Thursday, 23 April 2015

Visit to the National Museum

In this semester, I am teaching a course to First Yr.Under-grad students which deals with Ancient/Medieval/ Modern History and Thinkers around that time. I had recently visited National Museum with my cousin from UK (by the way, All Britishers take their Museums and their history very seriously!).  I had heard Neil Mcgregor, Director of British Museum, in a conference on Museums, we had hosted at JNU . The way he narrated the stories around historical artifacts and their politics, was very fascinating! For example- post-Independence there was a fight  over the artifacts as well (among other things) between India and Pakistan. So, to avoid any further conflicts between the two new nations, Britishers kept the precious things in their safe custody! Similarly, Israelians- Palestanians have had issues and Dalai Lama and China have also had arguments over Buddhist artifacts from that region. Thus, British Museum has a great collection of objects from all its colonies, which they have not and Cannot return back, due to present day political climate!

In the same conference, my ex-colleague, Kavita Singh, had talked about how in India museums are treated as 'sacred' spaces, where at some places people are expected to remove shoes, and mostly there is a code of conduct for behavior.

 National Museum , actually a project of the British was later on taken over by Indians under the patriotic nation-building exercise, is a fascinating place!
(You can read more here- )

And, if you have a good guide who can explain the different eras, its different objects, their intricacies, etc. the time travel between different periods,it is absolutely brilliant. I loved our guide, Chitra, a passionate, knowledgeable art historian who finished the 90 minute tour in almost two hours, painstakingly explaining everything to the group. So I thought it would be a good idea to take my students there! 

I requested for Chitra again but was turned down by National Museum authorities as they said all guides are well trained and they would not like to encourage favoritism. There was no reason not to trust them! 

We reached for the afternoon walk (which starts at 2.30pm). The tickets were subsidized for students at Rs. 1/- We were all very happy, until we moved to the first era. My group of 18 young restless students, engaged by this young 20 something guy, who was leading them now. I kept myself at the back consciously and occasionally rested at the numerous benches and chairs. It was a tough task to control my unruly crowd. Suddenly, I felt like a sheep-herder trying to control my flock of sheep from moving here and there, touching stuff or taking photos. (You can take photos by paying an extra amount, which we had not paid). Starting with Harappa/ Mohenjodaro, we moved to Gupta/Maurya Age.
 Then I saw some students giggling uncontrollably. The guide sahab was giving the gyaan on Buddha's statues. He was trying to explain the long ears as a sign of divinity (true), and the head showed post-Enlightenment head, an over-flowing brain (SHOCKING!).
  Another student corrected him, when he called Ram's brother Shiva, instead of Lakshman in a painting depicting a scene from Ramayana!

 Students felt there was too much emphasis on Buddha, with a separate hall dedicated to Buddhist Art, which also houses Buddha's relics in a gold and diamond encrusted base (often, you can see Buddhist monks praying/chanting in this section)! Later, I found out that National Museum also gets grant from some South-East Asian countries for their Buddhist treasure!
Personally, I loved the Sun god statue from Konark temple. A unique statue which wears a beautiful smile, along with boots, very unusual.

Girls got all excited when we visited the Jewelry hall. Guide just sat in a corner, and allowed everybody to feast their eyes on marvelous pieces of jewels from different eras.  (Chitra had taken us to every showcase herself, and explained different pieces and their eras, but then she was a woman!)

A couple of students befriended him and found out, that guide sahab was a MBA preparing for CAT, and this he did as a part-time job!

Post-arms and ammunition section (again very beautiful hall with daggers, swords, soldier's uniforms, pistols, rifles, etc.), we finally bid adieu to the guide sahab, and the museum. We left the premises after getting ourselves and our bags screened, checked and frisked (they check in case somebody may decide to carry a souvenir from the museum).

1 comment:

  1. i enjoyed m ytrip to the national museum very much. it was really interesting. the museum is not too big so could be viewed quickly in a few hours if you were by yourself. however, it is very helpful to go with a guide as they can explain things in detail, you can ask them questions, if there are a lot of artefacts in a hall then they take you to the key exhibits. our guide Chitra was really good: passionate and knowledgeable. it makes a huge difference. it is a pity the second guide was less clued-up. the sad thing is, having a bad tour guide may put some students off from visiting the museum again.
    cousin from the uk.