Children's Museum, Delhi
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The Times of India, May 05 2016
Children's Museum near Siri Fort is a unique repository of replica artworks that capture the civilisational journey of India.
Sandwiched between Siri Fort Auditorium and Siri Fort sports complex, and almost hidden from public view, is this museum run by Archaeological Survey of India. It's so obscure that the friendly neighbourhood autowallah and even guards at Siri Fort Auditorium don't know where it is. But when you eventually find your way to this sprawling expanse of green crowned by an impressive building, you realise that it's a unique repository of curated replica works that reflect the history of India as told by its myriad schools of art and architecture that rose and perished over thousands of years.
Yet obscurity isn't the only problem that the museum suffers from; apathy , both public and governmental, has been its undoing. Footfall is dependent on seasons; at other times, the museum looks like a college during vacation. The story of National Museum of Natural History wasn't too different either. But that museum is now history , following a recent inferno; this museum still has hope.
The museum came about in 2008.And the staff say it was mostly due to the efforts of noted archaeologist and former superintendent of ASI's Delhi circle, K K Mohammed.
Anyone who has known Mohammed closely would instantly realise that the museum has the thumbprint of the man. Whether they are Buddha statues of the Gandhara School of Art or Chalukyan rock-cut architecture of the Ellora Caves, all the exhibits cover Mohammed's interests.
“The idea was to introduce children to Indian history . The whole museum was put together at a cost of Rs 35 lakh. But sadly , we didn't quite get the kind of public support we were expecting. Nothing much has changed even now,“ Mohammed said.
In the first gallery, where some shards of pottery and other arte facts belonging to the Indus Val ley Civilisation and later peri ods were displayed, we found soiled trousers of construc tion labourers hung over the glass cases. It was an instant put off.
Right in the middle of the next gallery was a nearaccurate replica of the `Fasting Buddha', which shows an emaciated Buddha in penance with his bones and veins visible. A glowing specimen of the Gandhara School of Art, the original lies in a museum in Lahore, Pakistan.
Heritage enthusiast Ambrin Hayat of Lahore, who has seen the original, was thrilled to hear about Delhi having a replica. “You in Delhi have the original Dancing Girl of Mohenjodaro while we have a replica. It's only fair that you have the Buddha replica in Delhi and we have the origi nal,“ she said in jest.
“But on a more serious note, the Fasting Buddha has a surreal but very profound presence in a room full of Gandhara artefacts. It creates an intense energy around it,“ Hayat added.
There are two alluring statues of a yakshi and `tree goddess'. The first is the replica of an original found at Patna in 1917 and which is on display at the mu seum there; the second is called the `Salabhanjika' and is often referred to as the Indian Monalisa.
Then there are the friezes replicating rock-cut images from different places. There is the `Ra vana rocking Kailash' from Ellora Caves, `Arjuna's Penance' from Mahabalipuram, a drunk woman (Bacchanalian Scene) figurine found in Mathura in 1838 and a whole lot of other works.
There is also a unique gallery that captures the vandalism of heritage in India. A stone tablet put up there tries to send a strong message across to children: “...Education leaves a gap when students don't learn about lesser known monu ments close by . We are not aware of the heritage laws and we don't care. We are guilty.“ All these works were prepared by artisans from Bihar who never saw the originals and only had photographs as guides.
“Isn't that remarkable?“ said museum in-charge Arvind Semwal.
Of course, he was sad that the museum wasn't popular. “Not that we haven't tried. We receive a good footfall between October and December when school students come in batches. You would find 200 of them here at a time. But at other times, the turnout isn't en coura ging. Yet we haven't given up,“ Semwal said.