An exhibition of rare stamps minted by the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad reveals much about its culture during the time of the Nizam
New Delhi’s Bikaner House plays host to an especially unique exhibition this month—one that philately enthusiasts would consider the opportunity of a lifetime for sure. The Ewari Collection, in collaboration with The Gujral Foundation, are presenting a selection of stamps originating from the erstwhile Hyderabad State during the time of the Nizam. The Ewari Collection dates back to Nawab Iqbal Hussain Khan, the Postmaster General under Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan, who was the 7th Nizam of Hyderabad. The collection includes 3 million stamps from across the world, including the rare Penny Black, the first adhesive postage stamp in the world, and also happens to feature every single stamp in the chronology of the princely state of Hyderabad.
Architectural Wonders of the Hyderabad State
What is interesting about the Hyderabad stamps is that they were among the first stamps in the world that celebrated the architecture and heritage of the region. While the origin of the trend may have been a result of Hyderabad being an Islamic state at the time, and Islamic doctrine prohibiting any representation of the human form—the result is that the Nizam was far ahead of his time. The Hyderabad stamps feature some of the dominion’s most iconic architectural marvels—which at the time included the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, the Gulbaraga Fort, and the Charminar.
Remarkable Showcase of Modern Buildings
Mir Osman Ali Khan went a step further and commemorated a host of modern buildings on stamps as well—the Osmania University, the Town Hall, the High Court, and even some hospitals. “Today if we celebrated a piece of architecture, it would be considered normal,” explains Pramod Kumar, MD of Eka Archiving and curator of the exhibition, “but way back then, for a princely state to [commemorate] things from the 5th century BC onwards, down to their time, was a remarkable step.”
Collection Dating Back to the 7th Nizam of Hyderabad
The Hyderabad stamps will be the focus of the exhibition at Bikaner House, since that is where the Ewari family originates from, and will also showcase postcards, letters, monograms, seals, and other related ephemera. Pramod explains his curatorial process. “When we went about establishing the chronology of stamps that were minted in Hyderabad, we realised that the entire group of stamps printed in the first minting in 1869 up to 1949, all existed in the collection,” explains Pramod. Some of the stamps to look out for are the first and last stamps that were minted by the princely state of Hyderabad, and also a series of stamps that were issued to commemorate the victory of the Allied powers in WWII.
Wealth of Meaning
While stamps may not have the functional use they once did, their aesthetic value is undeniable. “The stamp was an incredibly small object,” Pramod offers, “but it had such a fundamental meaning. The artists, calligraphers, print makers, engravers… everybody who worked on the team had to have an absolutely clear idea of the multiple messages that this tiny piece of paper was going to communicate. So a small object like the stamp conveys a layer of meaning that the ruler wants to communicate about modernity, about the wealth of the state… [it was] a visual aesthetic that was going to represent him wherever it went.”
Markers of Modernity
Stamp collecting is a hobby that Pramod expects will see an upswing soon, as stamps become less commonplace due to changing modes of communication. “These are all markers of visual modernity,” Pramod insists. “These are the different kids of visibility that a culture creates for itself, along with photographs, paintings, posters… other kinds of images were created through stamps.”
‘Property of a Gentleman: Stamps from the Nizam of Hyderabad’s Dominions’ will be on display at Bikaner House in New Delhi until March 24.