Come June 2019, the Victoria Memorial will open to the public as a disabled-friendly venue, in addition to completion of the renovation and conservation efforts that have been ongoing for the past one-and-a-half years.
The Memorial will have 2,000 additional artefacts on display and add gallery space as well.
The Ministry of Culture has given the Memorial’s trust Rs 60 crore for the project, which is being carried out by the NBCC — responsible for renovation and conservation projects such as Lal Qila in New Delhi. The iconic structure is nearly is centennial years, having been built between 1906-1921 and opened to the public in 1921.
“Victoria Memorial has the largest footfall of any museum in the country. In the year 2017-18, we recorded a footfall of 36.5 lakh, outstripping all other museums. The Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad was at a distant second with some 12.5 lakh footfall. We expect the footfall to be even higher in 2018-19 because we have not only extended museum hours by one hour, but have also permitted photography inside the galleries, which was earlier prohibited,” said Victoria Memorial curator Jayanta Sengupta.
Sengupta said footfall is likely to increase further due to the disabled-friendly features that have been added to the museum.
“There is one ramp which exists behind the building, but even this is not entirely barrier-free. We are making sure that the ramp becomes barrier-free,” he added.
Several more ramps for wheelchairs and two lifts have been sanctioned. The lifts, to be built within two existing stairwells, will not be open to the general public but meant exclusively for wheelchair users and other differently-abled visitors as well as staff. Two golf carts will be employed to ferry differently-abled and elderly visitors from the gates to the museum as well as around the grounds. A proposal to introduce Braille signs has also been sanctioned.
“Right now, there are three of the museum’s nine galleries which are open to the public. Once the renovation is complete, we will bring out as many as 2,000 additional artefacts for display and add additional gallery space. Out of these 2,000, we have identified 50 highlighted artefacts which will have Braille signage. Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Bharat Mata’, the first ever depiction of the country as a mother figure, will have a Braille sign. Another is ‘Jaipur Procession’, painted in 1876 and depicting a procession of British royalty and Indian Maharajas in a procession outside Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, and the third largest oil painting in the country,” said Sengupta, adding that even after the reopening, the museum will be able to exhibit only 10 per cent of its collection.
The Memorial owns 33,000 artefacts including paintings, manuscripts, antique furniture, arms and armour, coins and a handful of sculptures.
“We have already freed up 30 per cent of the museum space by shifting out all offices to pre-fab buildings in one corner of the grounds. The library has been shifted out as well. Even with this expanded area, the plan is to make at least 85 to 90 per cent of Victoria Memorial disabled-friendly,” said Sengupta.