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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Museum displays Indian treasures

The 249-carat 'Talisman of the Throne' ruby
An exhibition of jewellery from Mughal India goes on display at London's British Museum on Friday.

The dazzling display is based around the collection of a Kuwaiti Prince, Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, and much of it is being shown in public for the first time.

The Sheikh's collection was carried off to Baghdad as booty during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but was later restored almost intact.

Most of the 300 objects on display date from the reigns of the Great Mughals, who ruled India from the mid-16th to the early 18th century.

C17th turban ornament
A gold turban ornament, set with unbacked emeralds and diamonds
The collection includes daggers with gold hilts and jewel-encrusted scabbards, bracelets and toe-rings, ear-drops and turban ornaments, and a exquisitely decorated copy of the Koran in a jewelled, enamelled case.

Sheik Nasser al-Sabah has a passion for the jewels and ornaments of Mughal India, and both the taste and wealth to indulge that passion.

Manuel Keene, the curator of Sheikh Nasser's collection, has come with it to the London exhibition.

'Discerning collector'

"The great importance of it is not really the fact of the gold or the precious stones," he said, "Although it is of the highest princely quality.

"They've been selected by a very discerning collector and connoisseur for their artistic value, for their beauty."

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, many of these objects were on loan to the national museum.

Ruby dagger
The fabulous Ruby Dagger is inlaid with almost 2,400 precious stones
Along with many other valuable or useful things, they were carried off to Baghdad.

The Sheikh may have thought that he had seen the last of his fabulous collection, but Iraqi Museum officials looked after the objects entrusted to them.

After the war the collection was returned, piece by piece, to its original owner.

Just a handful of items went missing during the upheaval, although among them were three particularly fine, and very early carved emeralds, which have never been found.

The collection includes the famous Ruby Dagger, which is inlaid with nearly 2,400 precious stones and may have been worn by the Emperor Jahangir himself.

It also contains a collection of relief-carved hardstones, including nine emeralds, imported from Colombia and carved by skilled Indian craftsmen.

One of the finest stones on display is the 'Talisman of the Throne', presented to Emperor Jahangir in 1621 by the Shah of Iran.

It bears several royal inscriptions, the earliest being that of the Timurid ruler, Ulugh Beg, who ruled from 1447-1449.

Most of the objects on view belonged to men, and although elaborately jewelled, the daggers and swords were entirely functional weapons.

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17 Jan 01 | Entertainment
British Museum reputation 'damaged'
01 Aug 00 | Middle East
Flashback: Invasion of Kuwait
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