Exhibition of archival photos providing a glimpse into the birth of the National Museum, which currently hosts over 2 lakh objects spanning over 5000 years, began here on Monday.
The “Down Memory Lane,” exhibition of 57 images features visuals from 1945, the year that witnessed the first move to establish the institution right until the year 1970.
“It throws light on its many of its inception-related and growth stories — through archival and rare photographs,” National Museum Director-General Venu V said.
Images sourced from various government institutions and private donors are included in the month-long show slated to conclude on June 12.
Prior to the exhibition opening writer-historian-curator William Dalrymple delivered a talk on “Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi 1707-1857” at the monthly lecture series at the museum late last evening.
The 49-year-old British Indologist used pictorial examples to explain 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, Venu said it “portrays a very interesting history” of the Museum, which typically unveils stories through its exquisite collection of paintings, sculptures, manuscripts and ethnographic objects spanning over 5,000 years of heritage.
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.
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 decided to showcase those objects in Delhi to facilitate his compatriots to appreciate their beauty.
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, a plot of land between Maulana Azad Road and Rajpath were earmarked for an independent building for the Museum.
Designed by the architect Ganesh Bikaji Deolalikar, the Museum’s foundation stone was laid by Pandit Nehru on May 12, 1955 and once the building was ready, the new museum was inaugurated by S 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 building, Jawaharlal Nehru and National Museum Director-General Grace M Morley standing under the Mandapa in Wood Carving Gallery of the museum and the 1970 inauguration of its In-Service Museology Training Programme.
Currently the Museum holds 10 important collections including pre-historic archaeology, archaeology, numismatics and epigraphy, miniature paintings, manuscripts, decorative arts and textiles, anthropology, Central Asian antiquities, arms and armour as well as pre-Columbian and Western arts.