Sunday, August 28, 2005

Govt museum: A crumbling treasure trove

Govt museum: A crumbling treasure trove
The Times of India

Bangalore: From afar, the red building looks mighty impressive. After all, the government museum on Kasturba Road is one of the oldest in India.

The museum began life on Museum Road (hence the name), when the British set up the old Residency. Later, a building specifically designed for the museum was built in 1877 at its current location — Kasturba Road.

Today, the museum has a fabulous collection of sculptures from 1st to 17th century AD. It also has artefacts from Mohenjodaro; a lovely selection of paintings — traditional Mysore style, Mughal and Rajput miniatures — and a collection of musical instruments.

But apathy is all too evident. The museum, so magnificent on the outside, is crumbling inside. Artefacts are poorly displayed and there is little or no money to ensure that even the frames of paintings are intact. Nor is it unusual to find rats running around!

This lack of concern is seen in the very first exhibits — two intricately carved dwarapalakas of the Chalukyan style, dating back to the 11th century AD. But both structures are badly chipped. One even has a reddish ‘wound’ on its throat.

Inside, there is a display of paleolithic tools, neolithic stone implements and megalithic pottery. There is also a section on excavations from Hampi which has mythological figures and figurines, iron implements and exquisite miniature Nandi-like figures.

A related section has exhibits from Mohenjodaro — spherical pottery rattles, perforated vases and so on. They are found enclosed in glass cases, many of which are already broken.

A curving balustrade takes visitors to the upper floor where lies the museum’s store of paintings and musical instruments. Some of the instruments are unique — there is a mayura veena (shaped like a peacock) and a makara veena like a crocodile. An aboriginal drum nearby now looks like a piece of dried up fruit.

Of the paintings, there are two big Mysore style paintings on ‘Gajendra Mokasha’ and ‘Narayana with Sridevi and Bhudevi’ with beautifully carved wooden frames that are broken in many places. Many of the other artworks are slowly disintegrating. The stone sculptures are housed in the museum annexe built in 1962. The collection features everything from a 10th century ‘Natyaganapathi’ from Khajuraho to art forms dating to the 1st and 2nd century AD and figures of Buddha and other gods. Museum staff say there is no money for proper maintenance.

And right now, security is practically nonexistent though there are plans to engage a private security agency. Yet, ticket prices remain abysmally low — Rs 4 each for adults, Rs 2 each for children. The tickets enable one to see the nearby Venkatappa Art Gallery too.

In an age when even a cup of coffee in a darshini costs at least Rs 7 a cup, shouldn’t we place more of a value on our history?

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