The Indian Museum is the largest and oldest museum in India and has rare collections of antiques, armour and ornaments, fossils, skeletons, mummies, and Mughal paintings. It is the oldest and the largest multipurpose museum not only in the Indian subcontinent but also in the Asia-Pacific region of the world. It has more than one hundred thousand objects in its collection which is divided into three main wings – Archaeology, Anthropology, and Art. In addition, it also houses the collections of the Zoological, Botanical, and Geological Surveys of India. It was founded by the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Kolkata (Calcutta), India, in 1814. The founder curator was Nathaniel Wallich, a Danish botanist.
With the foundation of Indian Museum in 1814, the Museum movement started rolling in India and through the years from then, got a new fillip and great momentum. Since then, it has so magnificently developed and culminated into the fruitful existence of more than 400 museums in the country.
The movement, which was started in 1814, in fact was the beginning of a significant epoch initiating the socio-cultural and scientific achievements of the country. It is otherwise considered as the beginning of the modernity and the end of mediaeval era.
It has six sections comprising thirty five galleries of cultural and scientific artifacts namely Art, Archaeology, Anthropology, Geology, Zoology and Economic Botany. At present, it includes six cultural and scientific sections, viz. Art, Archaeology, Anthropology, geology, zoology and economic botany, with a number of galleries under each section. Many rare and unique specimens, both Indian and trans-Indian, relating to humanities and natural sciences, are preserved and displayed in the galleries of these sections. the administrative control of the Cultural sections, viz. Art, Archaeology and Anthropology rests with the Board of Trustees under its Directorate, and that of the three other science sections is with the geological survey of India, the zoological survey of India and the Botanical survey of India. The museum Directorate has eight co-ordinating service units: Education, Preservation, publication, presentation, photography, medical, modelling and library. This multipurpose Institution with multidisciplinary activities is being included as an Institute of national importance in the seventh schedule of the Constitution of India. It is one of oldest museums in the world. This is an autonomous organization under Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
The Indian Museum originated from the Asiatic Society of Bengal which was created by Sir William Jones in 1784. The concept of having a museum arose in 1796 from members of the Asiatic Society as a place where man-made and natural objects could be collected, cared for and displayed. The objective began to look achievable in 1808 when the Society was offered suitable accommodation by the Government of India in the Chowringhee-Park Street area.
In February 2, 1814, Nathaniel Wallich, a Danish botanist, who had been captured in the siege of Serampore but later released, wrote a letter supporting the formation of a museum in Calcutta which he said should have two sections – an archaeological, ethnological and technical section and a geological and zoological one. The Museum was created, with Wallich named the Honorary Curator and then Superintendent of the Oriental Museum of the Asiatic Society. Wallich also donated a number of botanical specimens to the museum from his personal collection.
After the resignation of Wallich, curators were paid salaries ranging from Rs 50 to Rs 200 a month. Until 1836 this salary was paid by the Asiatic Society but in that year its bankers, Palmer and Company became insolvent and the Government began to pay from its public funds. A temporary grant of Rs 200 per month was sanctioned for maintenance of the museum and library, and J. T. Pearson of the Bengal Medical Service was appointed curator followed shortly by John McClelland and after his resignation by Edward Blyth. In 1840, the Government took a keen interest in the geology and mineral resources and this led to an additional grant of Rs 250 per month for the geological section alone. A new building became a need and this was designed by Walter R Granville and completed in 1875 for the cost of Rs 1,40,000. In 1879 it received a portion of the collection from the India Museum (South Kensington) when that collection was dispersed.
The Zoological and Anthropological sections of the museum gave rise to the Zoological Survey of India in 1916, which in turn gave rise to the Anthropological Survey of India in 1945.
The Scottish anatomist and zoologist John Anderson took up the position of curator in 1865, and catalogued the mammal and archaeology collections. The English zoologist James Wood-Mason worked at the museum from 1869 and succeeded Anderson as curator in 1887.
It currently (2009) occupies a resplendent mansion, and exhibits among others: an Egyptian mummy, The organs are taken out of the mummy’s body through nostrils, except heart. The heart is placed in special chambers. The body was then massaged with salt and oil. The covering was done by thin cotton cloththe Buddhist stupa from Bharhut, the Buddha’s ashes, the Ashoka pillar, whose four-lion symbol became the official emblem of the Republic of India, fossil skeletons of prehistoric animals, an art collection, rare antiques, and a collection of meteorites. The Indian Museum is also regarded as “the beginning of a significant epoch initiating the socio-cultural and scientific achievements of the country. It is otherwise considered as the beginning of the modernity and the end of mediaeval era” by UZER Places.
Jorasanko Thakurbari O Rabindranath: To commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Kaviguru Rabindranath Tagore an exhibition was organized on ‘Jorasanko Thakurbari O Rabindranath’ at Asutosh Birth Centenary Hall, Indian Museum, Kolkata. Director, Indian Museum, Sri Anup Matilal punctuated his welcome speech with some popular paintings of Rabindranath Tagore. The exhibition was inaugurated by Dr Asok Kumar Das, Tagore National fellow. The exhibition represented the glorious objects and paintings on Rabindranath Tagore. Some fascinating paintings, photographs, manuscripts of Rabindranath and portraits of him drawn by others were showcased from the cabinet of the Indian Museum Collection. The exhibition remained open from 6th to 12th May 2011. On this Occasion a catalogue was released in connection with the exhibition.
Musical Instrument Donated by Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore: To pay homage to Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore on the occasion of International Museum Day an exhibition titled ‘Musical Instrument Donated by Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore’ on the musical instruments from the collection of Indian Museum was held from 18th to 25th May, 2011 at Asutosh Birth Centenary Hall, Indian Museum, Kolkata. The exhibition was inaugurated by Sri Amitendranath Tagore. On this occasion a catalogue titled ‘Musical Instrument Donated by Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore’ was released. Vote of thanks was given by Sri G. N. Ghosh, Deputy Keeper, Archaeology Section.
Saktirupena: an exposition on mother goddess in Indian Art: On the occasion of Durga Puja, the Indian Museum organized an exhibition titled ‘Saktirupena: an exposition of mother goddess in India Art’ at Asutosh Birth centenary Hall on 23 September 2011. The exhibition on Sakti icons displayed the great mother principle in various forms, in stone sculptures, terracotta, metal carving, coins, miniature, ivory, folk paintings, etc. ranging from the proto-historic period to present through the early historic period. Prof. Bharati Roy, the former Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of Calcutta inaugurated the exhibition and Dr Taran Kumar Biswas, Director, Birla Academy, Kolkata enumerated the origin and development of Durga idols and the impact of Durga Puja in Indian society. Dr Biswas graced the occasion as Chief Guest. Sri Anup Kumar Matilal, Director, Indian Museum welcomed the august assembly. Vote of thanks was given by Sri G. N. Ghosh, Deputy Keeper (Pre-history) and In-charge (Archaeology Section).
Games and Pastime through the ages: An in-house exhibition ‘Games and Pastime through the ages’ was held at the Asutosh Birth Centenary Hall, Indian Museum, Kolkata from 17 to 25 Nevember 2011. The objects from the collection of Art, Archaeology and Anthropology Sections showcased in the exhibition highlighted the long tradition of games and pastimes of Indian society. The exhibition through the exhibits exposed the panoramic view of indoor, outdoor amusement and recreations enjoyed by the people in the historic period. Sri Chuni Goswami, the legendary sports personality inaugurated the exhibition. Welcome address was given by Sri Anup Matilal, Director, Indian Museum and Vote of thanks was given by Sri G. N. Ghosh, Deputy Keeper (Pre-history) and In-charge (Archaeology, Indian Museum, Kolkata.
Ganesa: gifted by Vasant Chowdhury: Indian Museum is one of the pioneering repositories of ‘Ganesa icons’ in the Museums in India. Vasanta Chowdhury, a well known film actor, former hon’ble member of the Board of Trustees, Indian Museum, donated 101 Ganesa icons to Indian Museum in the year 2000. In memory of Vasanta Chowdhury, Indian Museum organized a special exhibition titled ‘Ganesa: gifted by Vasant Chowdhury’ held from 1 to 4 December 2011 at Asutosh Birth Centenary Hall, Indian Museum. Those Ganesa icons (100 nos.) were exposed in the exhibition hall, are from the collection of Archaeology Section. The collection of Lord Ganesa identifiable with different region of Southeast Asia and they are captured in ivory, bronze, stone, etc. The origin of the objects stylistically dates back to the first century AD to the present. The exhibition was inaugurated by Sri Jawhar Sircar, I.A.S, Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Government of India. A lecture on the objects ‘Ganesa from Vasant Chowdhury collection’ was delivered by Dr S. K. Chakravarti former Director, Indian Museum. Sri Srinjoy Chowdhury, son of Vasanta Chowdhury , also deliberated a lecture on the collection and preservation of the Ganesa done by his father.
Puppets: from the collection of the late Raghunath Goswami: To pay tribute to late Raghunath Goswami, Indian Museum organised an exhibition on Puppets: from the collection of the late Raghunath Goswami between 6 and 12 January 2012 at Asutosh Birth Centenary Hall, Indian Museum, Kolkata. The exhibition was inaugurated by Sri Subhaprasanna Bhattacharya. In connection with the exhibition Indian Museum has also organised Puppet show (glove and hand puppets) at the courtyard of the Museum.
Ancient Indian Terracottas: On the occasion of 198th Anniversary, Indian Museum organized a special exhibition on “Ancient Indian Terracottas” from 2 February to 12 February 2012, in the Asutosh Birth Centenary Hall, Indian Museum. His Excellency Mr M. K. Narayanan, Hon’ble Governor of West Bengal and Chairman, Board of Trustees, Indian Museum inaugurated the exhibition. Prof. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, Eminent historian graced the occasion as Chief Guest. Prof. K. Paddayya, Emeritus Professor, Deccan College, Pune delivered the Nathaniel Wallich Lecture on Cultural heritage in India: Its Preservation and Relevance.