IT WAS in 2011 that the National Museum shut its Bronze Gallery ahead of a massive renovation exercise. Paint had peeled off walls, lighting had gone dim, and nothing about the display had changed for years. Now, more than four years later, the new Bronze Gallery has LED lighting, clean white walls and a bigger and more representational display. “We have more than a 100 objects on display now, as opposed to around 70-75 earlier. Also, the old display focused mainly on the Cholas. Even as Chola bronzes are a landmark in Indian metallurgy, we have also added some rare and priceless works from central and eastern India, besides some new Jain pieces from our collection as well,” says a curator of the exhibition.
The priceless artefacts in the museum’s repository constitute one of the most important and representative collections in India. It has nine sections showcasing regional pieces from across the country.
On display, apart from depicting iconographic details from the Indian pantheon of deities, the objects portray high level of technical excellence in metallurgy and bronze casting through fifth to the 17th centuries, which continues till date. In addition, delicately cast images of saints and poets, goddesses, Buddhist and Jain images and deities from Nepal and Tibet are also on display. Masterpieces from Phophnar (Madhya Pradesh), Nalanda (Bihar), Rajasthan, Gujarat, Nepal, Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are of particular interest as they cover a wide range of stylistic features that have been seen through the development of bronze art in India.
The selection of objects in the new gallery and their descriptions allow visitors to understand the history and charm of Indian bronzes — influences, technological marvels and how these images were used in temples, home-shrines or in rituals. The famed Nataraja sculpture from the Chola period stands next to an array of small, minimalist sculptures of poets and saints from the same region, capturing the texture of human body quite starkly in spite of their size. Next up are old pieces from central India, mostly emotion-laden faces of Buddha created in the 5th century.
Later this year, the renovated Manuscript Gallery will be open to public. “These displays comprise just a small section of our entire collection. While it may not be possible to change our in-house displays regularly, we are now looking at creating more temporary exhibitions from our vast collections,” says Joyoti Roy, Outreach Consultant at the museum.