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The Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum, Pune (**)
There are few museums in India that are as inspired as tha Kelkar museum. The museum contains the collections of dedicated lover of Indian art, the late Dinkar Kelkar. He has spent almost 60 untiring years traveling and purchasing objects form the remotest villages and towns of India. Kelkar's passion and sense of humour are reflected in every item of the collection, and his contribution to the study and preservation of art has already become a legend.
The Kelkar museum confines its collections to the arts of everyday life : pots, lamps, containers, nutcrackers, pen stands and like - objects that one would find in the homes of the village landlord, the farmer, the merchant and shopkeeper. It is fascinating to see how things used in the home were designed perfectly to suit their function and use. The artist's touch on simple utility items, in both decoration and design, made the objects unique for the owner. These everyday arts can he classified according to the materials and techniques with which they are made. There are a variety of things made out of wood, form carved doors to toys. One can also look at objects according to their function, to study the diversity of forms and the ingenuity of the artists from different parts of India. Here there is an assortment of oil lamps in a variety of media form clay to brass, each with its own form and shape. Both these approaches, material and function, provide an exciting entry to the museum.
The Kelkar museum is fitted with some splendid wooden doors and windows from Rajasthan, Gujarat and South India. The entrance, or doorway, to a house or to the inner sanctum of a temple has a significance not only in India but everywhere in the world. It is the door that welcomes, the door that opens into the home, the door that the public encounters, and hence its special significance. The horizontal beam above the door, under which you pass, often carries the figure of a deity, the most auspicious being Ganesh the elephant-headed god, and Lakshmi the goddess of wealth who brings prosperity and blessing to those who pass through the portals.
The carving of wood in India was undoubtedly the forerunner of stone carving. Many of the early Buddhist stupas and Hindu temples almost imitate woodwork in the in the more permanent material of stone, such as in the recessed doorway, the pot bases for pillars, and even in joints. Today it is still possible to see carved and painted doors and windows in Rjasthan and Gujarat. Those of Karnataka and Kerala are different in style, and have a solid elegance with the minimum of carved detail.
In India, there are a variety of trees available that are excellent for carving. The range of wood runs from dark, warm brown or rose-wood to the pale biscuit colour of sandalwood and from the hardest of wood types to the softness of pith. Wood that can be preserved by oil and polish is left to acquire its own sheen, and other wooden objects are decorated with paint to make their surfaces both more durable and cheerful. Other items fashioned out of wood are chests, decorative spice boxes (imagine the colour of the spices in them), toys, cradles and walkers for the young. The joy of such crafts is that very often the craftsmen knew the clients and fashioned each item according to their specific needs.
The range of metalware - from locks, to ink pots, ritual bowls, hookah stands (hubble-bubbles), nutcrackers and lamps is quite remarkable.
Lamps in India can be broadly divided into two categories those used for ritual purposes ('arati' is 'worship with light') and those used purely functionally, to provide illumination in the home. Light in India has a very powerful religious and philosophical significance. Light is the dispeller of darkness and ignorance, and all lamps, even the simple ones of clay, have some motif or figure that sanctifies the object that is the bringer of light. The lamps are usually small open containers, often made very shallow to contain the oil or ghee, and the wick that was made from rolled cotton. The light of a flickering lamp playing on other objects, casting agile shadows, adds to its beauty. Sacred emblems like the peacock, the goddess Lakshmi, elephants and birds are the most common decorations. There are also hanging lamps, that were suspended on heavy (often ornate) brass chains, and standing lamps used in the temple and the home.
The collection of locks includes some humorous, rather playful locks in the form of dogs, horses and even a scorpion. These locks were used on doors and trunks, and had ingenious locking mechanisms and keys. It was as if the artist was striving to make each object more endearing to the owner, however mundane the function of the item may have been. There are also nutcrackers embellished with impossible figures of embracing couples, goddesses, riders on horseback and many other designs - some quite bizarre, others quite elegant. With the traditional customs of betel nut chewing and pan (betel leaf) eating came the boxes and intricately designed containers for these leafy digestives. Perforated boxes (to keep the leaf fresh) gave the craftsmen scope for unlimited experimentation in form and embellishment, and a generous sample of these boxes is on view at this museum.
Dinkar Kelkar had many dreams. One of them was to add a representative sample of Indian textiles, puppets and musical instruments to the museum collection. He started the collection with household objects, and through his efforts has given us a sense of pride in things that in India were always taken for granted - the simple elegance of articles to be found in the traditional Indian home which today is being inundated with mass-produced industrial goods and kitsch.
There is also an interesting collection of the Chitrakathi painting of Maharashtra. these scroll paintings were used by the village storyteller, to the accompaniment of music and song. The pictures are bold and very graphic. the scrolls were held up before the audience during the narration, to illustrate various scenes and episodes from the story. Regional variations of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana epics also formed part of the repertoire of the storyteller. Something of the leather puppet traditions of Karanataka and Andhra Pradesh is reflected in these Chitrakathi paintings. The dazzling colour scheme of red, blue and black, and the pale, off-white background must have produced a dramatic effect in the village lamplight, or in the fading sunlight at a village fair, where the storyteller was able to assemble his audience. The clear, dark outlines, the high profiles of figures with their large eyes, and the easily identifiable character portraits must have assisted the narrators greatly in the relating of the story. the pictures are just one of facet ot the whole art of storytelling, which played an important role in Indian village life. Each region of the country has its own narrative style, handed down from generation to generation - large repertory of myths and religious legends. Into the myth the storyteller wove issues that concerned the life of the audience, political comment, satire, references to change and the present day. It was this aspect of culture that was dynamic, in the true spirit of Indian philosophy, keeping the arts always in pace with the times.
Address : Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum, Near Mandi, Pune, Maharashtra.
Hours: 10 am-5 pm except on Government holidays.
Suggested Viewing time : half an hour.
No Photography, Admission through ticket.