Friday, April 27, 2007

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai


Few people pay attention to this silent witness history, since few have heard about it. Few even know that the Bhau Daji Lad Museum exists. Named as the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1872 (named after the one in London), it is the oldest museum in Mumbai. For the past one and half years it has been under renovation under the strict supervision of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, Mumbai. (INTACH)
Amidst the grounds now referred to as the Jijamata Udyan (Garden) it was earlier known as the Victoria Garden/Zoo. It makes for a beautiful backdrop to a museum in Mumbai. To the casual observer, the museum appears quaint and quite old, a square single storeyed building covered with windows, slender pillars, wrought-iron railings, elegant arches and high painted ceiling. Inside, the structure was painted in an even off-white colour. In the midst of all this you, would find heavy glass cases, oversized pedestals and fading information panels with labels that have turned yellow with age.
Now, the look has changed with the efforts of INTACH. the yellow paint has been pealed to reveal the gold ornamentations on wall corners, ceilings, hand railings and pillars; magenta and blue colours has been used to paint the pillars. The look is stunning. It is no longer faded, old and musty. It has been rejuvenated.
The story begins in the 1840s when Bombay came into East India Company hands. Dr. Buist, a collector conceived the idea of having a museum in Bombay. The idea took roots in and gradually, he was able to create the Central Museum of Natural History, Economy, Geology, Industry and Arts. Lord Elphinstone, the Governor of Bombay Presidency, was among its early patrons. In 1855, the museum had funds of Rs 6,000, a humble beginning. The curator was authorised to draw just Rs 86 per month to cover the ordinary contingencies.
Few people know that Sir George Birdwood, who wrote celebrated works like The Industrial Arts of India, and Sva, was among the first curators of this museum. He was appointed in 1858, after the revolt of 1857. For 10 years, he collected for the museum, and supervised its growth, with the active help and support of Indians such as the nagar seths of those times like Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, Framji Nusserwanji, and Jagannath Shankarsheth.
Ramkrishna Vitthal Lad, also known as Bhau Daji Lad was more actively involved. He, together with a number of his colleagues and men of influence, conceived the idea of erecting a new building for housing this collection, and naming it in honour of the Queen Empress of India, and the Prince consort. The museum that started as the Central Museum of Economic Products was christened as the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1862.
The museum, an archive of the communities that migrated from across the country to Bombay has, in addition, a library that contains rare maps and several old manuscripts and books that reveal Mumbai’s history. In 1975, Bombay Municipal Corporation that runs this museum decided to name it after Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum. It is still under their jurisdiction.
A great deal of time has rolled by, and the collection has expanded somewhat - statues of Englishmen that once occupied prominent positions have moved out into the attached garden. Although some major changes are in the offing, labeling, lighting and increasing the collection need to be looked at. The 150-year old look has changed – it has got a fresh life and look, bright surroundings and interiors – a new lease brought on by Vikas Dilawari, conservationist architect working with INTACH. But wait, the museum will be inaugurated (reopened) soon with great pomp. It has arrived at last, for people will look again and remember its lost glory.
The collection includes clay models equivalent of firka paintings made for the British in the ‘Company’ period—‘illustrating’ Indian types, and costumes, and trades and professions; finely wrought silver and copper ware; votive bronzes to fossils and minerals, delicate ivories to models of temples made from pith. Scattered and interspersed throughout are photographs of old Bombay and European bric-a-brac; wonderful Armour and garishly coloured ‘fruit’ models. Location: Bhau Daji Lad Musuem,Near Byculla Station,Mumbai

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