Editor's Note: This property was formerly the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India.
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New Delhi, India
June 27, 2007
The exhibits are often poorly labelled, badly lit and ill-maintained. The Indian and Burmese silverware around the central foyer on the first floor is badly tarnished. But, despite that, there’s a lot to admire here:
1. The House of Lakshmi: This informative and well-kept gallery of coins is delightful. There are models to show how coins were minted; interesting details on Indian dynasties; and a great collection. Included are the Mughal emperor Jahangir’s 'Zodiac coins’, each stamped with a sunsign; coins struck by the Greek satraps in India (600 BC); intricate coins by Hyder Ali; and even a 'forced currency’ coin introduced by Mohammad bin Tughlaq, leading to an economic crisis. There are plenty of other coins – including gold ones – from just about every era in Indian history right up to 2006.
2. The Galleries of Indian Miniatures and Everyday Art: These are my own appellations – I couldn’t see any names. The former’s a showcase of miniatures from traditional styles such as Mughal, Deccani, Pahari and Rajasthani schools. Most are 17th or 18th century and depict religious or regal themes. Among my favourites are Nayika Bheda (a Kangra miniature illustrating part of the epic Geet Govind) and a set of bird paintings commissioned by Jahangir for his autobiography, Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri. The Gallery of Everyday Art next door contains jade, bidri (gunmetal inlaid with silver), jewellery, ivory, glassware, and more. There’s some fabulous stuff here: look out for the impossibly finely carved ivory jewel box near the entrance.
3. The Weapons Gallery: This is a small but informative collection of maces, bows and arrows, swords, shields, guns and armour. The highlight is the personal armour and shield of the Mughal emperor Akbar, and an array of well-preserved swords.
4. The Chinese and Japanese Galleries: Probably the largest (and worst labeled) section, these galleries contain a huge collection of Oriental porcelain, cloisonné, celadon, lacquer, and even a few Japanese embroideries and paintings. Nothing exceptionally old (most is 18th or 19th century), but plenty that’s pretty. Check out the all-white female figures in beribboned, beaded robes – all porcelain – and the delightful fist-sized jade bullock cart.
Other odd sections merit a visit. In the second floor central foyer are dozens of Chinese and Japanese porcelain snuff bottles, all painted with flowers, figures, landscapes, and colourful crickets. In the Karl and Meherbai Khandalavala Gallery, check out the 300 year old paintings Shoeing a Horse and Elephant in Musth; and on the ground floor, the Hindu and Buddhist stone statues, nearly all 1,000 – 2,000 years old.
From journal Dispatches from the Front: On My Own in Mumbai
September 30, 2004
Like the city it's in, the Museum has been renamed: from the Prince of Wales Museum, the Museum has changed its namesake to Shivaji, the legendary 17th-century warrior king. The transformation is symbolic, indicating the city's independence from colonial rule, but the contents have remained exactly the same. The museum is a gigantic, domed, bubbly-looking building set in carefully maintained tropical gardens which, when we were there, were too hot to walk in. The museum's collection is broad in scope: a whole zoo of stuffed animals and birds in the natural history section, exhibits on India's Paleolithic history, Hindu and Buddhist sculptures, Mogul miniatures, arms and armor, and Nepal and Tibet. All of these are interesting, and, while slightly dusty, they are well displayed.
The most striking exhibits are the sculptures. There is a series of tiny carvings of the Life of the Buddha, done in loving, delicate detail; it's an education in Buddhist history and iconography. The Hindu statues are largely individual statues of gods, with an emphasis on elephant-headed Ganesh, who is very popular in the area. There are also some unusual carved plaques commemorating royal land grants; these are marked with a donkey sodomizing a person, to indicate what will happen to anyone who violates its conditions.
A recorded audio tour is included with a foreigner's admission. This tour is very well done -- this is coming from someone who tends to resent audio tours as dumb and intrusive. The information is concise but detailed, and the tour allows you to request information about individual art works when you come to them, rather than forcing you to follow a set itinerary. The tour is designed to be sequential, but unless you're completely clueless about the Hindu pantheon, you won't get too confused if you ignore the sequence; on the other hand, if you are completely clueless about the gods, this is a great way to learn about them.
As often happens in older natural history museums, the displays of taxidermied animals and birds get a little creepy, but it's a good catalogue of Indian fauna. If you're interested in animals and bird-watching, it's a good place to start your trip.
We were, as usual on our off-season trip, the only Westerners in the crowded museum. We had almost as good a time people-watching as we did looking at the exhibits. The sentiment was returned by the rest of the museum-goers, who watched us attentively. Everyone was happy at the novelty: we got to see families of Sikhs in enormous turbans, and they got to see two pallid, pony-tailed Americans.
The museum has a cafe where you can buy a much-needed Fanta.
From journal Mumbai, Rajasthan, and Delhi
January 14, 2001
From journal Extraordinary Bombay