daji lad museum: Mumbai: the 150-year-old Bhau Daji Lad museum revisits history | Bombay News

To see the Victoria and Albert Museum in the 19th century, it wasn’t always necessary to spend 30 days on a steamer to London. Board the local steam train for Byculla and enter a refreshing non-Gothic building featuring Queen Victoria’s crest on its large windows, the statue of Prince Albert in its central hall and glass jars filled with oils and of local seeds in its crimson and golden belly, would have sufficed.
Before it was renamed in 1975 after Bombay’s first medical graduate turned Bombay’s first sheriff whose appeals for donations helped turn a curious collection of week-old rare stuffed animals and dried plants. in a crowdfunded concrete Italian-Renaissance style “Hall of Wonder” featuring Gandhara sculptures, Assyrian slabs as well as Bombay-made glass jars of seeds and spices, the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum – the oldest museum in the city – was called the ‘Victoria and Albert Museum’ for over 100 years.
Tomorrow, a century and a half would pass since the hot Thursday of May 2, 1872 when city merchants and British army, navy and air force officers flocked to Victoria Gardens for the opening of the Palladian building of this museum— The first in Bombay and the third in India.
Built in the run-up to Queen Victoria’s accession as ‘Empress of India’ and designed as a ‘Hall of Wonder’ by the museum’s first curator, naturalist George Birdwood, the building – designed by British PWD engineer William Tracey – -will recount his own genesis through an exhibition marking his 150th birthday on Monday.
“It started as a natural history museum to showcase the resources of the former Bombay presidency and attract an audience who could not read labels,” says museum director Tasneem Mehta, adding that the collection later evolved to feature items executed by master craftsmen and students of Sir JJ School of Art.
A clear clue to this transition from the “cabinet of curiosities” to the “museum of economic products” appears in a report from 1864 when curators earned Rs 400 per month. In it, Birdwood wrote, “It will be a museum of raw materials, manufactures, and the arts, and its curators will direct their original research in natural history to promote the economic interests of the country.”
City historian Foy Nissen once described the museum – whose wooden display cases held jaggery-making and sugar-growing tools – as a “perfect Victorian museum with its didactic concepts and display systems”. . He also played a role in the Swadeshi movement “by promoting the art objects popularized by the local cottage industries which were created to revive traditional arts and crafts in India”, points out Mehta, who edited a book soon to be published “Mumbai – A City Through Objects, 101 Stories” which traces the evolution of the museum and the city through a selection of 101 objects from its collection.
Among the few curiosities that survive from the museum’s first collection in the 1850s – when it was open to the public for a week at the fort’s barracks – is a broken Chinese pillar. Later the museum moved to the developing Byculla, where it languished for long years of neglect. In fact, until its UNESCO-winning restoration in 2005, Mehta says, the museum hosted no exhibitions except for the city’s first international exhibition in 1873, which featured objects donated by many. many maharajahs outside exhibits obtained from England.

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