In the town where the marvellous Taj Mahal is seated, sits another treasure trove in the form of the Kohinoor Museum that displays the opulence of the Mughal Dynasty. By Radhika Sikaria
Sometimes, when you least expect it, a seemingly modern place reveals more history to you than a textbook ever could. The main point of difference being, it is more than just ancient facts; you can see, touch and get a fairer sense of what said things were like.
I have lost count of how many times I have been to Agra — for a photowalk around the Taj Mahal, for a long drive from Delhi or to just savour steaming bedhai and kachori — a typical local breakfast consisting of a fried, round, puffy bread typically served with a spicy preparation of potato and curd alongside freshly prepared jalebis, at GMB. This time around, I was there to check out the Kohinoor Jewellers, Agra, store and museum.
The store sparkles with meticulously crafted jewellery that weaves inspiration from the likes of Indus Valley civilisation, the great Himalayan range and the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah among others. As I walk around the showroom, I am caught by the charming aura of the current owner, Ghanshyam Gopal Mathur and his son Milind Mathur. Their ancestors were associated with the Mughals in Delhi during their reign and moved to the old-walled city of Mughal Agra in 1857 with the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. The British rulers granted the family a property at Old Drummond Road in Agra (now known as Mahatma Gandhi Road) where (Late) Brij Gopal Mathur started the business.
Milind tells me about the visionary late connoisseur with a fun anecdote. “My grandfather went blind and still could identify gemstones with his touch. Once a vendor tried to test him. He handed grandfather a star ruby, but asked him if he liked the star sapphire that was in his hands. Grandfather replied, ‘why are you joking with me? It’s a nice star ruby’.”
I go on to learn that Mughals were the pioneers of precious stone jewellery in India as they brought in different influences from the likes of Ghaznavids, the Ghurids, Turkish and Afghan dynasties. Before the Taj Mahal took limelight, Agra, being the capital of the Mughal Dynasty, was originally known for jewellery. The Mughals had brought to the city the techniques and karigars, which then spread to other parts of the country making Agra the hub of the jewellery industry. “The Mughals were connoisseurs of emeralds, rubies and fine sapphires,” I am told, “emeralds, being the favourite amongst all the coloured stones, was worn as a symbol of opulence and it was believed to bring good luck and prosperity to the wearer.”
The family treasures its heritage and has been a discreet bearer of a legacy that goes back to the time of the kings. You have to take prior appointment if you wish to witness this regal affair. The adjoining museum houses some very rare pieces of jewellery and 3D-embroidery that are etched in my mind and shall remain so forever. Although photography inside the museum is prohibited, these are pieces that you’ll never forget about. The guided sound and light show of the private collection of the family left me spellbound. I would never look at embroidery in quite the same way again and would always dream of the rare Mughal jewel pieces.