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The Prince of Wales Museum : The lure of a forgotten era

Friday, 11 April 2014 - 7:34pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

The Prince of Wales Museum stands as a sentinel between Bombay and itscontemporary avatar

SoBo is emblazoned with monuments and museumsdedicated to our rich, varied history and the Prince of Wales Museum (nowre-christened as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya) is one ofthem.

You barely manoeuvre your way through the cabs, Victorias, groaningbuses, and tourists visiting Gateway of India, when you find yourself at theentrance of this magnificent museum which is reminiscent of bygone eras.Visitors are welcomed to the grand two-storied museum, which stocks 50,000artefacts, by a giant grandfather's clock gracing the entrance. An eight-dayclock, it dates back to the 1700s.

Neolithic nostalgia
Venture further and you will chance upon the mostexquisite Assyrian Palace relics. These alabaster stone relics once decoratedwalls of the palaces of Assyrian rulers like Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC).Next to these relics, you will spot the stone tools–adzes, chisels, mullers andaxes–used by the Neolithic man along with ornaments of the Harappancivilisation which still carry a faded charm about them. The artefacts spandifferent eras and countries—European paintings from the Far East to theNepal-Tibet gallery, pre and proto history gallery to the Harappan sculpturegallery and cloth paintings from the 17th century AD (Nepal).

Be it the complex Vajrayana deities of Tibet, theTibetan altar or the Indian miniature paintings in Mughal and Rajasthani style,the Prince of Wales Museum is a storehouse of surprises; every nook and cornershowcases a new collection from an era gone by. Well-known collections ofIndian miniatures in 1915 from the collection of Seth Purushottam Mavji tracetheir lineage back to 1741-1800 AD—they were once part of the treasures of NanaPhadnis.

The last one standing
If you are a part of the generation that loves toreminisce about India's rich history, you will be thrilled to spot a sculpture,which is the legacy of the famous 19th century archaeologist, Henry Cousens. Heexcavated the site of a stupa at Mirpurkhas, one of the most important andwell-preserved sites of the Indo-Greek Buddhist settlements. This terracottawas found leaning against the north wall of the central shrine and belongs to5th century AD in Mirpurkhas, Sindh, Pakistan.

Jewels in the crown
A visit to this museum will throw light on the Mughaljades, well-known for their workmanship and touted as the thinnest of the lot.These jades received accolades from the Chinese Emperor, Chien Lung (1736-1795AD), as he noted that these jades from Hindustan (India) and were as thin aspaper!

Folios from an illustrated manuscript of Anwar-I-Suhayli,a Persian translation by Vaiz Kashifi of Kaliah-wa-Damnah, an Arabian versionof Panchtantra, grace the walls. This richly illustrated manuscript wascommissioned by none other than Emperor Akbar himself. The museum hasacquired 19 folios of a dispersed Ramayana set, painted during the patronage ofMaharana Jagat Singh I (1628-52 AD), whose atelier was crowded by two greatartists: Sahebdin and Manohar. Gold, silver, copper and lead coins ofChandragupta II (Gupta Dynastry 375-414 AD), snuff bottles of the Tatacollection, which were a source of great delight and are known to collectorsall over the world, and the personal armour of Emperor Akbar (in steel withgold damnascene 1581AD) give visitors the perspective required to understand andappreciate an old culture such as India's. Some people have come here chasinghistory, others looking to research on a time gone by–whatever be the reason,the Prince of Wales Museum has many special insights to offer.

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