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In search of lost time

Amid reports that nobody wants to head the prestigious National Museum, we visit the place to discover the centuries-old cultural treasures it houses.

entertainment Updated: Sep 12, 2010 01:06 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

It’s surprising that you don’t see any crowd here. One of Delhi’s most amazing hangout zones — the National Museum in Janpath — is where the past gets physical. With over 2,00,000 artworks spanning over 5,000 years, India’s largest museum is a storehouse of relics. Its corridors are lined with 800 sculptures, dating from 3rd century BC to 18th century AD. The exhibition halls have statues, paintings and civilisational knick-knacks such as coins, axes, toys, potteries and... a Harappan woman’s skeleton!

The museum has three floors. With each gallery dedicated to a special theme (Harappan civilisation, Maurya, Sunga and Satvana art, Gandhara sculptures et cetera), it is unsettling to cover so many centuries in so little time. Each piece, even if it is just a little terracotta animal, can be observed, studied and admired for hours. The only ‘foreign hand’ visible is in Gandhara Gallery, which stands out for its Greek influence. Dressed in togas, its Buddhas look exotic.

One of the galleries is dedicated to Buddhism. It has Thangkas, or painted scrolls, from Tibet, wooden sculptures from Java and Cambodia, and scenes of The Buddha’s life, from Sarnath. Its must-see attractions are The Buddha relics (5th to 4th
century BC), unearthed from Piprehwa in the Bastar district of Uttar Pradesh.

The section on Indian miniature paintings, with more than 300 exhibits, can make for a separate museum. Belonging chiefly to Mughal, Rajasthani and Pahari styles, most paintings, dating from 1000 AD to 1900 AD, are inspired from scenes in Hindu epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharat. A few also show the remarkably liberal lifestyle of their era: embracing lovers, bathing women and harem princesses enjoying wine and music.

Other floors in the museum have on display coins, textiles, musical instruments, arms and armour. There is also a curio shop and an excellently-stocked library. One thing that must not be missed lies outside the building. The octagonal chariot (18th to 19th century) from Tamil Nadu, next to the entrance gate, is made of saal and sagvan wood. Dedicated to Vishnu, it has six wheels, 425 carved panels, and weighs more than 2,000 kgs. It will take your breath way.

Time 10 am to 5 pm (Monday closed)
Where Janpath