New Delhi, India
September 5, 2012
It’s based on the concept of bringing together reproductions of some of India’s finest sculpture within one set of galleries, to make them more easily accessible to those who may never get to travel to Mahabalipuram or Sanchi or wherever the originals are to be found. A laudable endeavour, true; but unfortunately executed in such a shoddy way that it ends up detracting from its purpose.
We hadn’t meant to visit the Children’s Museum at all; it just so happened that we wanted to visit the Mohammadwali Masjid opposite, and the locked gate could only be opened by somebody from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), whose office is at the museum (which, by the way, is also the brainchild of the ASI). The gentleman took us all the way to the mosque, gave us a guided tour, and then insisted that we come back and have a look at the museum. My husband and I aren’t too good at saying ‘no’, and this man had been really rather generous with his time, so we agreed.
This didn’t really eat into our time, actually, because the museum—though it’s housed in a fairly spacious building—is tiny. As you enter, there’s a rather dark vestibule, with some sculptures in stone. Beyond, there’s an open quadrangle—a grassy rectangle, surrounded on all four sides by the two-storied building. In the quadrangle are three large sculptures: one of the Narsimha (the half-man, half-lion incarnation of the Hindu deity, Vishnu); one of the Ashokan capital with its four lions (the capital is the national emblem of India); and one of the Hindu trinity.
Our guide led us on to the first gallery, a tiny room which is lined with photographs of India’s World Heritage Sites. Yes, that’s it. They’re merely labelled with the name of the site; there are no descriptions, no history—let alone anything else that might be even vaguely informative or interactive.
There’s another gallery, which is devoted to the major historical sites in Delhi—in most cases, sites where the ASI’s conservation and restoration work have helped rejuvenate the sites. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of each site are interesting, but with (again!) no descriptions, it’s all really rather flat and boring. Since our guide was obviously so proud of it all, we murmured praise, but you’d need to have exceptionally low standards to think this was good stuff.
Next came another display of reproduced sculptures: a slightly larger room, with some relatively good reproductions of works of art: a Sakyamuni (‘fasting Buddha’), a Gandhar-style Buddha (the Gandhar form of ancient Indian sculpture borrows heavily from Greek influences); ‘Arjuna’s Penance’ (a frieze from the shore temples at Mahabalipuram), etc.
Lastly (yes, there only five rooms open right now), we were shown a room, the aim of which is to sensitise people to the misuse and neglect of historical monuments—graffiti, encroachments, all the junk and debris and other ghastly stuff you see being dumped at unprotected monuments (even sometimes at protected ones) across the length and breadth of India. This has been done by basically replicating a historical site—something that looks like a medieval room—and covering the walls with graffiti, posters, etc; and by dumping everything from an old bicycle to a lantern, mattress and bedsheet in a corner. Fairly realistic, but I don’t know how much this really achieves. Wouldn’t people who take the trouble to come to this obscure little museum already be aware that one shouldn’t treat heritage in this shabby fashion? Even if they aren’t, will this be enough to shame them into respecting heritage a bit?
Anyway, as I mentioned in the headline, at least this is free. It’s tiny, it’s really not worth the effort, and until they think up a more innovative way of putting across the message, this is one museum you’d probably be better off omitting.
From journal Delhi: Some Museums, Some Memorials