Published in Modern Review, 1918, Vol 23, pp. 514-519
The educational value of museums is being increasingly realised in India, and public authorities are giving more attention to them than ever before. It is true there is still room for considerable development, but museum collections are not made in a day, even if the buildings were ready. Much steady and patient work requires to be done. It is necessary for men who are interested in these things to use their energies in getting together wherever possible, collections of value. The object of this short article is to briefly describe a few of the museums to be found in this country. The ones in Calcutta, Bombay etc. are not referred to, but a typical selection is given of the smaller museums, several of which show evidences of the greatest care and skill in organisation. There is a tendency in this country to make a great spurt at the beginning and then to allow the collections to remain without any serious effort to increase them. Doubtless, if the plan of adding a new section for war exhibits is followed, a new interest will be aroused in these institutions.
In the centre of what is probably the finest public garden in India, laid out by the orders of the Maharaja of Jaipur, stands the Albert Hall, in which is housed a beautiful museum. The building is a sumptuous modern structure of which the Prince of Wales laid the first stone in 1876, the whole is most imposing. Here the Maharaja has collected a most complete set of objects dealing with modern works, of art and industry, and also of antiquities from every part of India. Mr Forrest says that is one of the finest collections in India. He writes:
“As we strolled through it,” “we came upon an interesting group. There are four Rajput’s from the wilds, with their women, whose faces were veiled. Listening with rapt attention to a guide who was dilating on the imitations of the frescoes in the Ajanta caves.”
The silks and carpets and porcelain and clay vessels, are well worth a close study and it is instructive to go from the museum to the School of Art and compare the work being done now with the work of the past. The work executed there is of a high quality and great interest, but something has gone from the beauty, an indescribable something, the soul of the artist. In the museum there is a fine collection of arms of every kind, suits of chain mail, and wonderful engraved blades of every description. There are specimens of every kind of brass work for which the town is famous, also many excellent specimen of jewellery work. The building itself is an imposing structure, built in a distinctly Indian style of architecture, and is quite the most imposing edifice in the town. The gardens in which it is situated are 70 acres in extent and were laid out by Dr.de Fabreck at a cost of about Rs.400, 000. These gardens cost the Maharaja Rs.30, 000 a year to keep in order.
Another museum belonging to one of the Rajputana States may be referred to, but there is no comparison between this and the imposing structure at Jaipur. Nor does it compare in its value as an educational asset of the State. The Victoria Institute situated in the capital city of Udaipur, was built in memory of the Great White Queen, but like so many similar institutions in this country, very little appears to have been done since it was opened to make the collection of articles representative. In view of the fact that the Jaipur authorities have been so successful in their collection, there appears to be no reason why Udaipur, a country with wonderful history of romance, courage and endurance should not have an equally fine collection. The famous fortress of Chitorgarh itself should provide sufficient materials to give new life to the museum. Doubtless, the authorities will seek to enlarge the accommodation in order to provide a home for the war trophies which her soldiers brought back from the Great War on which they have taken an honourable share. The building, which white like all the structures in this fairy-land city, is built in the Moslem style. It also includes a library of moderate dimensions with a statue of Queen Victoria which cannot be described as a work of art. There are modelled heads in coloured plaster, ranged in cases numbered and ticked, of all the Hindu castes, each with its proper caste mark upon the forehead. There is a miscellaneous collection of other things, native arts, industries and antiquities being represented, though not to any great extent. It does seem a pity that the authorities having a suitable building should not make better use of it, especially in view of the fact that many valuable treasures that can never be replaced are being lost.
In the Native states of South India find that great interest is taken in the collections made by the orders of the ruling princes. The beautiful building erected by the ruler of Travancore for the housing of his collection, is one of the most imposing in the State. It stands in the capital city Trivandrum, in the midst of an extensive garden which is well kept. In the season the surroundings are ideal, for the whole garden is one mass of bloom. That the museum and gardens are appreciated is evident from the large number of people who use them regularly. The work of collecting the materials for the museum was begun by General Cullen, who loves as Resident in the State for several years. In 1852 he began to collect specimens of the many kinds of rocks to be found in the neighbourhood, and this work was continued by several later enthusiasts. The object of the museum is limited, being the formation of as complete as possible a collection of the articles which exhibit the manners, arts, and crafts, fauna and flora of Travancore, and the authorities are to be congratulated on their success. One of the most striking exhibits is that of a beautifully made model of a Tarwad, a typical native house of Travancore. In the compound are typical figures of inhabitants. There are also some interesting models of various races that inhabit Travancore, including the hill tribes which are still uncivilised. There is also a collection of ancient implements of torture which were used by these tribes years ago. The work of the state-silver work, ivory, and sandalwood-is represented by some excellent specimens. Several cases are devoted to a collection of fishes found in the sea and back-waters. No attempt has been made to introduce objects from other parts of the world, but the collections serve to give knowledge of life of the Travancore State. The building in which the collected in housed retain some of the characteristics of native architecture on the Malabar Coast.
The Maharaja of Mysore has established a museum in Bangalore, the most important town of his state. The building which is of red sandstone, is not without architectural merit and stands in Cubbon Park, now most tastefully laid out in flower beds etc., The museum attracts agreat number of people, especially the villagers who are always to be seen looking with interest at the objects collected here. The meaning of many they may not understand, but they are interested in those things which touch their own lives. In the vestibule of the museum is a slap with twelve Persian districts, brought from Tipu’s palace in the fort; a figure of a Jain deity with a very superb carving round it, brought from a Jain temple, also some wonderful carvings from Halenid. In the large room adjoining is a valuable collection of stuffed animals, butterflies, and native ornaments and dresses with a remarkable exhibition of fishes. The geological specimens are also of great value. This state is so rich in material that an enlarged structure will be necessary to house anything like a representative collection of the State resources. Several of the small towns of the State are trying to establish small museums which will be of service to the people in connection with their industries.
Reference may be made to two museums in British India, which are typical of others being erected in various places. The handsome building in Lucknow has been made the home of a most interesting collection of sculptures from Muttra and other places where large excavations of ancient buildings and sites have been carried out by Dr.Marshall and others. Especially interesting are the Buddhist images which have been taken from the sites of the ancient temples in Muttra. The building which is in true oriental style is visited by considerable numbers of people of all classes. The exhibits are carefully labelled and described so that the visitor has no difficulty in learning all about them.
The new museum at Sarnath has taken the place of the old structure in which were housed many articles of interest taken from the ruins of the Buddhist topes here. It is a long, low building of stone, in the vicinity of the ruins, and has a collection second to none in archaeological interest. Innumerable images of Buddha in every position have been brought to light in the course of the excavations, and these have been arranged very carefully by the authorities. Perhaps the most striking object is the capital of one of the Asoka Pillars with its lion’s heads. The work of these old carvers has scarcely been exceled, and the whole is as fresh today as If it had been recently done. The provision previously made for the care on these valuable objects was inadequate, but the new museum will preserve for many generations the objects which speak of a distant but great art.
The value of museums as an educational asset will be increasingly realised in this country, and time and money devoted to making these collections even more complete than at present will not be wasted.
In view of the very extensive excavations that are now being made in the Punjab and Sind, the need for well-arranged museums will become of even greater importance. In Taxila, Sir John Marshall has erected a small museum which will be a worthy building for the valuable finds he has made in that area. In connection with the other fields of archaeological research it will be necessary, as funds are available to provide suitable accommodation. In Lahore, there is a very fine museum containing some of the most interesting examples of ancient sculpture, together with a splendid collection of ancient coins etc. Reference should be made to another type of museum which is of unending interest, museums in which are to be found a collection of the various types of arms etc. used in India in different periods. Those in Lahore and Alwar are well worth a visit. Of a more general type mention may also be made of the museum In Srinagar where the Maharajah has collected together a fine number of archaeological remains, typical of the various kinds of structures that existed there in ages past. In addition there is also a very full display of the products of the country. As educational aids it is difficult to exaggerate the value of these museums found in various parts of India.
Published in Modern Review, 1918, Vol 23, pp. 514-519