Art News & Views

Museums of Madhya Pradesh: An Overview

by  Saba Gulraiz

Madhya Pradesh holds an important place in the history of Indian culture and civilization. Its cultural and historical memories are preserved in its museums and monuments, where one comes in direct confrontation with works of high artistic styles and themes representing various ancient and medieval periods of history. These museums are not only the living examples of continuous development of human civilization but they also carry with them imaginary memories that come from the storehouse of vibrant mythological world thus, in a sense,, convey the original meaning of the word 'museum' as a temple dedicated to the muses or goddesses of art.

Madhya Pradesh has a number of big and small museums devoted to separate disciplines of Museology-- Anthropology, Archaeology, Archives, Art and Science. Among these museums, The Archaeological Museum, Gwalior assumes a place of importance, as it is rich with a wide range of antiquities including sculptures, inscriptions, stone pillars, capitals, metal images and plates, coins and Bagh paintings (Fresco). Its sculptural treasure belongs to Sugna and Kushana period. Magnificent sculptures under display are carved heavily with garments and ornaments. Sivalinga, Maha Pasupatinath, Ekmukha Adinath are the main display. They belong to Pratihara period. Most of the antiquities housed in Gwalior Museum are excavated from the sites like Badoh, Gyaraspur, Kota,and  Mandsaur. Some of the sculptures which include images of Yaksha have been shifted to Indian Museum Calcutta.

Gwalior museum is housed in Gujri Mahal, a palace built in the 15th century by the celebrated Tomar King Man Singh for his Gujar wife Mrignayani. Gwalior Museum's prized possession is its world famous Apsara, a beautiful sculpture of Salabhanjika also called Gyaraspur Lady, named so, because it was excavated from Gyaraspur, a site near Vidisha. Registering officer of the museum informed that Rs 70 crores was only its insurance value for taking it to France for an exhibition. Museum's other display includes Hindu and Jain sculptures of 1st and 2nd century B.C.

There has always been a practice to convert old palaces and forts into museums. Scindhia Museum in Gwalior is one such palace, part of which is converted into museum. It exhibits unique Persian carpets, Belgian cut-glass furniture brought from countries like France, and Italy. Another important museum of Madhya Pradesh is Central Museum, Indore. It was established in 1923 during the rule of Holkar kings, who named it Narratan temple. Later on, in 1965 it was shifted into a new building at Agra-Bombay Road. It has six galleries categorized as Index gallery, Artifact gallery, Italian and Fine Art gallery, Sculpture gallery, and Hinglajgarh gallery. Museum houses antiquities from Paramara period, which was around the 11th and 12th century. Most of the objects displayed are excavated from Malwa and Mandsaur regions. It also displays antiquarian remains of Indus Valley civilization. Its sculpture gallery is unique in a sense that it houses some rare sculptures of Shaiva, Shakta, Vaishnav and Jain gods and goddesses. Among them, the most important are the images of Kartikeya, Vareshwara, Vaman, Surya, Ganesh etc.

Bhopal, the walled city, has its own distinct history. Its culture and tradition bear the influence of both the Nawabs and the tribes who inhabited and still inhabit in and around Bhopal. The Nawabs had a history of 250 years, who during their rule propagated a new culture. Especially, the Begums of Bhopal had an eclectic taste for and passionate interest in art and craft. Nawab Shah Jahan Begum, the ruler of Bhopal (1888-1901) was a connoisseur of rare objects which she had collected from different countries like China, Tibet, Japan, and Europe. Later on, this collection was housed in King Edward Museum which was established by Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum (1901-1926) in the year 1909. Now all these collections have been shifted to State Museum Bhopal. This museum has 16 galleries devoted to different themes. They display rare sculptures in bronze and stone, Miniature and Bagh  paintings, excavated material, Epigraphs, Royal collection, weapons, Manuscripts, Archival material, coins, stamps and autographs. Tribal and folk art and craft, a vital part of Madhya Pradesh's diverse culture, is also at display. Well known among its display are the bronze images from Jain period excavated from Dhar district. Unique among them are the images of Yakhas and Yakshinis, image of Surya, images of the twenty-four Tirthankaras from Lord Adinath to Lord Mahavira. Besides images of deities, other important sculptures are Gomedh-Ambika, Padmavati and Saraswati. Carved intricately by the lost-wax technique, these sculptures are unique both in execution and expression and show the richness of Bronze in Central India. Museum's most remarkable possessions belong to Maurya, Shunga, Kushana, Chandela and Paramara and Kalchuri dynasties thus, reveal the most fascinating history of Madhya Pradesh.

My personal experiences of museums during my visits gave me a whole new direction of enquiry into the place of museums in a contemporary society. Museums of Madhya Pradesh can not be seen apart from this. I feel in today's world where changes are taking place in every area especially in the area of transmission of knowledge and information, museums should also evolve to broaden their area of function. Working strictly under their conventional role, Indian museums are not able to cope with the changing needs of the time so, are incapable of connecting well with the contemporary society at large. In their conventional role of conserving cultural heritage through collection, preservation, exhibition and documentation, they are seen merely as mute custodians of our patrimony. While looking elsewhere in the world, the concept of museum has broadened, where its new role is to educate and interact with the contemporary society and create a sense of belongingness to its socio-cultural and political history thus, serve as a mediator between past and present. Our Anthropological museums serve this objective but to a little extent. They represent and depict contemporary socio-cultural life of indigenous peoples in a way that increases visitor's interest. The concept of 'Demusealization of museum' is also an attempt in this direction. Its only example is The Museum of Mankind Bhopal, the largest open-air museum in Asia. It depicts the ecological and socio-cultural diversity of Indian tribal life in a way in which to encourage visitor's interest in tribal art and culture.

Visitors often find museum's atmosphere dull and static and tend to look at the objects of remote past with a certain feeling of detachment. Perhaps, this is the reason why museums fail to draw large audiences. To connect audiences in an effective way is a challenge for our museums. The concept of' historium', which incorporates live actors, audio, video, light and sound effects and artifacts to give narrative insights into historical myths and legends, may be an effective approach to connect with the audiences and engage them in a more lively way. Here I wish to suggest that instead of turning them into shopping malls or the dump houses of government records, the old buildings and monuments should be conserved by converting them into historiums. Besides historiums, we also feel the absence of time and period museums in our country.

Turning back to museums of Madhya Pradesh, above 90% of which are public museums, we will see that they are neither well-equipped nor supported by efficient museum management thus are facing manifold problems including to which is the lack of fool-proof security system against theft, vandalism and other man-made or natural calamities. Quite evidently, during my visit to State Museum Bhopal, I witnessed gross security negligence. To my surprise the museum that houses our invaluable heritage has no system of security check. We could easily move in without any security check. Not only this, a man who was the senior guide there, took us to the museum's strong room that holds some rare antiques. He told us that though he has no legal authority but as the officials have faith in him, they have given him store's keys. This all is quite ironical but this is how our public museums run.

Not only the security of museums is in question, safety and conservation of monuments and excavation sites is also at risk. Since these sites are scattered over various remote regions, it is practically difficult to keep a round-the-clock vigil. Though some random efforts are being made in this direction by giving training to Panchayats in community policing and dissemination of awareness among the villagers about the importance of heritage sites but it's not an easy task, as these ignorant villagers have a sense of belongingness and respect only for the places of worship. Due to this gross lack of consciousness and policing many antiquities have been either destroyed or smuggled. Many cases of smuggling, mainly through Indo-Nepal border, have recently come to light. More recently, an ashtadhatu idol worth Rs 5 Crore was seized by a special operation group near Nepal border. A sculpture of Varah was also taken illegally through Nepal border which was, later on, found in Switzerland, now retrieved and housed in State Museum Bhopal. In the absence of a repatriation agreement it becomes difficult for India to claim back its plundered or stolen antiquities from abroad. To stop illegal trafficking in antiquities the Government of India has passed and amended a number of Acts but looking at the graph of the cases of smuggling, it can be discerned as how effective they are. If we talk of The Indian Antiquities and Art Treasures Act 1972, which was passed to regulate the export trade in antiquities and art treasures and to prevent their smuggling, we will agree that the existing act is full of lacuna. Even its definition of antiquities is vague that makes the implementation of the law difficult. Another difficulty being faced by the officials is of search and seizure. As all the powers to enter, search and seize are with the commissioners, who are IAS officers and have to look after other departments also, it is practically impossible to ensure that rules are being followed. Another ambiguous situation, even if the antiquity is registered, is created when it is given as a gift. In such cases the law can do nothing. Moreover, since an antiquity can be sold only under a license, legitimate dealers have to depend at the whims of bureaucrats who at any time can revoke or suspend it and seize the antiquity from their possession causing them immeasurable losses. Prejudices and legal complications give our governments a monopoly over these bits of cultural treasure; otherwise belong to the whole society, to dump them in suffocating museums where they wait for visitors who rarely turn up.

Images Courtesy: The Author


Tags: antique

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art etc. news & views is a monthly magazine published from India in order to promote art and culture. It intends to raise awareness about art all around India and the world. The magazine covers art exhibitions, auction highlights, market trends, art happenings besides Antique, Collectibles, Fashion, Jewellery, Vintage, Furniture, Film, Music and Culture.