Opening a Forgotten Chapter

Opening a Forgotten Chapter

An exhibition offers a glimpse into the cultural heritage of the Rampur state.

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Hum wajd mein baithey, rahe aur rait
ki manind, muththi se sarakti rahi,
taqdeer hamari
(I sat in a trance, and in trails of sand, from my fist trailed away, my destiny)

These lines on a banner at the exhibition hall of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) capture the essence of the exhibition “Gold Dust of Begum Sultans”. The exhibition is inspired by a book of the same title , written by the sisters Zakia Zaheer, educationist and Urdu Litterateur, and Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, writer and a former member of the Planning Commission. The exhibition tries to capture the cultural heritage of the Rampur state through 77 banners, seven display cases, seven audio and three audio-visual clips.

The state of Rampur was established by Nawab Faizullah Khan in 1774 after the Nawab of Oudh drove him out of Bareilly with the help of the British East India Company. Also it was the only Muslim state to have survived the mutiny. Over the next few years, the state became a confluence of people from a wide range of cultures and communities, and incubated its own school of music.After the Mughal and the Awadh courts were past their prime, the poets moved towards Rampur, encouraged by the Nawabs of the state. This resulted in the formation of the the famous Hindustani Classical School of Music.


Zaheer and Hameed’s project started five years ago when they decided to translate Sunehri Rait in English. The novel is , written by Zubeida Sultan, the daughter of their maternal uncle. Their mother’s family belonged to Rampur and the Delhi-based sisters were exposed to the state’s nawabi culture. Sunehri Rait is a novel set in the post-1857 era in the Rohilkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, “in a crumbling feudal binary of the traditional and the modern” and revolves around an intensely patriarchal society. “The book was initially started as a translation and it led us to realise that there is a whole heritage lying packed in boxes. These may not survive much longer and we want the world to see it,” says 73-year-old Hameed. Many of the elements from the novel are represented in exhibition.

In Sunehri Rait, the bridal trousseau is embroidered in gold and silver. The exhibition shows how the influence also reached children’s playhouses. Display cases showcase Farshi ghararas and Karchob dupatta for weddings; as well as simple furniture made of wood and silver utensils for dolls. There is also a display of “Fatmi Jahez”, a collection of five clay pots, a spindle, coarse garments, chakki, mashk (water bags) and the Quran, among others, which is believed to have been given by Prophet Muhammed to his daughter Fatima when she got married. In the novel, it was gifted by a mother to her daughter at her marriage. Videos showcase scenes of mehfils, majlis and other slices of life from Rampur.

The exhibition, a part of an IGNCA project, titled “Confluence of the Traditions and Composite Cultures”, has been curated by Ranesh Ray. Iffat Fatima has handled the videos while Hameeda Srivastava, the cousin of Zaheer and Hameed, helped re-create the forgotten chapter in the history of Rampur.