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The National Museum, New Delhi

Sayanti Mukherji

A museum is a place which showcases and informs the public of the heritage and history, artifacts and culture of a country. A visit to one is often the done thing in one’s travel itinerary, especially for the discerning travel enthusiast. WoT brings to you a series on the various museums of India, ranging from impressive buildings that are storehouses of priceless antiques and artifacts to quaint spaces with the most unusual collections of curios and ephemera.

An imposing building at the corner of Janpath and Maulana Azad Road in New Delhi, houses the National Museum; one of the largest in the country. Established in 1949, it exhibits a wide range of articles spanning over 5,000 years from pre-historic times to the modern world and has around 200,000 exhibits, both of Indian and foreign origin.

It was conceived after an exhibition of Indian art and artifacts at the Royal Academy in London in 1947-48. At the end of the exhibition it was decided to display the collection in India before returning the pieces to the individual museums. The collection was showcased at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in 1949, and it was so successful that it was decided to house it in a permanent National Museum.

On 15 August 1949, the National Museum was formally inaugurated by the then Governor-General of India, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari. The cornerstone of the present museum was laid by Jawaharlal Nehru, on 12 May 1955, and opened to the public on 18 December 1960.

Its’ collections includes Archaeology (Sculptures in Stone, Bronze and Terracotta), Arms, Armor, Decorative Arts, Jewelry, Manuscripts, Miniatures and Tanjore Paintings, Textiles, Numismatics, Epigraphy, Central Asian Antiquities, Anthropology, Pre-Columbian American and Western Art Collections.

The Museum has perhaps the best collections from the Harappan Civilization near the Indus Valley including the clay Priest Head, the Dancing Girl in Bronze, and seals, pieces, that we have all grown up studying in our history books. Its Ancient India Gallery has objects from the major dynasties: The Mauryas, Shungas and Satvahanas and the later Kushans. It also has collection of Buddhist and Jain architecture such as the standing Buddha and the Bharhut railing. The numismatic section has amazing coins from early cowries to gold coins from the Gupta dynasty with Samudragupta’s image imprinted on it.

One of the most stupendous collections is the jewelry section – with more than 250 pieces, displaying the beautiful Mughal jade collection. The jewelry section ranges from the agate bead necklaces of Mohenjo Daro, to fabulous gold pieces of the southern states engraved with gods and goddesses, to the magnificent treasures of the Mughals.

The National Museum also has a publication section which brings out various catalogues and books from the museum’s collection. Its library has books and journals on history, art and culture of the world for research and reference. From time to time the Museum hosts exhibitions that are a feast for the eye and not to be missed. The museum remains closed on Mondays.

The National Museum, Janpath, New Delhi – www.nationalmuseumindia.gov.in