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Museums Of Mumbai

Chhatrapati Shivaji Sangrahalaya (The Prince of Wales Museum - ****)

Amid the hustle and bustle of Mumbai stand some stately buildings, remnants of the British Raj. Among them is that of the Prince of Wales Museum, named after Prince George (Later George V) who visited India in 1905 and laid the foundation stone of the building. Not far from the museum, its architect George Wittet also built the famous Gateway of India on the seafront, near the Taj Mahal Hotel. Through the arch the Prince made his royal entrance to India as King George V for the Delhi Darbar in 1911.

The Prince of Wales Museum can be broadly described as a British interpretation of Mughal architecture, the so-called Indo - saracenic style. The structure forms a long rectangle of three storeys, raised in the centre to accommodate the entrance porch. Above the central arched entrance rises a huge dome, tiled in white and blue flecks, supported on a lotus-petal base. Around the dome is an array of pinnacles, each topped by a miniature dome. Indian motifs such as brackets and protruding eaves are combined with so-called Islamic arches and tiny domes. The whole museum complex is situated in a garden of palm trees and formal flowers beds.

The Prince of Wales Museum

The plan of the museum is simple, with a central hall from which the staircase leads to the two upper floors with galleries branching out on the right and left. An extension on the right-hand side of the main building (as you stand facing its front entrance) houses the natural history section. The second floor houses the Indian miniature painting gallery, the pride of the museum, and next to it are galleries of decorative art and, to the left of the central well of the staircase, the gallery of Tibetan and Nepali art. Above, on the second floor are the European painting, armoury and textile galleries.

The central hall on the ground floor has been converted into the key gallery with specimens of art form all the galleries of the museum. To walk around the key gallery is like experiencing 5,000 years of Indian art in a capsule. There are terracotta's of the Indus valley Civilisation: animal sculptures and figurines including a mother with a child suckling at her breast. Some sample terracotta's of the pre-Mauryan to Gupta periods in the pinched and hand moulded style are also on display.

The art of the Mughal period is represented by a few exquisite paintings, including the Portrait of Diniyal with the characteristic Mughal turban. The latter is actually a sketch for a painting and gives an idea of how the artist worked. there is also the well-known painting, Black Buck and Doe, a typical example of animal representation of the 17th century. the buck, with his head held high even in captivity, struts along, while his mate, the dainty doe, looks suspiciously around her at those who have tied the bell chain round her neck and harnessed her pretty head. The aquamarine background, produced by the use of mineral colours, is also characteristic of the period.

There are also some classic examples of jade and armoury on display in the key gallery. Jade, not found in India, was imported from the Far East and was treasured by the Mughal rulers. The pale, waxy pieces of jade in hues of green, white and pink were carved into variety of objects : boxes, wine bowls, buckles and handles for daggers. Not content with simply carving them so fine that they are almost translucent, with light appearing to be trapped within the jade.

The sculpture gallery on the first floor has some excellent exhibits form historical sites in different parts on India. Along one of the longer walls of the hall are examples of Gandharan art, with steel-grey stone figures of the Bodhisattva (the 'Spiritual Guide'). The Gareco- Roman influence can clearly be seen in these sculptures in the way of draping the 'toga', the thick wavy treatment of the locks and the rather fashionable moustaches. A beautiful example is that of a Maitreiya (third century), in the key gallery. His head, surrounded by a halo, is slightly inclined. The gentle, sensuous curves of the torso are draped in garments and jewelled chains to suggest texture and movement.

Displayed in the main section of this gallery are three huge ceiling slabs from temples in Karnataka dating from the eighth century. This group of temples at Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole was built by the Chalukyan rulers who undertook a very significant experiment in temple architecture which was to influence many generations after them. The three panels on display here depict Uma Mahesvara, Vishnu on Sesha and Brahma. The Uma Maheshvara panel depicts Shiva, Lord of the Universe, seated beside his equally powerful companion-wife, Parvati. The Nandi or bull, the Vehicle of Shiva, is seated behind him as if to provide a backrest; little Ganesh, the elephant-headed god and their son, is prancing around at the left-hand corner. Shiva, holding a snake in his hand, is portrayed with immense grace and elegance.

The sculpture panel of Brahma from Aihole, from the same temple as the other two sculptured panels, is a rare representation of this deity of the Hindu trinity. Hindu mythology has it that Brahma lusted after his own daughter, and for this Shiva cursed him, decreeing that no temple would be built in his honour. The sculpture of Vishnu on the Sesha shows the Lords of creation resting in the ocean of eternity on a huge serpent, Sesha. For many hundreds of light years Vishnu rests undisturbed, only to stir when the time for creation comes again. He is completely relaxed in this sculpture; he has cast aside his emblems, the conch and the disc, and they just float on the waves of the ocean. On one arm he rests his head, two others are relaxed, and the fourth is held in the gesture of blessing over the creatures of the sea. His legs are crossed in a rather strange way, but the sculpture was meant to be viewed from below, in its position on the temple ceiling, and perhaps looked all right in its original context.

On the first floor central balcony of the museum are displayed objects of decorative art in ivory, silver and wood of the late 18th and the 19th centuries. Some paintings have also been displayed in this area, which leads the visitor into the picture gallery. The latter is divided by partitions to create enclosed cubical spaces. The paintings, donated by various patrons, from one of India's best public collections of work, representative of many styles and schools.

At the entrance of the gallery, to the left, in the first cubicle, is an illustrated manuscript of the Kalpasutra and the Kalikacharyakatha of western India, dated to the end of the 15th century. Paper, introduced into India after the tenth century, began to replace the older palm leaf, used traditionally in India for manuscripts. The illustrations of the Gita Govinda, poems on the love of Krishna and Radha, show one stage in the evolution of painting, in which there is a continued use of primary colours and a profusion of details of birds, animals, trees and flowers, and nature in general. A kind of 'essence-of-mood' style of illustration is used in these paintings, in which the sky is just a band of colour, a forest is depicted by just two or three trees, the leaves of the tree are 'summarised' to create an illusion of the whole tree, and when lovers are united, the artist shows nature rejoining and even the birds fly around in pairs.

The 19th century Pahari School provides a wealth of evidence of a thriving tradition in the hill states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. This school, Concentrating on Hindu themes, depicted the divine Shiva and Paravtai, Radha and Krishna as though they were contemporary kings and queens. The expression of these divine characters are suggested simply by a slight inclination of the head, or by an embrace, which makes the gods almost human in the most perfect sort of way.

Some superb examples of this school of painting in this gallery are Shiva and Parvati (Kangra), Uma worshipping Shiva and a second shiva and Parvati (Guler, 18th century), in which Parvati is offering Shiva a garland of skulls as if it were as beautiful as one made of flowers. Krishna with the cow herds (Garhwal, 18th century) and the work drawing of the Holi festival (Kangra, 19th century) shows Krishna and his friends throwing colour on Radha and her companions to celebrate the spring festival of Holi.

Other paintings of importance on display include Aurangzeb reading the Quran (Pahari, Jammu). Bent and with whitened bread, after years of difficult rule, the emperor of the crumbling Mughal empire is depicted deep in prayer and contemplation. In the painting of Raja Balwant Deva with his Barber (Jammu, 18th century), you can almost read the barber's thought's : 'Be still' he appears to be telling the ruler, as he fashions the ruler's beard. Lady with an attendant and a peacock (Pahari, Kangra, 1775) is a remarkably beautiful and lyrical work.

Similarly, to the south, the Deccani school of painting also gained inspiration from the Mughal school and evolved its own unique and very characteristic style. There are some typical examples of Deccani paintings in this gallery that have pale green, mineral-coloured backgrounds with figures placed squarely in the foreground. The collection of paintings from Bundi, of the 18th century, in this gallery deals with the theme of love. In Lady Looking in a Mirror (Bundi, 18th century), the artist has created a courtyard with a lush garden in the background and a pond of lotuses in the foreground that blossom in reflection of the glory of the young girl, or lover. A Nayika in Agony (Bundi, late 17th century) is painting in another mood. The young lady lover is in agony, suffering the torment of separation from her lover.

Next to the painting gallery is the hall of decorative arts, with samples of Indian jewellery and object in silver, enamelled jars and hookah stands. The samples on display are superb, contrasting starkly with much of the work of today, which shows the sharps decline in standards of craftsmanship since the 19th century.

Bidri work, associated with the region of Hyderabad, in particular the small town of Bidar, is made in bellmetal. Craved on the object, the burnished and smoothened until the inlaid silver and the metal blackened with charcoal paste become inseparable.

Some jade objects are also on display : a spoon with a curved handle, bowls with fine relief work in which the artist has enhanced the beauty of the stone and set its colours and hues a glow.

The Nepal and Tibet gallery faces the painting galley on the first floor. The collection was donated by the Tata family, a large industrial house with interests in the sciences and the arts. For those who might travel to these neighboring countries, the artifacts are particularly interesting because they may help visitors distinguish between genuinely valuable art and the tourist 'junk' that is now being sold.

There are thanks : cloth hangings either painted or embroidered with geometrical mandala compositions of tiny figures and symbols of Buddhist origin.

The Buddhist and Hindu images in metal are gilded, and studded with gems. Statuettes of Tara, the Buddhist goddess of compassion, Vajradhara, Lord of the thunderbolt, and of Lakshmi Narayana are studded with turquoise, ruby and diamond. Most beautiful of all is tiny Avalokitesvara from Nepal, of the 17th century.

For those interested in glass, jade and porcelain, the gallery on the second floor presents an extensive collection of art objects donated by Sir Ratan Tata and Sir Dorab Tata. The collection includes objects carved in rock crystal, metalware and lacquered woodwork. There are samples of elaborate ivory work from Japan, like the Cock on a tree, with feathers of ivory. There is a small but brilliantly executed in Japan. There is also a wide range of Chinese blue is designed with tin metal wire ware.

On the same floor are the European painting galleries. On entering this area it immediately becomes clear that European art historians dubbed Indian paintings 'miniatures' because they were familiar with.

Rather charming are the two portraits of Lady Ratan Tata and Lady Dorabji Tata, which, if viewed from a distance look exactly like portraits of English ladies, complete with gloves and fans, dressed in the fashion of their British rulers.

The Natural History Section

Should you plan to visit any of the game sanctuaries or parks in India, it would be worth your while to look at this museum's exhibits on birds, mammals and fish, for a foretaste of what you might see in the wild. The Natural History Section was added to the museum from the collection of the Bombay Natural History Society. This organisation, with founder members and notable scholars like the late Salim Ali, has contributed greatly to the study an understanding of India's natural heritage. Today, due to their efforts, a start has been made to create an awareness amongst the general public of the urgent need to preserve Indian Wildlife. The first room houses an impressive collection of birds, classified according to species, and the exhibits are all well labelled. Among them are the beautiful but untidy magpies, the flash of blue of the kingfisher and well-dressed partridges and pheasants. Dioramas and display panels attempt to provide a natural setting for the taxidermist's art.

Location : Near Gateway of India, Mumbai. The museum is renamed recently as Chhatrapati Shivaji Sangrahalaya. Timings : 10.15 a.m to 5.45 pm (Daily, except on Mondays). Entry Fee: Rs 10, Rs.300 (Foreigners) Contact: Director, Tel: 022-2844519, 284484.


The Museum located at Byculla has interesting exhibits such as archeological finds, maps and photographs which depict the history of Mumbai. There is a small Zoo nearby. Timings: 10.30 a.m to 4.30 p.m. Entry Fee: Rs.2 (Adult), Rs.1 (child), Contact: Director, Tel: 022-3757943.


Located at Laburnum Road at Gamdevi near Chowpatty Beach, Mani Bhavan was the residence of Mahatma Gandhi, where he used to stay from time to time between 1917 and 1934. The Museum houses a pictorial gallery. Personal items of Mahatma Gandhi, a 20,000 volume research library and film and recording archive. Timings: 9 a.m to 6 p.m. Entry Fee: Rs.3. Contact: Director, Tel : 022-3805864.


Adjoining the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sanghralaya is the Hornbill House, the headquarters of the Bombay natural History Society. It is an institution of a different kind where collectors have been donating their prize specimens of animals and birds for over a century. BNHS also boasts of an extensive library of nature books, which can be used by non members for purpose of research and studies, by taking prior permission.


The gallery with its four exhibition halls is the most prestigious venue for art exhibitions. Located near the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vaastu Sangrahalaya.


The Gallery plays host to the work of leading Indian Artists.

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