This volume highlight Maharaj Vastu Sangralaya, formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, and houses a world-class collection of approximately 60,000 art objects.
It is categorized primarily into three sections: Art, Archaeology and Natural History.
The Museum has some fine and are collections featuring ancient Indus Valley artefacts that date back to 3000 BC as well as relics from the Maurya and Gupta period (320 BC-AD 800). The Indian Miniature Painting Gallery houses art treasures from almost every significant school of miniature painting.
In 1904, Bombay, the harbor-city, chose to embrace a deeper past when some leading citizens gathered at the new Grecian-inspired Town Hall. The citizens resolved to create a museum that would commemorate the visit of the Prince of Wales (the future King George V). On 22 June 1904, a significant resolution stated, ‘The building should have a handsome and noble structure befitting the site selected, and in keeping with best style of local architecture’.
The Governor of Bombay agreed to this people’s proposal for a museum and provided a semi-circular plot of land. This was aptly called the ‘Crescent Site’, located at the southern tip of the then capital of Bombay Presidency, which stretched from Western and Central India to parts of present day Pakistan and the Aeabian peninsula.
The Prince of Walse laid the foundation stone on the this graceful there-acre Crescent Site on 11 November 1905, and the Museum was named ‘Prince of Wales Museum of Western India’. The government’s critical condition was that the Museum, established with public contributions and government aid, would be run by an independent body the citizens of Bombay.
Following an open-design competition, George Wittet, consulting architect to the Bombay government, was commissioned to design the Museum in 1909. With the Museum and other landmark buildings, Wittet would soon change the visual template of Bombay by introducing the city to Indo-Seracenic architecture, which fuses traditional Hindu and Mughal styles with some elements of Western architecture.
Inspired by the dome of the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, a ‘structural triumph of Deccani architrcture’ completed in 1656, Wittet carefully incorporated a dome along with its inner vaulting arches in the interior of the Musem. Built with locally quarried basalt and kurla stone, the Museum is a three-storied rectangular structure, capped by the dome set upon a base, which adds an additional storey in the centre of the building. The artistic octagonal wooden pavilion in the central foyer was part of an 18th century Wada (a Maratha mansion). Jain style interior columns from the body of the central pavilion below the Maratha balcony. The impressive structure curves around an elegant hemispheric garden.
The Museum building was completed by 1915, but due to the outbreak of the First World War it was initially used as a Children’s Welfare Centre and then served as a Military Hospital. It was handed back to the committee in 1920. The Prince of Wales Museum was finally inaugurated on 10 January 1922, by Lady Lloyd, wife of Sita George Lloyd, Governor of Bombay.
The Museum is close to other historic and architecturally significant buildings such as the Gateway of India and The Royal Institute of Science, both of which were designed by Wittet. In 1990, the Museum was awarded the Urban Heritage Award and listed as a Grade Heritage Building by the Bombay Chapter of Indian Heritage Society for heritage building maintenance. In 2010, it was awarded the ‘UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation’ by the UNESCO Cultural Unit in Bangkok.
While the original building remains unchanged, in 2001, the Museum was renamed the ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya’ after the founder of the Maratha empire. This was in wake of the renaming the city from ‘Bombay’ to ‘Mumbai’, in an effort to reclaim its original local identity.
The Museum collection comprises approximately 60,000 objects and artefacts. It is categorized primarily into three sections: Art, Archaeology and Natural History. The Museum has some fine and rare collections featuring ancient Indus Valley artefacts that date back to 3000 BC as well as relics from the Maurya and Gupta period (320 BC-AD 800). The Indian Miniature Painting Gallery houses art treasures from almost every significant school of miniature painting.
The place of the Museum is simple, with a central hall from where a staircase leads to two upper floors, with galleries branching out either side. An extension on the right side of the main building houses the Natural Painting, European Painting, Armoury and Textile galleries.
In the early 20th century AD, private collectors donated works that form the nucleus of the Museum. Famed philantrophists, Sir Ratan Tara and Sir Dorab Tata gifted Indian and European paintings, Chinese porcelain and jade, metal ware, textiles and armour to the Museum. These gestures inspired many others to bequeath their collections and showcasing art treasures inherited from the citizens of Mumbai.
The Museum’s world-renowned miniature collection encompasses representations of the main schools of Indian painting namely, Mughal, Rajasthani, Deccani, early 19th century Painting and miniatures from the Delhi Sultanate period (AD 1206-1526). It also displays palm leaf manuscripts dating back to the 11th to 12th centuries.
The Museum also houses decorative arts, with samples of Indian jewellery and objects in silver, enameled jars and huqqa stands.
In the European painting galleries, there are some interesting examples of small landscape paintings by John Constable. Rather noteworthy, are the two portraits of Lady Ratan Tara and Lady Dorabji Tara, dressed in the traditional Parsi fashion, while wearing gloves and carrying fans as was the fashion in Britain.
The Museum also has meaningful sections dedicated to Nepali and Tibetan art that underscore India’s civilisational and sprititual bonds with neighbouring lands. The Nepal and Tibet Gallery on the first floor house a collection donated by the Tata family. There are thankas, cloth hangings, either painted or embroidered with geometrical mandala compositions of tiny figures and Buddhist symbols. There are also Hindu and Buddhist images in metal which are gilded and studded with gems.
Another highlight is the arms and armour section. It contains Emperor Akbar’s finely decorated armour AD 1581, which consists of a steel breastplate and shield, the former is inscribed with religious verses.
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