Ethnic and religious
Although the Tibet House Museum connects with the exiled community, it is an eye-opener for others too
In my 16 museum outings so far, I haven't come across a more beautiful entry ticket. It can almost be framed and hung on a wall. Every visit to a museum is accompanied by anticipation of coming across a beautifully designed ticket but it was at Tibet House Museum that the wish was granted. The visit to the museum, located at a strategic point in Lodhi Road Institutional Area, shall remain memorable.
It is a quiet museum, rendered even quieter in these hot summer days but an enthusiast will discover it any which way. To help its case, it is mentioned in the Delhi Tourism website and elsewhere on the web not making it completely off the radar. “A lot of foreigners visit us during the summers. Usually we get a lot of Tibetan crowd as well, who want to connect with their roots, young people desiring to learn about their culture,” says Tenzin, the vivacious museum-in-charge of Tibet House Museum.
Tibet House came into being in 1965 to preserve the unique cultural heritage of Tibet and the Dalai Lama, a father figure to every Tibetan. The spiritual leader was swamped with objects given to him by the Tibetans living in exile in India. He in turn donated it to Tibet House, which he established. And among them feature 900-year-old thangkas — all based on Ksemendra’s poetry, ritualistic objects, jewellery, objects of war and sculptures. It is an intimate space where the exhibits are displayed neatly with proper captions. “We have much more but the space is limited,” adds Tenzin, who sits there typing out a rare Buddhist text on to her computer.
“You may find these thangkas similar but they are all different. We have 31 thangkas and each thangka has five different stories,” she says. In 1052 AD Kashmiri poet Ksemendra wrote Avadana-kalpalata, when Buddhism was fading out in Kashmir. When it was later translated into Tibetan, it became a classic. The Narthang Monastery made 31 woodcuts to illustrate the entire poem and these 31 thangkas displayed at the museum are based on these woodcuts.
Yet another highlight of the museum is the tiny copper alloy statues and gilded bronze, copper, brass, black stone and sandalwood sculptures. First the scale baffles me and then the pose. All of 16 centimetres, a seated Maitreya, believed to be future Buddha, is crafted in an unusual pose in copper alloy. Maitreya is seated on a throne with both feet down supported by a lotus. In Shakyamuni’s statue the hair is painted blue and in the Nun Jetsuna figurine (gilt copper alloy), the ascetic is wearing a robe covering her knees. The portrait is extremely rare.
Accustomed to seeing larger-than-life figures of Buddha, the tiny statues at the museum really stand out.
Then there is sang (Tibetan currency), Me Chak (an object to light fire), ritualistic vases, incense burners etc. Do look out for fair of reliquaries, a container Tibetan soldiers used to carry with Buddha’s photos and sacred objects for auspicious reasons. A sheer beauty!
Tibet Museum is housed in Tibet House 1, Institutional Area, Lodhi Road.
9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday closed)