February 19, 2010 / 2:58 AM / 9 years ago

Mughal jeweled arts mesmerize in Asia exhibit

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - How about some Mughal magnificence from a bygone era in these often frugal times?

A dazzling exhibition of jeweled art works in Singapore will transport you to the grandeur of the legendary, luxury-loving Indian dynasty through over 400 fabulous artefacts ranging from gem stones with Islamic inscriptions to jewel-encrusted daggers.

The “Treasury of the World” at the Asian Civilizations Museum is a stunning showcase of the splendor of the Mughals, who were known for their lavish lifestyle during their rule from the 16th to 19th centuries.

But the exhibition, which first opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York two months after the September 11 attacks by al Qaeda, is also an attempt to introduce another face of Islam to the world.

“It is to build bridges between cultures and expose different facets of Islamic culture to the world,” said Kuwait’s Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, who along with her husband assembled the collection over four decades.

“We don’t want to just project Islam as a religion but also as a culture and the values this religion represents,” she told Reuters. “It is helpful to understand the culture through tangible evidence of things that people use.”

The highlights of the exhibition are a nearly 250-carat balas ruby inscribed with the names of six royal rulers, an elaborately decorated dagger and scabbard with patterns of birds and flowers made from 2,000 gem stones including rubies, emeralds and diamonds, and a ruby pendant with a cameo portrait of Shah Jahan.

Shah Jahan is the Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

The Mughals, who sat on the legendary Peacock Throne studded with the Kohinoor diamond, were known for their love for everything lavish.

Apart from the bejeweled daggers, turban ornaments and archery rings, their appreciation for the fabulous also extended to everyday items such as serving dishes and back scratchers studded with jewels.

“The Mughal empire was one of the most powerful dynasties the world has ever known. Most Mughal rulers reveled in the luxury that their privileged position afforded them,” said Nicola Kuok, assistant curator at the Asian Civilizations Museum.

“Dressed in all his finery, the emperor Jahangir was once described by the English ambassador Thomas Roe as ‘the treasury of the world’, thus inspiring the title of this exhibition.”

Since its first showing in New York, the exhibition has travelled to the British Museum, the Louvre in Paris and the Hermitage in St Petersburg before its current stop at the Asian Civilizations Museum.

But the Mughal pieces, part of the famous al-Sabah collection, were once almost lost to war even before they began their journey.

The al-Sabah collection is one of the world’s largest Islamic art collections consisting of more than 25,000 works of Islamic art from the 7th to the 19th century.

During Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the al-Sabah collection was looted and transported to Baghdad where it remained until retrieved with the help of the United Nations.

Three rare emeralds are still missing.

Singapore is the exhibition’s first stop in Asia. It runs until June 27 and then heads for Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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