Over the years, Byculla’s skyline has undergone a sea change—old textile mills have made way for plush towers. Amidst this changed landscape stands Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, a 134-year-old Palladian building—the only neighbourhood remnant of an era gone by. While the museum is etched in the minds of the older generation, dna downtown decided to invite a young student to visit the renovated museum that bears witness to the ‘Bombay’ of yore. “Indian museums tend to be extremely boring; they are little more than storerooms,” said Abhijit Philip, a student of Wilson College, as he climbed up the stairs of Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum. Minutes later, as he stepped in, he was left spellbound by the beautifully adorned ceiling, Victorian pillars, and stucco and stencil work sketched on the walls. Little did he expect to find out how beyond this initial grandeur and magnificence lay a dazzling demonstration of the life and culture of ‘Bombay’.
Down memory lane
Touted as the oldest museum in the city, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum is the third oldest in India; going by its website, it was originally known as the Victoria & Albert Museum and served as a treasure house of decorative and industrial arts.
The original design had been conceived by George Birdwood, the museum’s first curator. Public funds were raised for the construction of the museum building, which was opened to the public in 1857. It was renamed as Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum in 1975 after the gentleman who spearheaded its fundraising.
Over the years, the museum fell into a state of despair and neglect—the building and its objects had to be restored. After four years of extensive restoration by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), supported actively by Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation, the museum was reopened to the public in 2008.
What’s in there?
The ground floor showcases Indian handicrafts, including silverware, pottery, lacquerware, paintings, and ivory carvings. A grand staircase leads you to the first floor which houses historic maps, model-ships, diorama and clay models of life in ‘Bombay’ in the 19th and 20th centuries. The busiest corner of the museum is the section with models of traditionally dressed men and women from the city’s diverse communities.
We were intrigued by an ancient map of Mumbai, which throws light on how the cotton mills spread across the city. A miniature of the Tower of Silence and the accompanying literature provides a detailed explanation of how the Zoroastrian ritual is conducted.
An old map of the Bombay Harbour dating back to 1626 evoked a deep sense of curiosity in Philip and he excitedly walked over to inspect a stone that marked the town limits of ‘Bombay’. He said, “All this takes you back in time. It showcases life in Mumbai in an era gone by. Thanks dna for introducing me to this museum. It fills me with a sense of the power of the city and of the history of its people. Hats off to the people who have created a museum for the public to visit and understand their roots better.”