Not confined to just preserving historic artefacts, the Allahabad Museum has spread its wings towards becoming a centre of intellectual activities

With a gallery each devoted to Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the Allahabad Museum’s efforts to document the Indian Independence Movement cannot be expressed any better. The Gandhi Gallery displays, among other remnants, rare pictures of Gandhi from his childhood till death, while in the Nehru Gallery, one can find Pandit Nehru’s original manuscripts called ‘In and Out of Prison’ which were later published as his autobiography The Discovery of India, priceless documents, gifts, wedding cards and letters, including some from the Mahatma himself.

The museum’s another valued possession is the Gandhi Smriti Vahan, the 47-Model V-8 Ford truck on which Gandhi’s ashes were immersed in the Sangam on February 12, 1948.

The museum’s location in the sprawling Chandra Shekhar Azad Park has its own little story, too. It was here on February 27, 1931, that freedom fighter Chandra Shekhar Azad shot himself dead under a tree after being cornered by the police. Today, a dedicated security guard keeps watch over his .32 bore Colt pistol.

However, beyond these valuable items, the museum, which is only one of the five National Museums directly under the Ministry of Culture, is emerging as a premier research centre for archaeologists, historians and academicians. Its extensive research activities and publications in archaeology, art and literature draw leading experts to conduct seminars and discussions on a regular basis.

A Monsoon Festival was recently organized to trace the genesis of monsoons through Indian literature. On September 29, it hosted a national seminar on the till now unexplored connection between the Harappan and Gangetic valley civilisations, based on recent discoveries. It now plans to undertake new explorations in the Middle Ganga and Yamuna valleys, using Landsat imagery and underground data scanning.

Former Allahabad University Head of English Department, Professor Manas Mukul Das, compares the museum to a “centre of intellectual activity”. “Ideas, words and discussions are also part of a museum’s function, not just storing dead artefacts. The museum is also a centre for developing psychology, culture and language.”

Documentary film making, film festivals, art exhibitions, folk dance competitions, debates, painting competitions, community based and leadership training programmes and special educational and cultural classes for children are some of the things featuring in the museum’s busy curriculum. Under its latest Green Project, it intends to keep a digital bank of the flora and fauna of the Gangetic valley.

“We have been called an active museum. Last year, we held a unique year-long celebration of Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary, including his links with Uttar Pradesh. This year, it’s Madan Mohan Malviya’s birth anniversary,” says Allahabad Museum Director Rajesh Purohit.

According to Mr. Purohit, the museum is also playing an active role in the Ministry of Culture’s initiative of modernising Indian museums. In 2010, the Ministry signed a memorandum of understanding with three British cultural institutions — British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum and British Library — to initiate training programmes for museum professionals, while also providing financial assistance.

Subsequently, in 2011, the museum hosted a formally structured Leadership Training programme for all professionals from U.P. museums. This year, they are preparing to provide orientation for 200 guides for the Maha Kumbh Mela 2012-13.

Even so, the Allahabad Museum works on a much lower budget than other museums of national importance. According to data sourced from the Ministry of Culture, the Allahabad Museum has received only Rs. 2.5 crore this year, four times less than its closest compatriot — Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial.

Moreover, while the Victoria Memorial has added 5,000 new objects to its gallery over the years, there was no data available for the Allahabad Museum. The reason behind this, Mr. Purohit explains, is that the museum asks for only that much fund which it can utilise creatively.

Assistant Keeper Sunil Gupta says the museum’s zero budget system means that various programmes and seminars are conducted with the lowest possible expenditure. “Our focus is to ethically foster creativity. Quality additions of art to a museum make it more valuable than mere stacking of artefacts. Management of what we have, that is some 70,000 objects is our priority.”

The museum’s fully functioning library stores 25,000 books, including rare collections of Loeb Classics — translated works of ancient Roman and Greek scholars.

While the present museum was officially established in 1931 under the Allahabad Municipal Board, records accessed by The Hindu show that a museum was originally set up in Allahabad in 1863 by North-West Province Governor General Sir William Muir, before being shut down for unspecified reasons in 1881. And after much pleading by stalwarts like Madan Mohan Malviya and the then leading Pioneer newspaper at the turn of the 20th century, the museum was eventually built in 1931 by Pandit Nehru and declared an Institution of National Importance in 1985.

Besides housing the extraordinary Ekmukhi Shivlinga from the Gupta Period, the museum has Bharhut sculptures depicting the Jataka tales and terracotta sculptures from key archaeological sites of Kausambhi, Jhusi and Bhita. Its rock art gallery has the largest collection of prehistoric paintings (dating 14,000 B.C-2000 B.C) displayed anywhere in India.