History
Telangana / History
Despite minor restoration being carried out in 2016, south India's only mummy remains in a state of neglect.
Nitin B.| Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 13:50

In a dimly lit room on the first floor of the Telangana State Museum at Nampally in Hyderabad, lie the mummified remains of Princess Naishu.

The room is 'guarded' by the jackal headed Anubis, who is the Egyptian protector of tombs and a patron of mummification, on the left, and Hathor, an Egyptian goddess of cosmic regeneration, holding the sign of life (Ankh) in her hand, on the right.

Princess Naishu, is one of six Egyptian mummies in India, and is the only one in south India.

Dated to have lived in the Ptolemic period between 300 BC and 100 BC, Naishu, is said to be the daughter of the sixth Pharaoh of Egypt.

A small table fan stands to one side of the room, which is filled with text on the process of mummification and the significance it held to ancient Egyptian culture.

A single caretaker stands guard faithfully outside the room, and a CCTV camera in the corridor looks on.

A few visitors pass by, only giving the mummy a cursory glance, before moving ahead to explore the rest of the museum.

"What you want to see a mummy for? We have seen enough in the movies. Let's go and see what is in that other room," one of them remarks.

There are no tour guides or experts to help people comprehend the historical value that lies in the neglected room.

Restoration

In 2015, the mummy showed signs of decaying. It was reported that the outer crust around the face, shoulders and the toe had fragmented and the exposed the inner wrappings of the Mummy.

Following months of rotting, the Department of State Archaeology and Museums stepped in.

Anupam Sah, the head conservator of Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Formerly, Prince of Wales museum), was roped in for the restoration project.

Through March and April 2016, seven experts including Anupam worked on restoring the mummy.

They even performed a CT scan and X-Ray of the body, besides a number of other tests, to determine the extent of damage.

Speaking about the restoration, Anupam earlier told BBC

"It was too fragile and risky to move the mummy. We had to be careful because the cloth had become very brittle. We assessed that we could restore the bandage to its near-original state without causing any damage by retying the cartilage in around 10 days... Subsequently, we had to take her wrapped in multiple layers of cotton to a diagnostic centre to X-ray and CT-scan the cartilage. We had to take her with great care and security, and bring her back before the sun became too strong," 

During the scans, the team made an unusual observation. Parts of Naishu's brain were intact. 

This was unusual, because the process of mummification involved the removal of the brain, via the nose.
 
The scans also found her ribs were damaged and there was a slight dislocation of her spine and one ankle, while her skull, and rest of bones, were intact.

(An image released by the Telangana museum at the time of restoration)

Status-quo

After restoration, the mummy was shifted back to the museum, amid tall claims and promises.

"The damage to the mummy had happened due to heat, light, temperature, humidity, insects and oxygen," the experts had declared at the time.  

To prevent further degradation, experts suggested that the mummy be placed in a special oxygen-free case.

Minor restoration on the mummy was carried out including retying the cartilage and repairing flaking paint and cracks. But barring this, little else has changed for Princess Naishu.    

There is neither temperature control nor humidity control in the room where the mummy is preserved. Two tubelights on either side of the case, appear to be adding to heat on the body.

Unlike, other relics from the Buddhist period in the museum, where one has to remove footwear before entering the room, no such rules apply to the mummy.

"We don't get that many visitors. Maybe we get a 100 per day who come on this floor of the museum. Mostly, they just whiz past it (the mummy). Last year, lot of people had come and done experiments on it, but after that, things have gone back to normal," the caretaker observes.

(Naishu gets an occasional visit)

(Hieroglyphic text on the outer covering of the mummy)

Even the oxygen-free case is yet to arrive at the museum.

"We have sent the order for its manufacture. It is being manufactured, and it will come soon," NR Visalatchy, the Director of Archaeology and Museums, told TNM.

When asked about plans to control the temperature and humidity in the room, Visalatchy deferred the question to a later date, stating that she was busy. 

History

While it was initially estimated that Naishu died at the age of 16, recent scans suggested that she may have been around 25 years.

As far as the mummy's journey to Hyderabad is concerned, it was first obtained by Nawaz Jung, the son-in-law of the sixth Nizam Mir Mehboob Ali Khan in 1920 for 1,000 pounds.

Jung bought it has a gift for Mehboob Ali khan. However, it is unclear if it was obtained from an auction or a private collector.  

According to the official website of the museum, in the beginning of the 19th century, archaeologist Henry Cousens was the first person to explore the historical site where the state museum stands today. The mound was excavated under the supervision of the then Nizam of Hyderabad. 

The excavated items were placed in the museum, built on the ancient site in the 1920s under the rule of Mehboob Ali Khan's son, Mir Osman Ali Khan, who was the last Nizam of Hyderabad. 

The museum was formally inaugurated in the year 1931. 

Ahead of the inauguration, the Nizam had contributed his personnel collection of art objects along with antiques that he possessed.  The mummy was donated by Osman Ali Khan in 1930.

Since then, Princess Naishu has remained at the museum, lying forsaken, in mummified silence.