In pictures: Inside the magnificent 150-year-old Central Museum at Nagpur

Amar Ashok Jajoo and Suyash Sethiya | May 18, 2017 19:16

Nagpur is a city, which is more than 300 years old. Founded by Gond King Bhakt Buland Shah in 1702, the orange city, which is the geographical centre of India, has a rich cultural history. In the past, central India (comprising Nagpur and areas around it), has been ruled by the Gonds, the Vakatakas, the Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas, the Yadavas, the Mughals, the Bhonsles and the Britishers. For a person hailing from central India who loves history, it would be a dream come true to be able to travel back in time and get a glimpse of central India’s history. And the 150-year-old Central Museum located at Civil Lines, Nagpur, gives one a chance to do just that! The museum, which is also often called ‘Ajab Bangla,‘ is one of the oldest museums in Maharashtra. Nation Next, today, on International Museum Day, through pictures takes you inside Nagpur’s Central Museum, which has ancient inscriptions, statues, sculptures and prehistoric artifacts and numerous ancient items on display.

Pictures by: Suyash Sethiya

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The decision to set up Nagpur Central Museum was taken on October 27, 1862 to preserve the work done by the antiquarian society of the Central Provinces. A committee was then set up by Chief Commissioner Sir Richard Temple. The architectural design of the museum was prepared by Captain Cobb.

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The construction of the hall of the museum measuring 70x25x20 feet high, with 10 verandas around, started with a sum of Rs 7,000 and the Nagpur Central Museum was established in 1863. Today, the museum is spread across 88,000 square feet.

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Initially, the museum was taken care of under the guidance of Director of Public Instruction, but in 1883 the responsibility was handed over to the Director of Agriculture. In 1919, this responsibility shifted to the Department of Industries. Post-independence, the galleries at the museum were reorganized keeping in mind the changing times. Today, the Central Museum is being controlled by the Director of Department of Archaeology and Museums and Government of Maharashtra.

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The garden area at the museum consists of two statues of Queen Victoria. The statues, before Indian independence were installed by the Britishers at Vidhan Bhavan and at Victoria Technical Institute (the place where Maharajbagh Zoo is located today). After the independence, in 1948, these statues were dislodged from these places and thrown in the Ambazari lake by the citizens. Thirty eight years later, in 1986, when the water level decreased in the lake, these statues came to fore. They were then taken in custody by Department of Archeology and Museums and were installed at Nagpur’s Central Museum where they still stand today.

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In the garden area, there are also several other ancient statues, which have been unearthed over the years by archeologists from Central India. Many of these statues date back to 10th, 11th and 12th century AD!

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A ‘Avlokitesvara’ statue dating back 12th century AD, which was unearthed from Gopalpur, Jabalpur District. Avolokitesvara is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas.

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A ‘Parshvanatha’ statue dating back 11th century AD, which was unearthed from Ratanpur (Madhya Pradesh). Parshvanatha is said to be the 23rd Tirthankara of Jainism.

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A ‘Varaha’ statue dating back 11th century AD, which was unearthed from Damoh (Madhya Pradesh). Varaha is the avatar of Lord Vishnu in the form of a boar.

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The statue of ‘Indra’ dating back 10th century AD, which was unearthed from Bhandak, Chandrapur district. Indra is considered as a deity in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

There are a total nine types of galleries at Nagpur’s Central Museum:

Gallery 1: Natural History Gallery

The natural history gallery consists of specimens of fossils and minerals discovered from the earth’s surface along with remains of the natural history. All these specimens were collected from central India and hold geographical and geological importance.

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The big white stone in the extreme left is ‘Dendrite.’ Dendrites are pseudo plant fossil like structures containing minerals like manganese and iron. They are formed due to water flowing along the fractures of a rock.

The remaining three specimens besides dendrite are ‘Ammonites.’ Ammonites are marine invertebrate animals belonging to Cephalopoda class and became extinct probably 65 million years ago along with the dinosaurs. In India, their fossils are found in the Gandaki river valley and Shaligram in North India.

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Right hind foot of Jainosaurus, a titanosaurian dinosaur, found at Chota Simla hills in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh in 1932-33. The foot is approximately 67.5 million years old.

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The skull and teeth of the prehistoric elephant species – Elephas Namadicus. This Asian species became extinct approximately 15,000 years ago.

Gallery 2: Mammal, Avian and Reptile gallery

This gallery displays taxidermic specimens of the mammalian, avian and reptile life forms. The mammalian examples mainly constitute of herbivorous and carnivorous animals. Avian life form comprise specimens of some rare birds like the white crow. Water animals category include specimens of both river and sea animals.

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Taxidermic specimens of birds from Asia, Europe and The United States of America donated by Captain A Bloomfield  in 1873.

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Taxidermic specimen of Grey Pelican, which breeds in the large lakes of southern Asia.

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Taxidermic specimens of Bengal Tiger, a species which is considered as an endangered one.

Gallery 3: Stone Sculpture Gallery

This gallery houses the pride possessions of the museum in form of numerous stone sculptures related to Hindus, Jains and Buddhists from ancient India up to the 18th Century. Sculptures from Gandhara art and Vakataka period are also at display at this gallery.

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A statue of ‘Lord Vishnu’ dating back to the medieval period of 11th century AD, unearthed from Seoni, Madhya Pradesh. Lord Vishnu is one of the principal deities of Hinduism.

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A statue of ‘Lord Mahasadashiva’ dating back to the Vakataka period, 4th – 5th century AD, unearthed from Mandhal, Nagpur district. Lord Mahasadashiva is considered as the supreme form of Lord Shiva by Hindus.

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A statue of seated ‘Lord Buddha’ dating back to the Gandhara period, 1st – 2nd century AD, unearthed from Peshawar, Pakistan.

Gallery 4: Tribal Art and Culture Gallery

This gallery displays objects of day – to – day use of the tribes of central India. These tribes include Gonds, Korakus, Madias and Banjaras. The tribal objects at display include tools, clothes, ornaments, musical instruments, etc.

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Ancient wallets made from leather and jute at display.

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Ancient tobacco cases made from wood at display.

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A visitor at the museum studies the ancient musical instruments kept at display.

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Different types of ancient ornaments made from iron and brass at display.

Gallery 5: Arms and Weapons Gallery

Various arms and weapons used in ancient warfare are at display at this gallery. These weapons include the weapons used by Marathas, Mughals, Rajputs, Sikhs and Britishers during wars. Various ancient swords, knives, lances, spears, shields, helmets, revolvers and guns are at display at this gallery.

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Swords, shields, knives and lances from Mughal, Rajput and Maratha period (from left to right) at display.

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Weapons from the British period at display.

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Body armours used during ancient wars at display.

Gallery 6: Painting gallery

This gallery features natural portraits, landscapes, etc., by eminent artists like Baburao Painter, MV Dhurandhar, V Masoji, VV Athavle, SL Haldankar and others.

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Oil paintings at display.

Gallery 7: Art and Craft Gallery

This gallery is located in the central hall of the museum building. Specimen related to art and crafts, such as horns, terracotta, ceramic, metal, etc., are at display at the gallery.

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Age-old nut crackers and other items made from brass and bronze at display.

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Age-old plates made from brass and bronze at display.

Gallery 8: Archeological Gallery

The famous artifacts and replica from Indus valley civilization like human and animal figurines, ceramic and seals are at display at this gallery. However, the main attraction of this gallery are the archeological antiques recovered after excavation from the Vidarbha region. The gallery also include stone tools, cooper tools, cooper plates inscription, manuscripts, etc.

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Vakataka king Devsena’s inscription dating back to 4th century AD, unearthed from Hisseborala, Akola district. The inscription, which is in Sanskrit and written in Brahmi, records the construction of a lake called Sudarshan by Arya Swamilla.

Gallery 9: Nagpur Heritage Gallery

This gallery was inaugurated in 2014 on the occasion of completion of 150 years of the museum’s establishment. The remains and history of Nagpur district related to architectural heritage, art, eminent persons, freedom fighters, etc., are on display at the gallery in form of photographs, maps, miniatures and models.

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Sketches of the eminent personalities of Nagpur at display. The gallery also consists of old and new pictures of important landmarks and monuments of Nagpur.

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Nagpur’s Central Museum is curated by Dr Virag Sontakke along with thirty other employees. With an intention to boost the number of people visiting the museum, Central Museum will now allow photography inside. The museum can be visited between 10 am to 5 pm for a meager ticket price of Rs 5 for adults and Rs 3 for children. The museum remains closed on Monday and other important days like January 26, August 15, Holi (second day), May 1, Dussehra and Diwali.