Sunday, April 3, 2011

Delhi – Museums

In the centre of Delhi on Janpath is the excellent National Museum that was built in 1960.

The exhibits start outside the main entrance in the courtyard with a large Temple Chariot housed in a glasshouse. The chariot is octagonal and made up of five tiers in a number of traditional woods including teak, sandal and acacia. Built in Tamil Nadu in Southern India in the mid 19th Century it is dedicated to Vishnu.

There is also a large cast of an Asoka “Rock Edict” from the Gujarat. Carved during Asoka’s 3rd Century BC reign there are 14 edicts covering the banning of slaughter of animals, the importance of the teachings of Dhamma and how he will protect the welfare of the people.

The museum houses a collection of over 800 sculptures with lots of statues (mainly Hindu gods) from the 3rd Century BC onwards and a remarkable bronze section.

In addition to the Archaeological galleries the statues are displayed in the access corridors around the museum building.

The collection includes displays of sculptures in stone, bronze and terracotta from across the whole of India.

There are some good displays of early Harappan archaeology and finds of pottery, tablets, jewellery and terracotta figures. There is also a collection of copper tools and instruments and an example of a Harappan burial.

There is an extensive collection of arms and armour from the Mughal era but also with examples from the Maratha, Rajput and Sikh armies. There is some particularly ornate 18th Century Rajput armour. Many of the later examples are extensively embellished with enamel work and studded with semi-precious stones and includes examples of animal armour such as this 19th Century Elephant armour.

The museum also has a large art collection particularly of Indian miniature paintings. There is a broad range of styles dating from around 1000 AD up to 19th Century including a number of versions of naughty Krishna stealing the clothe of the girls who are swimming. Strangely the only reference to British influence was in the maritime history section.

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Also on Janpath is the Delhi National Archive where the documents include the East India Company treaties and letters concerning the mutiny, including some about the sepoy’s execution that started the troubles. There are also lots of legal petitions and agreements going back to the Mughal period, all in very ornate Muslim script. Also a collection of old hand inscribed copies of the Mahabharata etc. Although well worth the visit the opening times are restricted and it took a lot of “abortive” visits in 2001 before I could finally get in!

More on the National Archive Collection:

The Railway museum is spread over some 10 acre of land at Chanakyapuri (the diplomatic district) and is unique in that there is no extra charge for foreigners! In addition to the extensive grounds that are rammed full of ageing locomotives and rusting carriages there is an indoor display hall with model exhibits and other rail related memorabilia although most of the displays have clearly seen better days. Amongst the collection is the Fairy Queen which was built in 1855 and is reputedly the oldest running steam locomotive in the world.

One curious item is the Patalia State Monorail that has been restored to running order and runs around a small section of track in the grounds, Built in 1907 it ran until 1927 between Bassi and Sirhind.

Among the other more unusual exhibits is an armoured train and carriages that saw service from the 1880’s though to the end of the First World War. The protection is of two layers of armoured plating sandwiching a thick layer of felt.

There are a number of luxury carriages on show including the “Prince of Wales” carriage that was built in 1875 for the visit the following year to the durbar of the future King Edward VII.

There are many grand early 20th Century locomotives, mainly built in the UK, like the 1909 Vulcan Foundry’s HGC 1598.

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On the outskirts of Delhi at the Palam airfield is the Air Force museum. There are lots of interesting planes from World War II through to the 1970’s conflicts with Pakistan. The collection includes an excellent Spitfire “Supermarine” and Hurricane, but also rather incongruously a Japanese Kamikaze plane (it didn’t say if it had ever been flown – LOL!). There are also a lot of “remains” of shot down Pakistani fighters with detailed descriptions of how they came to be shot down, sadly none of them mention the pilots who presumably came to a rather painful end in each of them.

More on the Indian Air Force museum, Palam:

Near Purana Qila at Praghati Bhawan is the Craft Museum which has both indoor and outdoor displays from across India. Outdoors there are examples of traditional buildings from the different regions of the country and different religious shrines.

There is a large Aiyanar shrine of mainly terracotta figures this being a Tamil Nadu (South Indian) cult of the potter caste.

The Gadaba Hut originates from Orissa and is of a design not unlike that which can still be seen even in the villages of North India today. In addition to the range of building there is a craft market operating most of the time in the museum grounds.

In the museum courtyard there is a massive relic cart that seemed impossible to photograph properly at ground level in the cramped space. So a little trip to a rooftop was necessary to get a decent shot.

Indoors the first gallery on my visits was the Tribal and Rural Craft Gallery with a large collection of Bhutas from Karnataka, tribal bronzes, masks, puppets and carvings from different parts of the country. The Bhutas are an eerie collection of wooden idols and with the lighting kept low for preservation and tribal music playing in the background is a quite strange experience.

One of the halls includes a full-sized traditional Haveli from the Gujarat.

There is also a large Textile Gallery that cover the development of the industry through India and a special section on marriage customs including an example of the decoration of a traditional Brides chamber.

Delhi Craft Museum photo collection:

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Part of the residency development near Rashtrapati Bhawan is the former official residence of the Commander of the British forces at Teen Murti Bhawan that now houses the Nehru Memorial Museum. This became the official residence of the first Indian Prime Jawaharlal Nehruand is dedicated to his memory containing a large photo-library exhibition and other displays related to the early days of independence. Historical note:

Post Gandhi, the Gandhi’s of India are actually Nehru’s.

Next door to the Nehru Memorial Museum is the Nehru Planetarium in a building designed to look like a pile of stones! There are a small number of displays related to the Indian space programme the most interesting piece being a 1980’s Soyuz capsule. More on the Nehru Planetarium:

There is a small Gandhi Museum near the Raj Ghat memorial to him of Gandhi’s personal belongings, sculptures, photos and paintings. There is also a history of his Satyagraha (non-violence) movement and the bloodstained clothes that he was assassinated in. The most striking aspect for me was his clear dislike of modernisation and “luddite” mind set.

More on the Gandhi Museum:

At the opposite end of the India Gate “complex” to Rashtrapati Bhawan is Jaipur House which houses the National Gallery of Modern Art. There are indoor art galleries and a large collection of outdoor sculpture.

More on the National Gallery of Modern Art:

1 comment:

  1. very nice colelction..........sir and i m very proud beside u r not an indian but u rstill working on our history..................thanxxx a lot sir from all indians