National Museum opens sepia photo exhibition of its birth and growth

New Delhi, May 12: If National Museum (NM) has emerged to become India’s premier repository of artefacts over its 65 years of growth, equally fascinating will be a broad glimpse at its initial struggles to acquire objects which now total over 2.06 lakh.

An exhibition of archival photographs of that phase is now on at the very venue.

‘Down Memory Lane’, a month-long exhibition of 57 images, got off to a start in the famed rotunda of NM on its foundation day today. Slated to conclude on June 12, it features visuals from 1945, which was the year that saw the first move to establish the institution, to momentous occasions up till 1970.

NM Director-General Dr.Venu V said the exhibition has been mounted on the special occasion of the foundation day of the 1949-started institution.

“It throws light on its many of its inception-related and growth stories – through archival and rare photographs,” he noted. “We gathered from government institutions and private donors.”

The exhibition opened hours after writer-historian-curator William Dalrymple addressed a gathering at the museum.

In his hour-long talk on ‘Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi 1707-1857′ at the NM monthly lecture series on Sunday evening, the 49-year-old British Indologist explained with pictorial examples the paradox of art flourishing amid a weakening economy and polity that was typical of Northern India during the decline of the dynasty tracing its roots to Central Asia.

As for the ‘Down Memory Lane’ exhibition, Dr Venu noted it “portrays a very interesting history” of National Museum, which typically unveils stories through its exquisite collection of paintings, sculptures, manuscripts and ethnographic objects spanning over 5,000 years of heritage.

For instance, in 1946, the idea of building a national museum for India was proposed by a committee headed by Sir Mourice Gwyer, the First Chief Justice of the then Federal Court.

Then, the winter months of 1947-48 saw a large London exhibition of Indian arts and crafts, thanks to loans by nascent India’s major museums and private owners. Before their return from the Burlington House, then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s decided that showcasing those objects in Delhi to facilitate his compatriots to appreciate their beauty.

Thus, the objects were first displayed in the State Rooms of the Rashtrapati Bhavan (then called the Government House) on August 15, 1949. The rooms were formally inaugurated by C Rajgopalachari, Governor General of India.

Later, an impressive plot of land between Maulana Azad Road and Rajpath were earmarked for an independent building for National Museum. “That is where you now stand to see this exhibition,” Dr Venu pointed out.

NM was designed by the architect Ganesh Bikaji Deolalikar and the foundation stone was laid by Pandit Nehru on May 12, 1955. Once the building was ready, the new museum was inaugurated by Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Vice-President of India, on December 18, 1960. The ongoing exhibition has photos of all such historic occasions – and more.

For instance, it shows images – among others – of architects and engineers discussing the construction of the NM building, Pt Nehru and NM Director-General Grace M Morley standing under the Mandapa in Wood Carving Gallery of the museum and the 1970 inauguration of NM’s In-Service Museology Training Programme.

Today, NM has ten important collections including pre-historic archaeology, archaeology, numismatics and epigraphy, miniature paintings, manuscripts, decorative arts and textiles, anthropology, Central Asian antiquities, arms and armour and pre-Columbian and Western arts, much to the thrill of visitors, students, scholars and tourists across the globe. (ANI)