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Memoirs of a museum: a breeze through antiques

NYOOOZ 2017-08-12 21:34:10

A massive stone coffer in the courtyard of the Indian Museum in Kolkata is unlikely to catch the attention of passing visitors, heading for the display galleries. But the coffer is one of the greatest treasures of the 200-year-old museum, with the tale of its discovery and contents weaving together history and myth. The massive coffer with small, numinous jewels and a relic casket within were discovered during an excavation at the Piprahwa stupa in 1898 by a British landowner William Claxton Pepp챕 in the eponymous village, just south of the Indo-Nepal border. While reporting on the discovery the same year, the British Indologist and administrator Vincent Smith wrote in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society that the " akyas of Kapilavastu, as the relatives of the Buddha, had obtained a share of the Buddha " relics at the time of his cremation. Therefore, it was possible that the Sakya clan erected the Piprahwa Stupa soon after the death of the Buddha " The British government decided that the relics, with the bones and ashes, would be given to the King of Siam (modern day Thailand), the only Buddhist monarch then, as a diplomatic gesture. However, the original stone coffer and relic casket were handed over to Dr. Bloch, the Superintendent of the Indian Museum. It was almost a hundred years later in 1994 that the Indian Museum got these artefacts when the National Museum in New Delhi agreed to give a part of its collection from the Piprahwa excavation to the Indian Museum as a permanent loan. The loan included further relics found at the same site during an excavation between 1971 and 1974 by ASI archaeologist K.M. Srivastava. The stupa that stayed But the Piprahwa coffer is not the only one with a fascinating history. The stories around the country " greatest Buddhist treasures housed in the Indian Museum are no less fascinating. The Bharhut Stupa, excavated in 1873, which the Raja of Nagod had presented to the Empire, would have landed in the British Museum in London had Alexander Cunningham, who was behind the discovery, not insisted that the Stupa should not be consigned to the vaults in London where they would be " nseen, uncared for and unknown " And there is the mummy, housed in the Egyptian Gallery, which took almost 49 years to reach the museum and find a mention in its 1883 catalogue after Lieutenant E. C. Archbold wrote to the Asiatic Society on July 5, 1834 telling them of his discovery of a mummy in the tombs at " ourvah " ( " ourna " or " urna " . Lieutenant Archbold notes that he could not carry the mummy on the ship he sailing in as the " ahommedan seamen " would not allow it on board. The stories behind the collection at the Indian Museum and the efforts of various people involved with the institution over the years have now been put together in a book " The Lives of Objects: Stories from the Indian Museum " by Indira Chowdhury, founder and director of the Centre for Public History, Bengaluru. Dr. Chowdhury led a team of experts to compile the 312-page volume from museum records, archives of the Asiatic Society which founded the museum in 1814, other publications and documents and anecdotes from those who worked at the institution for over two centuries. Dr. Chowdhury underscores that the book is not only about the collection but also about the people behind the great institution. " hat is interesting about the book is that we have included oral history excerpts from people who have worked on the museum, " she said. The book records history from entries in the visitors " book " that social reformer and leading figure of the Bengal rennaicsance Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, who had gone to the Asiatic Society Museum on January 28, 1874 with noted Hindi poet and author Bhartendu Harishchandra, was turned away for wearing " ative shoes " And quotes Mark Twain as having written after his visit in 1895 that the museum " antiquities were " nusual, strange and exotic " and that " ne should spend a month at the museum " " this " nchanted palace of Indian antiquities " He later changed that to six months, writing, " ndeed, a person may spend half a year among the beautiful and wonderful things without exhausting their interest " Mystic " musings For the mystic Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the objects in the fossil gallery became a metaphor for the transformation of the self. He is recorded to have said, " saw that bricks had turned into stone and living animals too have turn...

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