National Museum New Delhi is suffering a hangover from socialism

Indians talk about nationalism and pride in Bharat, it is on display in the psyche but it is not obvious in museums.

National Museum New Delhi is suffering a hangover from socialism
National Museum New Delhi is suffering a hangover from socialism

India has a such a profound history and heritage might it be an idea if civil society or private enterprise, independent of central government, took over the National Museum.

Like an airport a museum is a soft power asset to a country, it is a window into the state of the State. I have visited many airports in India and can say they are mostly a good introduction to and advertisement for the country but the museums I have seen are a sad story. A national museum should be an institution of civic pride, telling the nation’s story, a reservoir of cultural intelligence and diplomacy, attracting citizens and tourists, stimulating knowledge and generating jobs.

There is an increasing trend in the museum sector worldwide for public-private partnerships.

The National Museum in Delhi is suffering a hangover from socialism, the approach to display and lightning are miserable and way past their sell-by date. Museums are a means to connect the present and the past, a fusion of art, history, heritage, and identity, they inform and can inspire the citizen and impress the foreigner. The National Museum New Delhi does none of the above.

To its credit, it has an ideal location opposite the Ministry of External Affairs and the artifacts are pleasing but they not well displayed, it is a bit of a disappointment; I wonder how often the MEA take diplomats around this museum?

One enters through a security gate and undergoes a timid hand frisking, that day there were no metal detecting wands. The lighting is dim and grim, there is no atmosphere. The ground floor galleries arranged are more or less civilizational. It looks like the displays have been there since the 1970’s, there is no introductory context to the galleries. It looks old-fashioned and uncared for; the perspex display cabinets are smeary and the one display that had mannequins inside that must have been from the Independence era. Perhaps it is time to recruit some Indian innovation, all the brilliant Indian architects could tender to revamp the interior, curators could put their heads together to commission a redesign of the exhibition space, paying attention to how museums in other international capitals have moved on. This reporter would like to see themed galleries of Gods, Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna et al and a gallery for Mother Goddesses, plus of course a gallery for the SampoornaRamayanam explaining India’s unique man-God and his reach and relevance, and Buddha, all with factual introductions referencing beliefs, geography, and literature. Other galleries could cover civilizations but with added context. Music, Slokas, video, and lectures could be incorporated to bring the galleries to life; and as many of India’s treasures are in private hands perhaps it is time to invite private collections to be exhibited.

A shop selling classy memorabilia and miniature deities, cultural and history books, jewelry reproductions would be welcome, and a café with teas and snacks from all over India. Private and/or official events could be held in galleries, helping to establish the museum as a go-to destination.

Brand India needs more C21st flagship museums, such as a cyberscience museum in Gurgaon’s Cyber City and a dedicated pan-India costume cum textile museum in India’s fashion capital. Indians talk about nationalism and pride in Bharat, it is on display in the psyche but it is not obvious in museums. There is an increasing trend in the museum sector worldwide for public-private partnerships. India has a such a profound history and heritage might it be an idea if civil society or private enterprise, independent of central government, took over the National Museum from the staid Ministry of Culture.

Note:
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

Antonia Filmer
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