Nearly a year ago when I arrived in Delhi by a flight from Bangalore, I had collected at the airport a map of the city. Then, Delhi had played host for only a few hours. I had quickly got to ISBT and taken a bus to Himachal Pradesh. Today that map is going to be invaluable to me. It lists more than ten museums in the city, which in itself I think is only a sample of many more in store. I pick a few of them.
National Archives Museum
I take a Metro and get off at the Central Secretariat. The National Museum shouldn’t be far. I don’t know if I am lost or is it plain chance, I come across the National Archives Museum. For all the museums on my map, this one isn’t on the list. The security guard is unsure if he should let me in. Apparently this is a museum that rarely sees visitors. He goes inside to check if the museum is open. He comes back and hands me a visitor pass. There is no entry fee here.
The gallery is on the ground floor and the collection is quite small. The earliest document I find here is a farman from Ala Khan in 1352 AD. A farman is a royal order. The only exhibit that impresses me is the Razmnama, a Persian translation of the Mahabharata as commissioned by Emperor Akbar. This is a manuscript from 1582 AD in Nastaliq script. With more than 400 folios of calligraphy and bordered miniatures in rich colours, it surely must be the pride of the museum. But I wonder is if this is the first print or a copy? And how many copies were really made?
The breadth and quality of the collection here is simply superb. Knowing only too well the efficiency of Government organizations, I am not surprised that some sections are closed for maintenance. The exhibits I see here display the rich diversity of India. With every exhibit, I seem to relive moments of my earlier tours across the country.
Miniature paintings as usual impress me with their colours and endearing details. Chola bronzes from the 10th to the 12th centuries are masterpieces of South Indian metalcasting, a skill that continues to survive in some parts of Tamil Nadu. I am sure to see more of these wonderful Nataraja bronzes when I visit Tanjavur. A Chola bronze of Devi is beauty in all essence. Wooden sculptures from South India reinforce the regions high level of craftsmanship – Garuda, horse, hansa. Stone panels from Deogarh have the same Gupta style and excellence; but somehow they lack the magic I felt when I had visited Deogarh. Among the Buddhist exhibits are stone panels from Bharhut, Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. Metal sculptures from Chhattisgarh appear to be a new addition to the museum’s collection.
Any Indian student of history will recall the beginnings in the Indus Valley Civilization. From my school textbook three images stand out in my memory – the bronze dancing girl of Mohenjo Daro, the terracotta bearded priest of Mohenjo Daro, the terracotta Harappan seal of God Pasupathi. For the first time I saw these great exhibits, housed humbly in glass cabinets in a gallery empty of visitors but packed otherwise with ancient objects of history.
There is an upclass cafeteria in the museum but there is also a staff canteen where visitors are allowed. The canteen is clean. Service is prompt. Items are priced quite cheap. I have lunch and continue to another gallery. I am going to be here till it closes for the day.
National Gandhi Museum
From where I am staying in North Delhi near the Metro station of Kohat Enclave, I walk some distance to the Ring Road and board the Mudrika Bus Service. It is a long ride but I eventually arrive at the Raj Ghat, memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. I have never before seen such splendid architecture. Ramps on four sides lead up to an open ambulatory terrace from where I can see the memorial at a lower level in the center. Access to the memorial is also allowed so long as you remove your footwear. Green hedges are clipped beautifully. Their rectangular edges match the movements of turns of the paths leading to the memorial. Hedges clipped in semi-circular fashion match the semi-circular arches lining the walls that enclose the memorial. A few trees and decorative pebbles dot the lawns surrounding the memorial.
The memorial is nothing more than a black marble platform with the words “Hey Ram” inscribed on it. An offering of bright orange marigolds is placed on the platform. A little flame burns within a glass lantern. Overhanging plants and creepers on the enclosing walls make this a green and pleasant place. Visitors come and go, obeying a silence that is unusual in India and for Indians.
I wander a great deal around Raj Ghat. Adjacent to it is a park dedicated to the memory of Rajiv Gandhi – Veer Bhumi. What is interesting here are limestones and other rocks from different parts of the country. The fossil-like formations on one of these rocks remind me of the rocks used in the Buddhist monasteries of Sirpur, buildings which today survive in ruins. Next to it is Shakti Sthal, dedicated to Indira Gandhi. I know that further down the Yamuna is Rajiv Gandhi Smriti Van. I can understand why Raj Ghat is necessary but I cannot understand this wastage of land for lesser leaders whose contribution to India is dubious.
Coming out of here, I cross the Ring Road and find almost by chance a board pointing to National Gandhi Museum. A modern sculptural installation welcomes me near the entrance. It is a beautiful piece inspired from Cubism. Gandhi leads a few followers and he seems to be walking briskly with the support of his reliable walking stick. This is surely the famous Dandi March.
The museum has an excellent gallery of spinning wheels, including many compact portable spinning wheels. Called the charkha, it is symbolic of equality among men and women, removing differences between rich or poor, high caste or low. The charkha was conceived to regenerate village economies and through that the basis of Swaraj. Gandhi himself contributed towards improving charkha designs and offered prizes for better designs. Breakthrough came with the Ambar type of charkhas, but it happened only after Gandhi’s lifetime. One particular exhibit displays yarn hand spun by many well-known leaders – from Moti Lal Nehru to Jamnalal Bajaj, from Mahatma Gandhi to Rajendra Prasad.
‘Is there is a demonstration of khadi yarn spinning?’ I ask at the counter.
‘Yes, but it may be over already,’ she looks at her watch. It is noon. ‘It is probably over by now. Timing is 11 to 12.’
Archaeological Museum @ The Purana Qila
The ticket to this historic ruin is a ridiculous five rupees and another five for the museum. I have no wish to visit the museum because there is not much time left for sunset. The guy forces me to buy the museum ticket as well.
There is nothing here that I have not seen elsewhere. What is unique here are posters that detail the different cities of Delhi. What we refer today as Old Delhi is in fact an evolution and merger of seven cities – Qila Rai Pithora (8th century), Siri, Tughlaqabad, Jahanpannah, Firuzabad, Din-e-panah (Purana Qila) and Shahjahanabad (17th century). So between the modern buildings of Old Delhi are surviving walls and gateways. Beneath the modern buildings are perhaps unearthed secrets and treasures.