The Indian Museum is one of the oldest museums. It is also the largest multipurpose museum in India and the Asia-Pacific region. Thus it is one of the top tourist attractions in Kolkata. Visitors to the Indian Museum are also familiar with the name Jadughar or Ajabghar. In the colonial era’s text, the museum was also known as the Imperial Museum at Calcutta. For all the staff of the organization, the Museum also has its medical unit. The Ministry of Culture, Government of India, controls the Museum. The present Director is Shri Arijit Dutta Choudhury.
Asiatic Society of Bengal:
Before knowing the origin of the Indian Museum, it is important to be aware of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Sir William Jones found the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784 in Kolkata. However, the role of the Society was to locate a learning center of art and culture. Moreover, it aimed to entertain people, promulgate knowledge and preserve natural and cultural heritage within the geographical limits of Asia.
Origin of Indian Museum:
Firstly, in 1796, the Asiatic society planned to establish a museum for the preservation of objects. Six years later, Nathanial Wallich wrote a letter to society to form a museum. He, in fact, offered to supply duplicates from his valuable collections. Finally, the Society Museum was set up at the Asiatic Society of Bengal premises on 2 February 1814. Dr. Nathanial Wallich was appointed as Honorary Curator of the Oriental Museum. He was a Danish botanist.
Then, in 1867, the foundation of the Indian Museum was laid on the Chowringhee. During that time, Kolkata’s architectural monuments were highly influenced by western. Likewise, W. L. Grandville designed the Indian Museum in Italian style in 1875. At last, in 1878, it opened for the public with two galleries: the bird gallery and the Archaeology gallery of the Zoological Section. Afterward, it was transformed into a multipurpose Institution and multi-disciplinary objects were displayed.
Purpose of the Museum:
However, the main purpose of the Asiatic Museum was to serve the people of India. The Museum depicts the epitome of art and culture. Till now, the Indian Museum has maintained socio-cultural harmony with society. The museum is the largest institution indeed. It portrays the legacy and pride of the nation. It is also one of the pioneering National Institutions in the Constitution of the Republic of India.
The contribution made for the museum:
Initially, in 1816, 27 European countries donated around 174 items. The individual collectors were Col. Stewart, Kali Kissen Bahadoor, Dr. Tytler, General Mackenzie, and others. In addition to that, Mathuranath Mullick, Sivachandra Doss were the Indian contributors with 49 others. They made an interesting contribution to the museum. The offerings made by them, truly depict the cultural history of India. From prehistoric to Muslim times.
The collections inside the Indian Museum portray the cultural history of India from the primitive to the Mughal era. It has preserved antiques, armor and ornaments, fossils, skeletons, etc. In addition, there are six sections of cultural and scientific artifacts. They are Indian art, archeology, anthropology, geology, zoology, and botany consists of thirty-five galleries. Above all, Indian and trans-Indian unique specimens related to humanities and natural sciences are preserved here.
The three main cultural sections are Art, Archeology, and Anthropology. It coordinates with eight units. Such as Education, Publication, Library, Photography, Presentation, Modeling, Preservation, and Security. The administration takes care of the cultural sections.
The art and archeology section holds international importance. Antiques have been collected from different parts of the world and are displayed here. In addition, the art section is recognized for its carpets, pottery, glass, lacquer-work, and textiles. The archeology and numismatic sections accommodate valuable collections. The gallery displays Persian and Indian paintings.
Above all, the Coin Section holds the highest number of Indian coins in the world. The geological section is the largest in Asia and an important one, in the world.
Around thirty- five galleries are there in the Indian Museum. Let’s know about some:
The Bharhut gallery shows the architecture of the only surviving gateway. That is from Bharhut in Madhya Pradesh. It is the Eastern gateway “Torana”. Sir Alexander Cunningham in 1873, excavated this. It was carved out of red sandstone in the Sunga period.
This architecture displays the life stories of Buddha, Jataka tales, etc. Even fragments of railings encircle the Bodhi tree from Bodhgaya in popular folklore. This fragment belongs to the 1st Century BCE.
Bird gallery exhibits birds from different parts of the continents. Birds like Ostrich from Africa, Cassowary and Emu from Australia and New Zealand, and other foreign birds are also there. Living fossils of a pheasant-sized bird “Hoatzin” are exhibited. Such birds are mainly found in the Amazon, in the Orinoco delta. Taxidermied birds in the ecosystem are there, designed in various models.
The bronze gallery exhibits a huge number of images from the 8th to 14th century CE. The collection has been classified into several regional categories. Inclusively, the Museum has statues of ancient personas from various Asian civilizations. Statues of life-size models of people and animals from different regions of India.
The decorative arts section embraces the aesthetic creations of craftsmen. This section brought in objects from the temple of Mandalay showing Burmese art, a Salin monastery and Royal Glazed Earthenware. In fact, items prepared from wood, bone, brass, jade, copperware, silver, and ivory are there. These objects are useful for decoration or ritualistic purposes.
The Gandhara gallery showcases the sculptures related to the story of the life of Lord buddha. It also displays bodhisattva, and Maitreya flourished in the 2nd century CE, in the Gandhara school of art. This represents the influence of Greco-Roman culture in Afghanistan.
Mask galleries contain various masks from different states and countries. West Bengal, Karnataka, Assam, Orissa, Bhutan, and New Guinea have contributed masks to the museum.
The textile gallery displays fabrics. The fabrics exhibited in the Indian subcontinent are colorful fabrics of cotton, wool, and silk. In addition, It also accommodates Chamba, Baluchari, and Kantha sarees from Bengal, Soznis from Pakistan, and many more textiles.
The painting gallery has 2 main sections, they are:
(i) Bengal School of Art and (ii) Indian Miniatures.
The Bengal School of Art exhibits the masterpieces belonging to Rabindranath Tagore, Sunayani Devi, Ishwari Prasad, Jamini Roy, etc. In addition, Their watercolor painting is still in the museum. Pata Chitra’s oil painting from the 20th Century is also there.
Indian Miniatures contains paintings from Persian, Mughals, Provincial Mughals, Deccan, Rajasthani, Pahari, and Company School of Paintings.
The Long Archeology Gallery shows the sculptural evolution in India. Displaced sculptures are associated with Buddhist, Brahmanical, and Jain faiths. These belong to Kushana, Gupta, Pallava, Hoysala, Vijaynagar, Chola, and other periods. Moreover, The gallery also showcases Buddhist and Brahmanical sculptures from southeast Asian origins recovered from Java and Indonesia.
In addition to these, the museum has several other galleries such as-
Musical Instrument Gallery,
Human Evolution Gallery,
Pre and Proto-Historic Gallery,
Rocks and Minerals Gallery,
Amphibia and Reptile Gallery,
Siwalik Gallery, to mention a few,
Botanical Gallery ,
Invertebrate Fossils Gallery,
Mammal Gallery, etc.
Over 50,000 books, journals and rare publications are there in the library inside the Museum. A museum shop is also there, to buy souvenirs like art albums, children’s books, etc. Throughout the year, the museum conducts exhibitions related to various fields, such as crafts, cinema, sculpture, literature, and biological diversity.
Facts about the Indian Museum:
Nathaniel Wallich donated over forty botanical specimens from his collection.
The mummy placed in the museum is among the six Egyptian mummies in the country. British officer Lieutenant EC Archbold gave it to the Asiatic Society in 1834.
Also, The zoological collection at the museum led to the formation of the Zoological Survey of India in 1916. Now, it is a government organization under the Ministry of Environment, Climate change and Forest.
Finally, the Indian Museum is the ninth oldest museum. It has the largest collection of Indian coins in the world.