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National Museum not moving out yet, being dressed up for 2023 G20

A new Kashi Gallery is being created as part of the museum's makeover. The auditorium will be upgraded, and the gallery dedicated to Central Asian Antiquities will be expanded and digitised with the help of IIT-Bombay.

Written by Divya A | New Delhi |
Updated: May 31, 2021 6:55:37 am
Construction activities of Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project in progress. (Express Photo: Amit Mehra)

The National Museum, which is supposed to move to a new location as part of the Central Vista redevelopment project, is currently undergoing expansion and an extensive makeover, and is likely to remain at its present premises on Janpath for at least another “five or six years”, sources told The Indian Express.

The upgradation and makeover project is aimed at the G20 meeting scheduled to take place in New Delhi in 2023, when many heads of state and government, and other dignitaries will visit the capital, officials said. The aim is to turn the museum into the country’s cultural showpiece, the officials added.

A new Kashi Gallery is being created as part of the museum’s makeover. The auditorium will be upgraded, and the gallery dedicated to Central Asian Antiquities will be expanded and digitised with the help of IIT-Bombay.

The museum has 17,000 paintings in its collection, including the rare ‘Company paintings’ of the 18th and 19th centuries, which will now be showcased prominently, the officials said.

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Work has been underway while the museum has been closed to visitors since March 2020. The expansion and makeover is expected to be completed by the end of this year, even as the museum could be reopened to visitors by August, subject to the Covid-19 situation, the officials said.

A couple of years ago, after the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) moved its headquarters to Dharohar Bhawan on Tilak Marg, the ASI’s old building adjoining the National Museum on Janpath underwent a major upgrade. The building now houses a display of rare Buddhist artworks from the repository of the National Museum.

Excavations carried out in Varanasi as part of the Kashi Temple Corridor project had revealed several big and small temples. The National Museum Institute on the first floor of the museum building, which studied the new finds, will now comprise the Kashi Gallery.

While the collection of the museum will ultimately be moved to the North and South Block buildings as part of the Central Vista redevelopment project, it could be 2026 before the new space is retrofitted for this purpose, officials said.

However, the process of cataloguing, 3D scanning, and inventorising of the museum’s collection is underway, they said. There is no word yet on what will happen to the present building on Janpath once the museum’s collection and displays move to Rajpath.

The present National Museum on Janpath was established in 1949, and houses more than 2 lakh works of art — paintings, textiles, coins, artefacts and sculptures. They are mostly from India, but some are of foreign origin, and cover over 5,000 years of human civilisation.

The North and South Block buildings, where the collection is headed, came up in the 1930s, when New Delhi was built by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker. South Block houses the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministries of Defence and External Affairs, while North Block is occupied primarily by the Ministries of Home and Finance.

The new home for the museum’s collection will be bigger — some 1,67,000 sq m of space, as opposed to the 35,000 sq m available now. The movement of the collection will happen in one go, once the Ministries have moved out and the space has been prepared for the specialised needs of the museum, the officials said.

The museum’s new home will have several new galleries, including “displays dedicated to music, science and technology, medicine, Indian knowledge system and the scriptures”. In order to maintain continuity of the museum’s identity, the new space will also likely be called National Museum, officials said.

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