New Delhi, India
November 20, 2013
For most of the way, this is a good road—it’s a National Highway, broad and smooth, the road that connects Delhi to Jaipur. Shortly after the second toll station, on the way to Manesar, a sign on the left indicated that we had to turn left for Urusvati—and we found ourselves on a very muddy, dug-up road leading to the museum. This was one of the bumpiest rides I’ve ever had in the National Capital Region, and the 2.5 km to the museum seemed like an eternity.
We finally arrived at this museum, in a set of triple-storeyed buildings, without anything really to identify them as the museum. Sacks full of concrete stood around, along with stone slabs and other construction material, and wending our way through it all was a chore. Finally, a man (a labourer on what we discovered was a construction site) directed us to an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair who admitted that yes, this was the museum. "We’re closed for renovations right now," he told us. "But if you want you can go upstairs and have a look at some of the artefacts." Since we’d come all this way, we decided we may as well accept the offer.
We were therefore escorted up a flight of stairs to a very dimly lit set of rooms where the artefacts that form the museum’s collection have been stored while the construction is in progress. A lot of the exhibits were draped in clear plastic sheets, many were dumped together in quite a higgledy-piggledy way, and with no particular order to them. We did, however, manage to get some impression of what this collection is all about.
It is, of course, as the name suggests, a museum of folklore—so there are panels of text that tell (in English and Hindi) famous folktales from North India: the story of Heer-Ranjha, Mirza-Sahiban, Nal-Damayanti, Habba Khatoon, etc, mostly supported by visual elements in the form of paintings, dioramas, and so on.
Besides these (which are primarily romances), there are descriptions (and depictions) of other forms of storytelling traditionally used in Indian folklore—for example, kaavad, a form used in Rajasthan, where the storyteller would perform with the help of a small folding wooden triptych-like thing, on each panel of which one scene from the story was painted. The museum has a collection of kaavads, open at different stages of a story, so you can see what is meant.
This, to us, seemed the extent of the ‘folklore’ in the museum. The rest of the exhibits—folk costumes, jewellery, musical instruments, handicrafts and folk art, photographs of folk dancers, religious items (such as a palanquin used in the famous Dussehra processions in Kullu)—are interesting, folksy, even beautiful, but not strictly folklore. The dioramas and life-sized models are very typical of Indian museums, unimaginative and no great shakes. The labelling, while mostly adequate, is often restricted to another collection (‘Wedding Objects’ reads one ambiguous label on a display case containing a bunch of very intriguing objects connected to Punjabi weddings, many of which a non-Indian, or even a non-Punjabi, may not be able to identify).
Since a large number of the exhibits were either stored away or out of bounds, we were done with the museum within about 15 minutes. In any case, what was there was mostly pretty dusty and too badly lit for us to appreciate it. We came downstairs and were met by a lady—apparently the owner (this is a private museum)—who apologized for them not having posted a notification anywhere online regarding the museum being closed. (Even if they’d pasted a ‘Closed for Renovation’ printout on the sign on the main road, we would’ve been spared the bone-rattling drive from the highway). But she did tell us that the museum will reopen by about November 2013, when it will also include two art galleries, and facilities that will allow residencies for artists.
The Urusvati Museum of Folklore, when it’s open, is open from 10 to 6.30 on all days except Monday. Tickets cost Rs 50 per person; we were allowed in for free since the museum was in such a mess. I’m guessing that when this opens, it might be quite an interesting place to visit—rather like a Gurgaon version of Delhi’s Crafts Museum—but I doubt if I can muster up the energy to attempt another visit.
From journal Traipsing around Haryana