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SOCIETY - NEW DELHI NATIONAL MUSEUM

 

Precious Heritage: the National Museum in Delhi

 

 

BY HARPREET KAUR

March 14, 2005

It took me an hour to walk down from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the National Museum /archives. It was 1pm when I reached. It is located bang at the corner of Janpath and Maulana Azad Road, a circular building with three floors. Like many other government offices, it is painted red and yellow. The security is tight, we are physically checked, our bags searched and then only let in. With a collection of over 2,00,000 works both Indian and foreign, many in precious metal and stone, it is understandable.

History

A blueprint for the National Museum was created by the Gwyer Committee in 1946. The collection of items from various museums across India, in Delhi at Rashtrapati Bhavan in 1949 was the event responsible for the creation of the National Museum that would house artefacts. The exhibition continued at the Rashtrapati Bhavan till the museum building was ready in 1960. Its space now holds a collection that spans an era of over 5,000 years.

Chronologically placed artefacts trace the history of India as well ages in ancient history of the world. They have displays, films, guided tours, lectures and training programmes, reserve collection, library and the conservation laboratory. The collection has pre-historic archaeology, jewellery, paintings, arts, manuscripts, antiquities from Central Asia, arms, armour, clothes etc.

Sections

Indian sculptural art is the backbone of the National Museum. It has 9,000 objects representing all the schools and periods. It has carved stone works, terracottas, bronzes, stucco figures, gold, silver, bone and ivory images dating from 3 century BCE to the 19th century.

There are 10,000 objects of anthropology in this museum, and rare items that have come from various states and cities in the 1950s – 60s (collected from tribal and rural areas). The armoury section has weapons ranging from daggers to swords. Many of them are double-edged and so heavy that we would need at least three pairs of hands to just lift it off the stand! Projectiles, hammers, armours for men and animals, ornamental, sacrificial and ritual weapons find their place with firearms and war accessories here.

The antiquities from Central Asia are breathtaking, with over 11,000 objects from the Sianking region of China, and they were discovered by Sir Aurel Stein in three expeditions and are a rare collection.

Paintings, miniatures, manuscripts, art of calligraphy and drawings form a vast treasure. But the best of all I liked was the collection of some 10 to 12 paintings by a Mughal painter on Laila Majnu. Majnu is shown roaming the desert, is entirely dark-skinned and so skinny his ribs and other bones are sticking out, while Laila is so beautiful. One wonders after seeing these pictures; Would the wonderful Laila have fallen for the commoner Majnu? Just a casual thought…

These paintings have perfect physical forms and you will also find a collection of miniatures on palm-leaf from Eastern India in the 10th and the 12th century.

The coin and currency section is remarkable with rare and antique coins from India starting from the 6th century BCE. This entire collection has 1,18,000 coins in gold, silver, copper, alloy, potin and lead.

The first floor gallery has two cupboards, containing the stone tools found across India belonging to the lower Palaeolithic period to the Neolithic age and also copper hoard objects. Mr and Mrs Heeramaneck have donated the pre-Columbian art objects.

The star of the museum is the strong room or the room with a built-in vault. It displays gold objects like a statue of Buddha weighing 20 kg in pure gold, an Ivory screen with four folds having pictures of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan, and other gold objects, precious stones, Tanjore paintings studded with almost two inch large stones of rubies, diamonds, emeralds and gold foil. This is the room that literally glitters.

Although I have not described the entire museum, I can say that it took me an entire four hours to go through it and yet I missed some of the sections, By now, I was so tired I just sat down next to a security woman for sometime, before leaving. For the museum aficionados, go check out the Delhi National Museum, it is worth every cent of expense that you will incur to reach it.

Factfile

All roads, airways and rails lead to Delhi. Bang at the centre of Janpath and Maulana Azad Road lies the museum, catch a rickshaw and tell the driver where you want to go, or hire a cab (don’t hesitate to bargain) Open from 10 am to 5pm, the charges range from Rs 10 to Rs 300. Please check while entering. Mondays the museum is closed.

Contact details:

Mr. U. Das (Keeper, Public Relations)
National Museum,
Janpath, New Delhi - 110 011
Tel. No. 91+011+23018415, 23019272/237
E-mail rdchoudh@ndf.vsnl.net.in
 

 

 

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