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In the last year,the National Museum has shaken off the dust of inertia to deliver new exhibits and programmes

Written by Vandana Kalra | Published: August 26, 2013 5:56:25 am

The early 20th century five-foot ivory tusk that was carefully kept in storage with lakhs of artefacts for years,now occupies pride of place in a majestic hall at the National Museum. A fine piece of craftsmanship,the tusk encapsulates the life of Buddha in 43 scenes,from his birth in Kapilavastu to his journey in search for truth. “It’s a marvellous piece with extremely intricate carving,” says curator Anamika Pathak. When she was designing an exhibition for the gallery of Decorative Arts,she decided to give it prominence. “Of more than 150 pieces on display,it is among the five that have been exhibited earlier,” she says.

Shut since 2008,when it was vacated to showcase the Nizam’s jewellery,the gallery is one of the nine at the National Museum,Delhi,that was locked interminably. In the last one year though,four galleries have reopened and two more are in the pipeline. “We are trying to speed up the process,several factors have contributed to the delay,” says the director general of the museum,Dr Venu V,who took over its reins in February.

Its Genesis

The museum’s initial collection included gifts from state governments and private collectors that culminated in an exhibition at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in 1948. The museum was housed inside the President’s home till 1960,where it found a permanent place. Now it has been asking for a larger area for over two decades. While the plans have been approved by the Ministry of Culture,they have been on hold,as the Archaeological Survey of India still occupies the premises allotted to the museum.

Its Galleries

The Bronze gallery is due to open in December,followed by the Ethnic Art gallery. The pace of activity escalated after the inauguration of the newly refurbished Musical Instruments gallery in December 2010. “There are several challenges that affect the efficient working of the museum,from lack of adequate technical staff to lack of vision and motivation and the non-autonomous nature of the organisation,” says Venu. Binay Sahai,assistant curator at the museum.

The Lull

The last few decades have been rather listless for the institution. Lack of responsibility at different levels,perhaps,is one reason. At the highest level,the Ministry of Culture has had multiple heads. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh headed the ministry in 2009,in 2011 it was handed to Kumari Selja,followed by Chandresh Kumari in 2012. The museum itself has been assigned a series of temporary heads since AKVS Reddy relinquished the post of Director General in 2007. “The Ministry has attempted to hire,but no one has been found suitable,” says Venu,who is also the Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Culture,handling responsibilities at the museum for an interim period.

The loopholes & promises

The operations of the museum have also been under scrutiny. A report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Culture in May 2012 pointed out that no physical verification of objects had been done since 2003 and no new acquisitions were made with the disbanding of the Acquisition Committee. The report also says that the museum had large number of posts lying vacant for years. Venu admits to the magnitude of problems. While there are several hurdles still to be tackled,Venu hopes that the coming years will be more promising. The statue of the Mohenjo Daro dancing girl in bronze perhaps will cease to be its most prized display,after all the director general promises to unravel several more.

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