refreshes our thoughts in distressing environment. Wish to see them one day with naked eyes.

S M Danish Mar 17, 2015 06:00pm

I found a treasure trove of information through this article

Ilyas Sajjad Mar 17, 2015 06:21pm

Wonderful!

Ilyas Sajjad Mar 17, 2015 06:22pm

Wonderful!

ikram Mar 17, 2015 07:10pm

at last Islamabad had a museum

zak Mar 17, 2015 07:12pm

Do we have samples of fake indian currency as well ?. We dump so much of it in India therefore that should also be displayed in this museum as well.

Saad Mar 17, 2015 07:19pm

Interior Design By Nayyar Ali Dada under supervision of Architecture Plus in karachi. I was lucky enough to be the part of the project as project architect.

khurshid Mar 17, 2015 07:35pm

Writer please tell us at least where this building is located.

Mohammad Iqbal Sheikh Mar 17, 2015 07:37pm

State Bank of Pakistan has the special place in my heart. My father worked their almost three decades - From Bombay to Karachi to Quetta to Karachi. Number of times I have visited his office in Karachi and Quetta (I was very young then). One of the best institutes in Pakistan. I still have some coins from 2nd Islamic Conference Lahore issued by State Bank of Pakistan.

InshaAllah next visit to Pakistan, I will surely visit this museum.

Dawn and Yumna Rafi, thank you for posting this news article about State Bank Museum.

Ahmed H Mar 17, 2015 07:56pm

@khurshid It is located on I.I Chundrigar road. The main business/banking hub.

Sadiq Ali Bohra Mar 17, 2015 08:00pm

Apart from appreciating the article and agreeing with all the comments, I would add, the pics are fantabulosive...!~ I will surely go with my son.

N.S Mar 17, 2015 08:00pm

@Saad Great work Saad. Very stately building in Rajasthani stone. Kindly remove the painted blue/red pots and replace it with natural clay pots, unpainted. Looking very gaudy and hideous.

Waqar Mar 17, 2015 09:12pm

Good stuff.

Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Mar 17, 2015 09:49pm

Good Memories are for ever.

Waseem Ahmad Mar 17, 2015 11:07pm

Worth seeing museum.It is well kept ,nice display and informative.Rare collection'nicely kept antiques

zak ka maibaap Mar 17, 2015 11:30pm

@zak Perhaps you dont know the meaning of museum , we keep those things which you no longer find it outside, not ones found everywhere in India , thanks to us, Indian economy is booming.

Suleman Mar 18, 2015 12:01am

Outstanding, something to be proud of, I will certainly visit, Allah bless Pakistan

Riaz Mar 18, 2015 12:31am

Why should State Bank of Pakistan spend so much money on a Museum which contains irrelevant items?

Khan Intisab Mar 18, 2015 12:38am

People of Pakistan should visit the museums rather than watching foolish news channels all the time.

Mohammad Iqbal Sheikh Mar 18, 2015 01:08am

@Saad Good work.

Niaz Ahmad Mar 18, 2015 02:20am

I visited this museum long before it was opened to public. Thanks to my friend Muhammad Amir of State Bank who made it possible for me. I shall request everyone to visit the museum once as it is very informative and educative. The officials of SBP worked day and night to accomplish the task. They need a pat on the back. Well done.

hassan Mar 18, 2015 02:20am

Amazing collection. I hope it survives the TTP and IS mentality of the majority population.

Dr. Faro Mar 18, 2015 03:59am

This looks amazing and Sadequain's murals-mindblowing

MG Mar 18, 2015 04:01am

Fantastic effort. Keep good work and hope this won't become a victim of ISIS.

Kalandar Mar 18, 2015 04:08am

We love to take money in dollar bills.

Ruth Mesa Mar 18, 2015 04:44am

Museums now a days display most of their collections downloadable on the Internet.

Kautiliya Mar 18, 2015 04:56am

What happen to the pre- Islamic coins of Hindu and Buddhist origins ?

Sheikh Bani AL-Sadr Qureshi Mar 18, 2015 07:29am

@zak That was truly funny zak. touche.

DAANISH Mar 18, 2015 07:56am

Zabaradust, MasahahAllah.

Mustafa Mar 18, 2015 08:33am

Exceptional work Omar!

MQ

N.Sid Mar 18, 2015 12:41pm

@Anas Ali Khan In your next visit, you can add to your itinerary, Mohatta Palace and museum, Flag Staff house(museum), Old custom house, There are some amazing old Victorian style buildings on the Victoria road/zebunissa street and Elphinston street in Karachi. 'Do darya' food sreet with its wooden/boat architecture can also be added And one very unlikely place to visit is the Agha Khan university hospital with its stunning architecture with open courtyards, gardens, landscape areas, One of the best planned building in Pakistan. Has a book shop, many canteens open to public. Many public areas. You don't have to see a doctor to visit it. Suddenly Karachi is looking to be full museums and public areas. This is what makes a city cosmopolitan and worth a visit, and not palatial bungalows.

ilyas Mar 18, 2015 12:56pm

very pleasantly surprised to see this but amazed why so few knew about it. Children should see it to spend time away from gadgets they are engrossed in these days.

Hopefully it stay safe and away from fanatics of TTP,IS and others.

TrollMeNot Mar 18, 2015 01:13pm

Nice one, its beautiful.

MUHAMMAD TOSEEFULHASSAN Mar 18, 2015 02:42pm

Very nicely arranged and maintained. Inspired me to plan a visit whenever i will be in Karachi.

Muhammad Zarar, SBP officer Mar 18, 2015 04:30pm

Excellent presentation- first ever attempt to remind good old memories. Our people are hardly aware of such treasures of time. Museum authorities may promote the presence of SBP Museum in Karachi, Pakistan in documentary through Media channels.

Muhammed Saleem Rehmani Mar 18, 2015 06:05pm

It is a marvelous work and only recognized in civilized societies where knowledge is power. We in Pakistan we must foster the culture of knowledge and recognition of real genius people; history makers.

SK Mar 18, 2015 06:48pm

The Star of David has a history in Islamic Art. It is also depicted in Humayun's tomb in Delhi. William Dalrymple, if I remember correctly, has written on the subject in his book City of Djinns. Humayun's tomb itself has plaques with information on the symbol's meaning in Islam.

Niaz Ahmad Mar 18, 2015 07:45pm

The team of SBP deserves a pat on the back.

Z Mar 18, 2015 07:51pm

@khurshid he did.

Rose Mar 18, 2015 08:58pm

Please also write a similar article on Peshawar Museum which has hundred of master pieces of local Gandhara civilization .

Amit Nagori Mar 18, 2015 10:53pm

Enjoy till ISIS and their likes takes over and destroys the heritage in name of heresy

SUTIYA ZAK Mar 19, 2015 10:59am

@ZAK: Do you know the difference between fake currency and antique coins?? where did you complete your school

Muhammad Akram Mar 19, 2015 12:54pm

WOW. Great pictures and a great collection. Truely awesome! Will add to my list of must see things in Pakistan. May God Save Pakistan from its home grown enemies.

white noise Mar 19, 2015 03:45pm

Some thugs will be eyeing to loot this cause some items are quite rare... so better get the security in place. Jo mulk ki haalat hay, koi aitbaar nahi ha kissi ka

if this museum was somewhere in west, it would be full of visitors, too bad we do not promote such culture.

SRIDHAR RAGHUNATHA RAO Mar 19, 2015 05:54pm

Very good upkeep and educative. I wish all coins of all the countries, either replicas or photos, are also displayed here such that one can get a good glimpse of the entire history of coins.

A. KHAN Mar 19, 2015 09:49pm

I hope that there are more than those two guys sitting on the bench protecting these treasures. The wolfs will be drooling after looking at these masterpieces. Please install iron clad security system inside and out. Ask Iraqi and Afghani authorities what these monsters are did and continue to do with the precious and replaceable historical treasures.

kaliraja t Mar 20, 2015 04:51am

All the school students must visit this place.Education department must encourage school managements to arrange a visit.

Kautiliya Mar 20, 2015 05:00am

I thought if it is not lootable but displaying any forms of iconography must be destroyed for it is against the teachings of Muhammad

lafanga Mar 20, 2015 09:21am

@SUTIYA ZAK In Pakistan.

Naqi Akbar Mar 20, 2015 04:30pm

@Khan Intisab Channels can be accessed with the click of a remote, while museums visit entails security checks and traffic congestion at the end of the land area of Pakistan; few furlongs to the south you are in the sea....

John Mar 20, 2015 08:28pm

Great work and article. Keep up the good work. What kind of security is provided at the museum?? Please give it top security to save from any incident.

amjad-qadri Mar 21, 2015 02:07am

@Riaz

Do you understand the value?

Maxx. Mar 21, 2015 12:08pm

@Kautiliya Icons, art, sculpture, artifacts are not against the teaching of Islam, On the contrary, In Islamic period there was a renaissance of arts and crafts in Islamic caliphats of Iraq, Ottoman empire etc. It is only turning them into God's and submitting to them which is prohibited in Islam. This is against the concept of Wahdaniat, one God.

Muhammad Aslam Mar 21, 2015 02:19pm

Powerful endeavour. Museum like this a great source of knowledge especially for new generation.

J k Sinha Mar 21, 2015 06:40pm

A gem of an article. Hats off to the writer.

Tooba Mar 21, 2015 11:58pm

Address ??

Ehsan Mar 22, 2015 12:09pm

Good collection but the best collection of coins is with Taxila museum. Many people do not know that for some reason only a small percentage of coins are on display. Majority of the coins are behind closed doors in locked cases.

Euro Mar 23, 2015 12:04am

What a glorious history we have ruling the lands of Hindustan. Our civilization left world class landmarks like the Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Badshahi Masjid to countless architectural gems in Daccan to Kerela.

Friend Indeed Mar 23, 2015 11:05am

I have been passing by this place for years, never knew of this great treasure. I will definitely visit tomorrow while returning to home from office. Thanks Dawn.

Rayaz Mar 23, 2015 03:00pm

How marvellous and heart warming. I wish to thank all those people who worked so hard to put it together. May Allah bless us all! Next time I am in Karachi I will certainly visit this museum.