FIVE DAYS after water from overflowing sewers entered the basement of the Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur, documents of the Rajasthan Archaeology Department going back 70 years are spread out over an entire floor, with staff members using large fans and turning them over several times a day to dry them. The attempt to catalogue the many artefacts that were swept off their racks into the rainwater in Friday’s downpour may take longer. Up to a year, as per the estimate of Museum Superintendent Rakesh Chholak.
Water had entered the basement, holding 17,000 artefacts dating back to the 19th century and a 2,300-year-old mummy, one of the museum’s most precious possessions, on Friday morning due to a nearby road getting waterlogged in the 130 mm rain that day. “Water entered the basement through the windows. We found the artefacts floating in knee-deep water,” Chholak told The Indian Express.
While most of the artefacts stored in the basement were “C category”, or lowest in the order of significance, the Superintendent added, “They are important, including samples of textiles with Sanganer and Bagru prints, laces, old anatomical charts, weapons, ivory, clay toys, furniture and wooden objects. Some of these are permanently damaged.”
The mummy, that was rushed out by the staff before water could enter its case, is that of “Tutu”, believed to be a girl belonging to a priest family in ancient Egypt, and is estimated to date back to at least 322 BC. It had been found in Akhmim in ancient Panapolis, located about 450 km south of present day Cairo.
The mummy was gifted to the Albert Hall Museum in 1885 by the Cairo Museum. In 2011, a team of experts from Egypt had treated it for restoration.
Staff member Ajay Mahato, who said he was among those who carried the mummy out of the waters, said, “When we realised water had entered the basement, five-six of us rushed in and saw that the water was about to reach the glass case in which the mummy was kept. We didn’t have the keys with us and removed the glass to take the mummy out.”
The museum has around 50 staff members. Most of them are working on the restoration currently, with the museum shut following the rain damage.
On Tuesday, Minister for Art, Literature, Culture and Archaeology B D Kalla inspected the museum and issued directions that necessary measures be taken to ensure that there was no damage in the future due to the rains.
This is the second time incidentally that the museum, whose foundation had been laid by the then Prince of Wales during a visit in 1876, was flooded. “A similar incident took place in 1981, when Jaipur received similar rainfall and several artefacts were damaged. We are now considering construction of a wall around the museum and sealing the windows,” said Chholak.
The BJP accused the Congress government of negligence. “Torrential rain & rampant disregard by the @RajGovOfficial have washed away the treasures of the past… Such apathy is unforgivable,” BJP MP from Rajsamand Diya Kumari tweeted.
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