The National Museum gets a facelift with 3 new Buddhist art galleries
A 10,000 square foot space spread over three halls of the National Museum was dedicated to the exhibition of priceless Central Asian antiques, which were part of its repository for a decade but never really came into the spotlight. the ramp. “With this, it becomes the fourth museum in the world to present such a collection, after the British, German and Russian museums,” said Subrata Nath, deputy director general of the museum.
Out of 12,000 works dating from the 3rd to 12th centuries – discovered by the famous archaeologist Marc Aurel Stein during his expeditions to Central Asia in 1900-1916 and brought to India – up to 170 masterpieces have been carefully selected for the ‘exposure.
The Central Asian Antiquities Gallery now features large Bezeklik murals, silk paintings and cave banners from Dunhuang Library (China), and a large number of grave goods and textiles from the tombs of Astana. It is estimated that Rs 3 crore and three long years was spent assembling, as most of the items had to be preserved and cropped before they could be put on display.
But the effort, according to sources from the Ministry of Culture under which the museum operates, should not be viewed in isolation. “This is a well thought out global outreach plan launched by the government to position India as the Buddhist center, and possibly take that label back from China,” said an official who does not want to be identified. . “This makeover is part of the country’s overall effort to this end, in which the ministries of Culture and Tourism have been involved to play a big role,” adds the official.
To prove their point, the exhibition presents the iconic work of the “1,000 Buddhas” from the Dunhuang complex, as well as similar works from the Ajanta Caves. While Ajanta’s work is dated to the 5th century, Chinese work did not appear until the 9th century. “These things prove India’s primacy in terms of Buddhist art,” Nath points out.
Besides the vast gallery of Central Asian Antiquities, the majestic building next door, which served as the headquarters of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) until 2018, has been transformed into a sort of Buddha museum ( or a set of galleries), while an augmented reality -an experience-based experience was created for Ajanta Caves in NM. Together, the three new galleries aim to establish the credentials of India as the cradle of Buddhism, from where it then spread to other countries, including China.
The whole makeover project is aimed at the G20 meeting scheduled for 2023, during which many heads of state and government and other dignitaries will visit the capital. The objective is to make the museum the cultural jewel of the country and to present our Buddhist heritage to those who do not know it, adds the manager.
The Ministry of Tourism carried out the Ajanta experiment inside the NM, with the help of IIT-Bombay. “We want to establish the Ajanta Caves as the origin of Buddhist art, which was at its peak in the 5th and 6th centuries. All the monasteries came along the Silk Road, ”adds the manager.
“People can see intimately here what they don’t even notice when they visit Ajanta,” says Nath.
This is perhaps the first example in the world where an off-site experience has been created for a World Heritage site. Every nook and cranny of the site, be it inside the caves or the facade, has been captured with precision, and a visitor, sitting in a chair in the heart of Delhi, can come and go, zoom in and out and spend as much time as ‘he wants. Ajanta’s experiment required three years of research and documentation and another year of execution by IIT-B, with support from the National Council of Science Museums.
In a response to Lok Sabha in August this year, Culture Minister G Kishan Reddy said: green landscape ”. He added that it was the first museum of its kind on Buddha and that it would include more than 200 objects dating from the 1st century.
While the lockdown and restrictions on visitors to monuments were in place in the wake of the pandemic, the entire museum project has quietly taken shape. Former Culture Secretary Raghvendra Singh, during whose tenure the entire makeover project was carried out, told The Indian Express: “This is another first for India – a museum dedicated to Buddha. The objects exhibited here have been taken from the ASI and NM collection, and have been given the form of a screenplay. Thus, nine galleries – dedicated to the life of Buddha, various schools of Buddhist art, the dissemination of Indian Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, a digital immersive room – were created, one of them also presenting for the first times 22 Tibetan thangka paintings from the collection of NM.
The Buddha Galleries took 18 months for the building to be recalibrated and for conservation, at an estimated cost of Rs 7 crore. The entire makeover was done by the internal team, executed with the help of CPWD. The redesigned National Museum – when it is officially opened later this month, possibly by the Prime Minister himself – also has a foyer redesign, the reception area has been altered to become more tech-focused and more user-friendly, in addition to the redesign of the auditorium where documentaries would be screened for visitors every evening.