Institution Housed in History

Overlooked by mighty Chinars, queens wandered on its lush green lawns, leaders addressed people in its spacious assembly halls, and poets exchanged their wedding vows in the serenity of its antique hallways. And in this day and date, it still mesmerises the ardent knowledge seekers of Kashmir.

The palatial library of Women’s College M A Road of Kashmir has a vast political and literary past.

Situated in the heart of Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar, the building was home to widows of Dogra Maharajas who ruled Kashmir till 1947. And when Sheikh Abdullah started a rebellion against their autocracy, it used to be the hideout for his frequent meetings with comrades.

But making the palace famous across the Indian subcontinent is its history of being venue to the wedding of famous Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Alys in 1941.

The marriage was solemnised by Sheikh Abdullah.

“The wedding was lovely, because it was in the Queen’s summer palace. The wedding was conducted by Sheikh Abdullah; he and Dr MD Taseer (brother-in-law of Alys) were great friends.

“I remember him standing there and he asked me in three different languages: English, Urdu, and I suppose, Kashmiri…  A huge dining table was spread with all this food and after wards there was a mushaira; Josh was there,” Alys told a Dawn correspondent in an interview before her death on March 13, 2013.

The palace was built in 1885 during the reign of Maharaja Pratap Singh. Apart from being a summer home for the queen then, it used to house the widows of Maharajas or Dogra dynasty.

This palace was known as Vidhwa Bhavan (palace for widows) in Hindi. In Kashmiri, it was known as “Mundhh Paliss”.

“When the era of antagonism against the King started in Kashmir, the Maharaja along with the queen and others evacuated Kashmir and settled in Jammu,” said Zareef Ahmad Zareef—a poet and a social activist.

During the tenure of Sheikh Abdullah as the Prime Minister of the state, this building was used as a meeting hall.  And later, on insistence of the then literary figures such as Begum Jalaal, Begum Sajida,

Mehmooda Shah, and Begum Abdullah, it was converted into a college for girls. Mehmooda Shah, who became the first principal of the college, later established her office in the same building.

In 1950, the building was converted into a library. The first five books the library acquired were donated by the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.

While the college has undergone many transformations in the past, becoming one of the most reputed educational institutions in the state, the palace stays intact, housing books that are of use to thousands of girls admitted into the college each year.

“The number of books in the library has grown to 84, 000,”says Prof Shaheen Altaf, Principal of College.

“It is a heritage building that we all are trying to preserve. Like its grand history, the building is, at present, serving a magnificent cause by being a part women’s education in Kashmir.”