REVISITING THE PAST
By Aditya Nag
Summer is here and if you think that it’s cool in Bhubaneswar and the weather is balmy then you dear reader haven’t experienced the hot and humid summers of coastal Odisha. This year with the onset of an unusually warm summer it is poised to get at you. So, without wasting much time this month’s caravan edition prods you to go and visit the Odisha State Museum. Whether you are the typical tourist or an inquisitive person, the Odisha State Museum has something for everyone. No we aren’t pulling a fast one on you, our beautiful State Museum located on a small hillock at Kalpana Square is a historical ride to the past. We swear when you walk out of this place your ‘take back’ would be the immense cultural history of Odisha, a land where human civilization has existed for over four millennia and you will thank me for the ten degrees below normal temperatures experience that you would get at the museum.
The Odisha State Museum had humble beginnings in 1932 at Ravenshaw College, Cuttack. Subsequently as the State capital moved to Bhubaneswar and the foundation stone for a new museum was laid in 1957 -a modern sprawling edifice which would be a collection of historical and cultural treasure was laid down by Dr.Rajendra Prasad on 29th December 1957 at the request of then Chief Minister Dr. Harekrushna Mahtab and was finally inaugurated in 1960. The colossal museum building premises spreads over 15 acres of area with built up area of 74255sqft and sprawling garden area of 171600 sqft. It houses more than 56,000 rare antiquities and over 20,000 rare manuscripts ranging in date from before the birth of Christ to the modern period. The collections spread over ten sections namely – archaeology, epigraphy, numismatics, armoury, mining & geology, natural history, art & craft, contemporary art, anthropology and palmleaf manuscripts and the newly added paika gallery. In addition to this, there is a reserve collection of important antiquities and rare palm leaf manuscripts for use of research scholars. The museum also boasts of a sizeable collection of books in its library which proves as a much needed source material base for budding young researchers.
The museum has gone through a sea transformation over the years and right now as on date is in a process of metamorphosis as envisaged by the Department of Culture. The entrance to the State Museum has been beautified with a cascade fountain, beautiful gardens, installment of two massive Gaja- Simha motifs along with protective umbrellas over the bell capital of Asoka and the Anglo Indian statues. Two medieval ancient stepwells of the Ganga Period have been renovated of which one is publically accessible and if you take the flight of stairs down you realize that you are in a natural aquifer. As one enters the building you are greeted with green manicured lawns so pristine that one can play golf all day. The edges of the lawn and the driveway are lined with beautiful pieces of carvings, sculpture, canons and statues. As you enter the now refurbished lobby of the museum you are greeted by a trio of artwork depicting the Paika revolution, the conversion of Ashoka to Buddhism, Our maritime trade history and the coupe de grace being the ceiling with a beautiful recreation of the illustrated 16th century palm leaf manuscript called ‘Ushabhilasha’ by poet Sishu Shankar Das. The ceiling mural is worth taking a photograph and we swear this won’t be the last photo that you would click
With its cool environs, manicured lawns and well-mannered staff, the museum provides much needed comfort and respite from the scorching summer. Since it sits right on the temple trail, one can start by visiting the museum just post lunch or after returning from Puri and spend hours over there till it shuts down at 5pm. The archeology gallery is the first gallery you would encounter as you enter in and right from the start Odisha Museum does not disappoint et all. With a collection rivaling that of any other museum in the country the archaeology section offers a snapshot into the Jain, Buddhist, Tantric and Hindu cultural history of the state. As you exit the archaeology section you enter the Epigraphy (study of inscriptions & writings) and Numismatics gallery. Odia is an ancient language with its roots in the even older Brahmi language with exhibits dating to the 3rd century BC showcasing the development of Odia script coupled with a unique haul of cooper plates, stone inscriptions and punch marked coinage the gallery clearly showcases the journey and evolution of Odia script and coinage through the ages. Special mention here is the evolutionary chart of the Odia script which comes into form finally in the 15th century. With finds ranging from all over the state with Maratha, Bhaumakara, Tunga, Bhanja, Sulki, Somavanshi, Nanda and many other dynasties which have either ruled or influenced Odisha through trade.
Next up is the geology section which again has few unique exhibits showcasing fossilized flora and fauna. This gallery displays fine examples of different types of stones such as sandstone, semi precious stones, khondolites etc. On display are also the different types of minerals such as iron-ore, chromites, lead and bauxite etc. Located right next to the natural history gallery which contains many skeletons, taxidermy exhibits of birds, small mammals and a pair of huge elephant tusks.
Talking about ivory and tusks the museum boasts of a lovely ivory gallery. Odisha has been in the ivory trade since ages and our elephant tusks were renowned for its exquisite worksmanship all over the sub-continent and even as far as Rome. The gallery has some very stunning samples of artwork ever done depicting various scenes from mythology and common life along with intricately carved tusks depicting the ‘Dashaavatra’ (ten reincarnations) and scenes from the Ram Leela & Krushna Leela originally belonging to the King of Jeypore. The gallery also boasts a huge painting of Madhu Babu encased in a silver frame and two elephant tusks as embellishment being the prime attraction of the gallery and also of the museum.
As you head upwards you can see the museum has tried to improvise on the largely well defined wings of the building. The authorities have come up with a small theatre at the end of the flight of stairs where movies and documentaries showcasing the heritage of Odisha are shown to the public right next to the relatively new but albeit small mask gallery.
On the same floor are the art and crafts, music and the crown jewel – no not the Koh-I-Noor but Odisha State Museum’s prized possession of over 20,000 pattachittra manuscripts which are kept in a climate controlled environment for all to see and be awed. With the Abhinava Gita Govinda believed to be one of the earliest palm leaf manuscripts dating back to 1496. The museum also houses an illustrated manuscript of Gita Govinda written by the 12th century poet Jayadeva. Displaying an advanced writing technology, it has 80 folios in rich primary colors that have remained intact even after such a long period.
On the far end of the ground floor are the impressive Armory section with which many battles were fought and lot of blood would also have been shed. The armory is well lit and well described with an envious collection of canons, guns, rifles, swords, maces, gatling guns, daggers and scimitars dating from the dawn of warfare till present day.
As you step out of the armory there are small statues subsection of archeology which is devoted to smaller but more intricate statues which is a feast for the eyes because of its extremely detailed design and expression. Right next to it is the plush new theatre of the museum which daily runs two shows showcasing the paika rebillion one of Odisha’s greatest fights for its independence in the last 200 years. We can go and on about the museum and its amazing heritage. The upper floors of the museum house the art and craft gallery which has some stunning silver furniture along with galaries about Patta paintings, tribal ornaments, textile gallery which is a visual treat for the creative people who dabble in design and arts.
Its here that a traveler comes face to face with both the past and the present. Well we just have only one grudge against the museum. More galleries, more exhibits and yes more events inside the State Museum like film screenings not the boring ones please because history can always be fun to travel back to time