The Jalan Collection
From the age of 12 R. K. Jalan had already developed a habit of collecting coins. As a child in a typical Marwari business family, which expected its male members to engage full-time in the business, he was often drubbed by his elders, who could not imagine at the time that this little hobby would one day develop into a very famous one-man collection, which would be later generally known as the Jalan Museum. No amount of difficulty could stop R. K. Jalan from becoming an ardent buyer.
During the period between 1935 and 1937 R. K. Jalan travelled extensively. In the year 1935 he went on his first trip to England with his son Hira Lal Jalan to attend the celebrations of the Silver Jubilee of King George V and extended his trip to Scotland, France, Germany, Switzerland and Egypt.
R. K. Jalan made many fruitful visits to the European auction houses, the result of which was, that on his return to Patna from London, after six months of his European tour, he had three wagon-loads of invaluable artefacts and antiques.
Before leaving on his European trip, R. K. Jalan had it in his mind that the plans for the new Quila House would only be finalised when he came back. He instructed the architects to reserve the northern side of the house, where there would be no sun, for his collection, in order to protect the artefacts; and to use the southern side of the house for the residential section.
Not all his new acquisitions, though, were greeted with unmitigated pleasure: when confronted with the sight of Egyptian mummies, R. K. Jalanís wife, Gigia Bai, threatened to starve herself until and unless the mummies were removed from the house. They were quickly donated to a suitable government museum.
Dewan Bahadur did not confine his passion for antiques to his own collection. He was also in the purchasing committee of Patna Museum, and was instrumental in securing its rich patrimony of Indian artefacts.
Quila Houseís main building comprised originally only two living suites (one for R. K. Jalan and the other for his son Hira Lal Jalan) and nowadays the major portion of the ground floor of the house holds the displayed items collected by R. K. Jalan. This is first and foremost a private residential house of the Jalan family, and many artefacts such as furniture, silver utensils and porcelain services are still used by the family on a regular basis, and in particular for special occasions such as marriages or the arrival of a new baby.
Visitors are nevertheless always welcome, and visits can be arranged on request and by invitation, no matter the status of the person who wishes to enjoy this very personal and therefore unique creation of R. K. Jalanís.
The main part of the collection comprises Chinese jade and porcelain pieces from Han to Ching dynasties. The rooms displaying these are also known as the China and Jade rooms in the family.
The collection also includes a substantial number of celadon plates, which are said in some versions of the tale to change their colour, and in others to crack, if poisonous food is served on them.
The large hall or main hall, which is also the main drawing room of the family, is where most of the formal ceremonies of the family take place. In it can be found examples of French Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture; Mughal and European silver; German, French, English and Chinese porcelain; Russian relief-embroidered pannels on the life of Christ; Tibetan and Nepali wood carvings; French tapestries; ivory pieces and fine clocks; chandeliers; and Persian and Indian carpets.
Amongst the remarkable pieces of Mughal silverware found in the main hall is a silver dinner set, including a thali dish, which belonged to Emperor Akbarís prime minister, Birbal. Independent Indiaís first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, famously dined on this same set during his second visit to Quila House in 1952. In truth, Nehru was initially reluctant to use the set, fearing it might be seen as ostentatious, and only relented once reassured that the gesture was intended to honour two prime ministers who, across the centuries of Indian history, were both known for serving their country so well.
Other rooms adjoining the main hall display an assortment of notable pieces of furniture. The first of these is a four-poster bed belonging to the Emperor of France, Napoleon III; it is just unbelievable to many visitors from across the world to find it tucked away in a place like Patna.
The Crown Derby collection of dinner set plates especially designed for King George III should not be missed. It is normally kept behind closed doors, and so proves an exciting discovery for visitors as the doors are pulled back to reveal the glitteringly bold patterns on the plates.
In fact, with such a rich and varied collection, many artefacts can go unnoticed in oneís first visit to the house. But no-one disputes that it totally is worth making an effort to come, despite the chaos and tedious travel to the old city of Patna, which can take some good time to reach.
Copyright © 2009 Aditya Jalan
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