RIP, Sadashiv Gorakshkar: India loses its museum man
Sadashiv Gorakshkar, writer, art critic, museologist and former director of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, the erstwhile Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai, passed away on Saturday, July 13. He was 86.
Gorakshkar was widely considered one of the architects of the modern museum movement in India. A Padma Shri awardee, he authored several books and catalogues on subjects as varied as animal forms in Indian art, Indian aesthetics, the country’s maritime heritage and east-Indian bronzes. Mentored by Karl Khandalavala, art and history expert and onetime chairman of the CSMVS, he laid the foundation for much of how we view Indian artefacts and art today.
“Gorakshkar was one of the few museum professionals in the country in the ’80s,” says Sabyasachi Mukherjee, director of the CSMVS. “He ushered in the concept of New Museology along with Dr VH Bedekar, the former head of the museology department at MS University, Baroda.”
He joined the museum as assistant curator in 1964, heading it from 1975 until he retired in 1996. Gorakshkar was also a fierce cultural activist. “He was one of the few contributors who had a big role in shaping the city’s heritage regulations,” says Mukherjee.
Those who knew him reflect fondly on his approach to conservation, made at a time when the idea of heritage in a city’s cultural evolution was still new. “All tangible and intangible relics which we call heritage, serve as tools and sources for an empathic understanding of the past,” he often declared.
For Mukherjee, Gorakshkar was both friend and mentor. “He taught us that museums need to evolve with changing society to remain relevant in contemporary,” Mukherjee says.
Jyotindra Jain, art and cultural historian, museologist and co-editor of Marg Publications, feels the loss acutely. “I grew up in Bombay and Dr Gorakshkar was a few years senior, while I was pursuing a Master’s degree in ancient Indian culture at the University of Bombay. We had a great friendship and met often to discuss issues related to Indian art and archaeology as well as the issues related to museum-making in India.”
Jain says the loss is as much Mumbai’s as India’s. “As director of the then Prince of Wales Museum, it was Dr. Gorakshakar who began the process of modernising it, not only reorganising the galleries, but including lively lectures and conferences. His death is an immense loss.”