The National Museum in New Delhi, also known as the National Museum of India, is one of the largest museums in India. Established in 1949, it holds variety of articles ranging from pre-historic era to modern works of art. It functions under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. The museum is situated on the corner of Janpath and Maulana Azad Road. The blue–print of the National Museum had been prepared by the Gwyer Committee set up by the Government of India in 1946. The museum has around 200,000 works of art, both of Indian and foreign origin, covering over 5,000 years.
It also houses the National Museum Institute of History of Arts, Conservation and Museology on the first floor which was established in 1983 and now is a Deemed University since 1989, and runs Masters and Doctoral level courses in History of Art, Conservation and Museology.
The roots of the National Museum begin with an exhibition of Indian art and artefacts at the Royal Academy in London in the winter of 1947-48. At the end of the London exhibition, the exhibition curators had decided to display the same collection intact in India before returning the artefacts to their individual museums. The Indian exhibition was shown at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in 1949, and was so successful that it led to the decision to form a permanent National Museum. On 15 August 1949, the National Museum was formally inaugurated by the then Governor-General of India, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari. At that time, it was decided that until a permanent home could be found for the collection, it would continue to be housed at the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The cornerstone of the present museum building was laid by Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, on 12 May 1955, and the building formally opened to the public on 18 December 1960.
Today, the museum is administered and funded by the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Tourism.
Departments and collections
Presently, there are several departments in the National Museum.
- Pre-History Archaeology
- Numismatics & Epigraphy
- Arms & Armour
- Decorative Arts
- Central Asian Antiquities
- Pre-Columbian Art
- Public Relations
The collections of the National Museum covers nearly all the departments. It represents almost all disciplines of art: Archaeology (Sculptures in Stone, Bronze & Terracota), Arms, Armour,Decorative Arts, Jewellery, Manuscripts, Miniatures and TanjorePaintings, Textiles, Numismatics, Epigraphy, Central Asian Antiquities, Anthropology, Pre-Columbian American and Western Art Collections.
The museum has in its possession over 200,000 works of art, of both Indian and foreign origin, covering more than 5,000 years of the rich cultural heritage of different parts of the world. Its rich holdings of various creative traditions and disciplines which represents a unity amidst diversity, an unmatched blend of the past with the present and strong perspective for the future, brings history to life.
The National Museum building has two floors. It has a rotunda around which the structure is based.
The museum has various artefacts from the Harappan Civilization also known as Indus Valley Civilization or Indo- Saraswati. The whole collection of this gallery represents the advanced technology and sophisticated lifestyle of the Harappan people. Most of the objects on display are permanent loans from the Archaeological Survey of India. Most prominent among the objects are the Priest Head, the Dancing Girl made in Bronze and belongs to the early Harappan period, Skeleton excavated from Rakhigarhi in Haryana, Terracotta images of Mother Goddess and Clay Pottery. Apart from these the gallery has Sculptures in Bronzes & Terracotta, Bone Objects, Ivory, Steatite, Semi-Precious Stones, Painted Pottery and Jewellery items. Many seals have been discovered during numerous excavations. These seals were probably used for trading purposes. These seals depict bulls, elephants, unicorns, tigers, crocodiles, unknown symbols. On one of the seal, there is the depiction of Pasupati (Proto-Shiva of present age) The gallery presents the vibrancy of human civilization in India at par with the contemporary civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and China.
Among the artefacts, the most significant is the Dancing Girl which is a 4.5 inch bronze statue. It was discovered from Mohenjodaro. The name Dancing Girl was coined by Sir John Marshall. It is made by the Lost Wax Method. The Cholabronzes and the Dhokra castings are still made this way.
Dancing girl bronze figurine from the site of Mohenjo-Daro
Arms from Harappan Civilization
Maurya, Shunga and Satvahana Arts Gallery
The gallery has objects from the 4th century BCE to the 1st century BCE. It has objects spanning three major dynasties; The Mauryas, the Shungas and the Satvahanas. Objects in the gallery have Greek influence characterized by the mirror like finishing. The gallery also houses fragments of railings from various ancient Stupas that are carved on with episodes from Buddha's Life. A major object is the one showing Sage Asita's visit to baby Siddharta and the Bharhut railings that depicts the story related to the Relics associated with Buddha by the sage Drona. A typical feature of the period to which objects in the gallery belongs to is that the sculpture do not depict Buddha in the physical form. He is always shown using symbols like the Dharmachakra, the Bodhi tree, empty throne, footprints, etc.
Male Heads (Maurya Period)
A Child Learning Brahmi Script (Shunga Period)
Woman in Grief (Shunga Period)
Railig from Barhut Stupa showing the Last Episode of Buddha's Life
Asita visiting King Shudhodhna (Satvahana Period)
Different Symbols of Buddha
This gallery has art objects from the Kushan period (1st - 3rd century CE). The major school of arts were the Gandhara School of Art and the Mathura School of Art. The Gandhara school had huge influence of Greek Iconography and the themes were mainly Buddhist. Most prominent among the objects is the Standing Buddha, made in Grey schist stone in Gandhara School of Arts and it belongs to the 2nd century CE. This period was the first time when Buddha was shown in physical form. The Mathura school of arts had primary themes of Buddhism, Jainism and Brahmanism while the Gandhara Arts were primarily of Buddhist themes. Other sculptures include the Kuber (Hindu god of Fortune), the Chattramukhi Shivlinga, the Bodhisattva, and the Jain votive plaques.
As the name suggests, this gallery exhibits artefacts from the Gupta Dynasty (4th-6th centuries CE). Mathura and Sarnath were the main centres of artistic activity. Under the patronage of Gupta rulers, sculptures attained a perfection of form that set the standard for artistic beauty for the coming centuries. Major developments in iconography took place during this period. The sculptures started depicting beautifully proportioned figures with clear features.
At the entrance, there are two statues made of terracota. The statues are of Goddesses Ganga and Yamuna. Ganga stands on her vehicle, Makara, which is a hybrid creature having the body of a crocodile and the tail of a fish and she holds a full pot of water. On the other hand, Yamuna stands on her vehicle which is a turtle and she also holds a pot of water. They were placed at the entrance of temple symbolizing a dip in the sacred rivers for purification.
- Sculptures depicting scenes from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata
Rama redeeming Ahilya (Ramayana)
Laxman cutting the nose of Surpanakha (Ramayana)
- Sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses
Ekmukha Shivlinga, 5th century CE
Medieval Arts Gallery
The sculptures from the Medieval Period are divided into two categories: Early and Late. The artefacts from the respective periods are divided into two galleries.
Early Medieval Artefacts
This gallery has sculptures ranging from the 7th to 10th centuries. After the fall of the Gupta empire, the Indian subcontinent was divided and it was controlled by different dynasties in different parts of India like
There was a general decline in the artistic quality because of the limited number of master craftsmen and the large number of temples being built.
Late Medieval Artefacts
This gallery has sculptures ranging from the 10th to 13th centuries. The country was further sub divided into a number of separate principalities during this period.
The main artefacts in this gallery are:
- Sun God
- Saraswati, the Goddess of Music, Learning and Intelligence. Carved in Marble, the statue from Pallu, Rajasthan is a highly sophisticated and delicate work.
Lord Surya (From Sun Temple, Konarak)
Neminatha (22nd Tirthankar), 11th Century
Parsvanatha (23rd Tirthankar), 10th Century
Saraswati (Chauhan Dynasty)
Jain Chaumukha Sculpture, 12th century
Parsvanatha (23rd Tirthankar), Chola Dynasty, 11th Century
Decorative Arts Gallery
Decorative Arts refer to Arts concerned with the design and decoration of objects that are prized for their utility, rather than for their purely aesthetic qualities. Ceramics, Pottery, Furniture, Textiles, Glassware, Metalware and Jewellery are all included under Decorative Arts. The Decorative Arts section is also divided into 2 galleries.
Decorative Arts Gallery 1
This gallery gives a glimpses of three collections of the museum - Ivory, Jade and Ceramics. The Ivory group has several Hindu and Christian religious figures. The Jade section showcases the utilitarian objects, while the glazed tiles and blue-white pottery are in the Ceramic group. The Gallery also has two interesting themes – Thrones of India, and Games and Leisure in the Past. The theme of thrones shows the evolution of the seat of power. From the low flat seats of antiquity to the modern armed chair, the journey of the throne is a fascinating story. An intricately carved Home Shrine and some metal Hindu and Jain pitikas (small seats for keeping idols for home shrines) are also present. The Jewel studded throne of the King of Varanasi is one of the best example to show Power. The Games section has Rattles, Yo-Yo, Gamesman of Chess and Chaupar. Tops made of different materials with different designs are also exhibited. These artefacts combine the aesthetic and artistic elements to everyday objects used for games.
Decorative Arts Gallery 2
This gallery has artefacts from the proto-historic period to the present day. The variety, quality and media did increase with the taste and status of different generations and the process is on even today. This gallery exhibits Metalware, Jewellery and Wooden objects. Most notable among the wooden objects are the Vahana on display.
Miniature Paintings Gallery
The museum has over 17,000 miniature paintings. The gallery is divided according to the places and time where the schools of arts flourished. The paintings show the rich heritage of Indian Miniature Paintings. These paintings belong to major styles such as Mughal, Deccani, Central India, Rajasthani, Pahari and many sub-styles relating to the period from 1000 CE to 1900 CE. It includes paintings on Palm leaf, Cloth, Wood, Leather, Painted Manuscripts, Covers on Wood and Hardboard & Thankas on Canvas. The major theme of these miniatures are Kalpasutra, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata Purana, Durgasaptasati, Ragamala, Baramasa, Panchatantra, Vishnu Purana, Shahnama and Baburnama
Mughal Miniature Paintings
Miniature painting flourished during Mughal rule. Emperor Jahangir and Shahjahan were great patrons of art. In their courts, the painters adopted themes ranging from portraitures to landses, durbar scenes and processions for their works. The Deccani style was a fusion of Islaamic idiom with indigenous art styles and of local classical traditions with elements of Persian and European Renaissance.
Babur inspecting Gwalior fort.
Nature Study (Early Mughal)
Jahangir holding a picture of Madonna
Central India Miniature Paintings
Paintings from Central India include
Rajasthan Miniature Paintings
Rajasthani Miniatures flourished mainly in Mewar, Bundi, Kota, Kishangarh, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Bikaner.
Mewar Miniatures are illustrating Hindu mythological themes. Bundi and Kota Miniatures excel in composition compactness. Hunting scenes are Kota's speciality. Bikaner excels in Portraire. Kishangarh is known for its Bani Thani, which portrays the model of an idealised and elegant woman.
Pahari Miniature Paintings
Pahari schools flourished mainly at Basohli, Chamba, Guler and Kangra. Under the patronage of Maharaja Sansar Chand in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Kangra became the most prominent centre for the Pahari style.
Nanda and other Cowherds moving to Vrindavana (Based on the story of the Bhagvata-Purana)
Illustration of Guru Granth Sahib
Buddhist Artefacts Gallery
The Buddhist Art Section is most known for the Sacred Relics of Buddha (5th-4th century BC) unearthed from Piprahwa, Distt. Sidharth Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. Outstanding specimens of Buddhist Art is illustrated through exhibits in Stone, Bronze, Terracota, Stucco, Wooden Sculptures & Painted Scrolls or Thankas from Nepal, Tibet, Central Asia, Myanmar, Java
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