Updated: April 30, 2022 9:03:53 am
A group of prominent British and Indian gentlemen, many of them Setts or merchants, gathered at the Town Hall to initiate “an economic museum, with natural history and pleasure gardens.” It was December 15, 1858. The gathering was to decide on a permanent house for a collection of geological samples, stuffed animals, and miscellaneous donations that was currently kept in the Town Hall.
The corner-stone of the building — proposed as the Victoria Museum and Garden and then later changed to The Victoria and Albert Museum, to reflect the public’s loyalty to the Empress and its sympathies for the demise of her consort — was laid in 1862 by Sir Henry Bartle Frere, the governor of Bombay. The museum building opened to the public a decade later, claiming its place as a “city museum”. In 1975, it was renamed Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, after the first
Indian sheriff of the city and a joint secretary of the museum committee, on the occasion of his death centenary.
On May 2, this museum building in Byculla turns 150, marking a milestone in its journey. This weekend, the museum kick-starts its anniversary celebrations with outreach activities and exhibitions, and honours Maharashtra Day alongside. On Saturday, archaeologist Kurush Dalal will speak on Maharashtra’s food culture. Sunday’s activities include a storytelling performance of Maharashtra’s folktales by writer and performer Ulka Mayur.
Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, the museum’s director, said mid-May they will commemorate the anniversary with the launch of a book that they have been working on for five years. Titled Mumbai-A City Through Objects, the book is co-published by the museum and Harper Collins. “It examines the history of Mumbai, the evolution of the museum, and their intertwined relationship…through a selection of 101 objects in the museum’s collection,” Zakaria Mehta said.
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The chosen objects span their natural history collection to the role played by the museum in supporting the Swadeshi movement in the 1940s. It concludes with the present by showcasing contemporary artworks by prominent artists from the Sir J J School of Art, such as Nalini Malani, Atul Dodiya and Reena Kallat.
Dr Bhau Daji Museum was conceived not just as a museum but as a “Hall of Wonder” and its accompanying garden as “the Garden of Delights”, as George Birdwood, the museum’s curator wrote in 1863. The building was originally designed by William Tracey and was eventually built by Messers Scott, McClelland & Co, with many modifications to the original design. The building is in the Italian Renaissance fashion despite the Gothic craze at that time, with a central aisle, with a number of elements in cast iron, like the galleries at South Kensington in London.
The corner-stone is still seen today at the ticket counter, marking the museum’s beginnings. Between 2003-2008, the building underwent a major restoration programme through a public-private partnership. The project won the 2005 UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Conservation Award of Excellence, the highest international award in this field.
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