The Mughals, a treasury of the world

1 02 2010

The Asian Civilisations Museum will be holding the “Treasury of the World: Jewelled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals” exhibition from 12 Feb to 27 Jun 2010. Please go to the section at the end of this post for details.

History lessons in school were one of those things that most of us would dread. For me, it didn’t help that it was delivered with what seemed like an endless drone of the teacher reciting passages out of the textbook. What we lacked then was maybe the opportunity to see history come alive in the way that many of the exhibitions in the museums in Singapore bring to us these days. The Asian Civilisations Museum, housed in the Empress Place Building of which I have fond memories of, runs a series of exhibitions and activities which brings history out of the textbooks which can perhaps make the subject more interesting and better appreciated.

The Mughal Emperor Jahangir, son of the great Akbar, reigned from 1605 - 1627 (Source: ACM)

Despite the uninspiring lessons on history, there were the bits and pieces which did have enough intrigue to keep me interested in the subject. I certainly was enthralled by the story of the Mughals, who ruled India for over 300 years between 1526 and 1858. The term “Mughal” immediately evokes in me impressions of grandeur and splendour that graced the Mughal court, of art and poetry, and of tales of love and romance. It would also be difficult not to be impressed by Akbar the Great, who besides being known for his role in expanding the Mughal empire, had a significant influence on art and culture, which has allowed the Mughals to leave a magnificent legacy for India as a nation and as a cultural entity to inherit. There are wonderful examples of this legacy in the buildings that the Mughals have left behind – a constant reminder of the pinnacle that the Mughals achieved in architecture, many of which have been very well preserved and are listed as UNESCO heritage sites. There is of course the magical Taj Mahal and with it a romantic tale of eternal love, which serves as a magnificent icon for India. There are the many forts the Mughals have left behind, a reminder of the warring nature of the Moghuls: the Red Fort in Dehli, and the forts in Agra and Lahore. And there is the “ghost town” of Fatehpur Sikri, a city constructed from the ground over a period of fifteen years by the great Akbar to serve as the capital of his empire, only to be abandoned after some fourteen years later when it became clear that its water supply could not meet the demands of the growing population of the city.

The magical Taj Mahal rising over the Yamuna River (Source: David Castor on Wikipedia).

Finding myself in Dehli with a free day while on a working trip in 1997, before I was to catch an evening flight out, I could not pass the opportunity up to visit the Taj Mahal, even when it meant a four hour journey there and a five hour one back, through half constructed highways which were notorious for slowdowns caused by the numerous bullock carts using parts of the 200 km route. The sight of the magnificent white marbled edifice rising over the Yamuna river proved that it was all worth it, as did the forty minutes that I spent, first, gazing in awe over the reflecting pools in the forecourt and then in the cool shadows of the Taj, mesmerised by the sheer scale, splendour and beauty of what is a mausoleum inspired by the romantic tale of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. What struck me then was the intricacy and fine work involved in many of the motifs, colourfully inlaid with gemstones, that beautifully decorate the white of the marble structure.

Inlay on Taj Mahal (Source: Wikipedia)

The Mughals, having at their disposal, the rich gem deposits that the sub-continent had been blessed with, certainly had large appetite for gemstones, not just in decorating their monuments by also by adorning themselves and the implements of their daily lives expansively with the colourful stones. In doing so, the Mughals perfected the art of inlaid work, jewellery making, and in the crafting of wonderful treasures. The reaction of a 17th century British Ambassador, Thomas Roe, so astounded on seeing Emperor Jahangir adorned in all his finery, that he described Jahangir as being “the treasury of the world”, leaves us an appreciation of the taste that the Mughals had for finery and gemstones.

Having been left with the lingering taste of the splendorous Mughal legacy, I certainly have a desire to see more examples of it. The exhibition to be held at the ACM would provide an excellent opportunity for me to do this without having to venture far and I will be looking forward to a visit to the exhibition.

A sneak peak at the Treasury of the World
Jewelled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals
An exhibition to be held at the ACM from 12 Feb to 27 Jun 2010

5 pairs of passes to be given away (courtesy of the ACM)

The upcoming exhibition that the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) is holding, the “Treasury of the World: Jeweled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals”, which is on from 12 February to 27 June 2010 provides a wonderful opportunity to see the splendour of the Mughals first hand. The exhibition has been organised by The al-Sabah Collection, National Council for Culture, Arts & Letters, Kuwait in collaboration with the ACM, and will provide visitors with a chance to be dazzled by the magnificence on display, where the visitor can also learn about life in the Mughal court, from leisure pursuits to food and weaponry of the royal family. The exhibition also offers a fascinating insight to the diverse techniques in the jewellery arts used by artisans and craftsmen during the period.

Featuring gem stones and other precious objects from The al-Sabah Collection, this blockbuster exhibition has been shown in prestigious venues such as the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre Museum in Paris. It makes its Asian debut at the ACM in Singapore.

Details of Exhibition

Date: 12 February to 27 June 2010

Venue: Special Exhibitions Gallery, Asian Civilisations Museum 1 Empress Place, Singapore 179555


Enquiries: 6332 7798 /

Admission charges: $8 (adults) / $4 (concession); Family package at $20 for up to 5 pax. Free admission for children aged 6 and below and seniors aged 60 and above every day (locals and PRs only). 50% off for foreigners aged 60 and above. 50% discount every Friday, 7-9pm

Opening hours: Mon, 1pm-7pm; Tues to Sun: 9am – 7pm (to 9pm on Fri) How to get there: By MRT – Raffles Place; By Bus – 100, 107, 130, 131, 167, 608

A sneak peak at the some of the exhibits that will be on display at the exhibition:

Dagger with Scabbard (LNS 25 J). Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.

Turban Ornament (LNS 1767 J). Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.

Royal Spinel (LNS 1660 J). Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.

Small bottle set with rubies, emeralds and diamond crystals (LNS 959 J). Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.

Pendant with Cameo of Shah Jahan (LNS 43 J). Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.

Bangle set with rubies, diamonds and chrysoberyl cat’s eye (LNS 2219 J). Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.

Details of the exhibition ticket giveaway (courtesy of the ACM):

The first five entries to correctly name who is described as the “treasury of the world” will each receive a pair of tickets to the exhibition. Entries need to be sent by email by noon on Sunday 7 Feb 2010 and the winning entries would be announced on this blog on 8 Feb 2010.

Congratulations to the 5 recipients of the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) “Treasury of the World” exhibition ticket giveaway, who will each receive a pair of tickets to the exhibition:

1. Agnes Gan

2. James Tan

3. Novella Tan

4. L. H. Tan

5. Alyssa Wong

Winners may collect the tickets at the ACM front desk at any time during the exhibition.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.