The Jalan Collection 1930-1954

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.

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. Jalan’s 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 House’s 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.

R. K. Jalan (second from left on camelback) and his son Hira Lal Jalan (first from right on camelback) photographed at the Gizah pyramids

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 mind that the plan 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. Jalan’s wife, Gigia Bai, threatened to starve herself until and unless “the dead people” were removed from the house. They were quickly donated to a suitable government museum.

R. K. Jalan and Hira Lal Jalan (respectively second and first from right) at Oxford in 1935

Dewan Bahadur did not confine his passion for antiques to his own collection. He was also on the purchasing committee of Patna Museum, and was instrumental in securing its rich patrimony of Indian artefacts.

The main hall decked out in antique zari carpets for a family function.

Quila House’s main building comprised originally only two living suites (one for R. K. Jalan, and the other for his son Hira Lall 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 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 engagements, marriages, or the arrival of a new baby.

A fine bronze image of the goddess Durga in the doorway between the China rooms.

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. Jalan’s.

A Persian tile with the first verse of the Qur’an.
A set from the same series, on the doorway between the China rooms, with the names of Persian sultans

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. Visitors often remark on the variety of porcelain featured: ox-red, mustard yellow, peach bloom …

The collection also includes a substantial number and variety of sizes 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.

 
From the china and porcelain collection: An array of early coloured Chinese porcelain over the entrance to the main hall, where the furniture in 18th century French style can be seen
A sample of the largest extant celadon plates in the collection
A large porcelain statue representing Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion in female form in Chinese iconography.
A cabinet of Chinese white porcelain, including, top centre, another bodhisattva representation: Cundi, an eighteen-armed form of Avalokiteshvara
Some of the items on display in one of the cabinets of blue and white china
This gentleman is known as the Chinese god of war.
A Ching dynasty vase with gold decoration.
Exquisite Chinese terracotta pieces from Tang dynasty
Twin oversize blue and white China bowls sit at either end of the main hall. Below, the “green” set of French Louis XVI style furniture.
The large hall or main hall, which is also the main drawing room of the family.
One of the Persian carpets in the main hall, reproducing a 100-toman banknote from the Naser al-Din Shah Qajar series

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.

Large Chinese blue and white vases complement French tapestries and Indian carpets in the main hall.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Diwan Bahadur, along with the Governor, R. R. Diwakar, and the Chief Minister of Bihar, Shrikrishna Singh, dining on Birbal’s silver thali set.

Independent India’s 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.

The collection of Birbal’s items in Quila House includes his puja utensils.

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 Akbar’s prime minister, Birbal. 

Surendra Patel, founder of the Utensil Museum and of Vishalla Heritage Restaurant in Ahmedabad, examines the workmanship of the Birbal thali under the gaze of Shree Tejendraprasadji Pande, the sixth Swaminaryan Maharaj, and B. M. Jalan.
This ivory dancing girl was once loaned to an exhibition in New York.
The “red” set of French Louis XV style furniture in the main hall.
French cut-glass clock and stand.
A Mughal hookah from the Jahangir period with enamel work on silver
A Mughal silver dish with fine enamel work.
Sèvres porcelain.
A collection of dainty Meissen porcelain figurines.
In this cabinet are kept several items belonging to Queen Marie-Antoinette of France, including a wine cooler and plates with the Queen’s monogram
Some exquisite examples of Patna glass.
Distinctive Murano crystal from Venice.
Bohemian glass.
Six Russian relief-embroidered panels tell the life of Jesus. Here, the baptism.
Emperor Napoleon III’s four-poster bed

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.

This room offers, equally, a dazzling array of jade objects.

 
Chinese jade side by side with prehistoric flint tools.

A selection of items from the Jade room.

A copy on porcelain of Rubens’ Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus.

In the second of these rooms are other equally unexpected items: Tipu Sultan’s ivory palanquin, and a jewellery and cutlery cabinet custom- made for King Henry II of France, with the King’s cipher and superb enamel work medallions of the King and Queen and of the goddess Diana (which can be understood as a reference to the King’s famous mistress, Diane de Poitiers).

Tipu Sultan’s palanquin
King Henry II of France’s cabinet. The central enamel medallion depicts the goddess Diana
A table covered in glazed Persian tiles.
Persian tile.
An archive photograph of some of the Tibetan manuscripts in the Jalan Collection.

In the entrance hall, 15th century Tibetan manuscripts together with Newari palm leaves of the 12th century are arranged in between two rows of display almirahs containing a variety of coloured and cut glass from Venice, Turkey, France and Ireland, along with Persian, Indian and European porcelain, and Chinese famille rose enamel work.

An ivory model of the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur.
Famille rose enamel on copper.
Irish Belleek china , brought into the Jalan Collection as a gift from a visiting Viceroy.
A Persian vase.
The Crown Derby dinner plates, revealed in their alcove behind the English marquetry doors.

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.

Ivory carvings from the Patna school.
One of the antique vichitra vinas that sit atop the display almirahs in the entrance hall.
A late 16th century stone sculpture of Surya, the sun-god, from Odisha welcomes visitors on the front verandah.

In fact, with such a rich and varied collection, many artefacts can go unnoticed in one’s first visit to the house. But no-one disputes that it is totally 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.

A broad view of the main hall in Quila House, with the French doors onto the verandah letting in the daylight.
Detail of the Limoges chandelier in the main hall.
It’s an eclectic collection and no doubt about it ... whimsical Toby jugs feature in Quila House too.
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Quila House and the Jalan collection