Sanskriti Museum on MG Road is a perfect amalgam of nature, culture and architecture

While some museums end up as just storehouses of priceless heritage, some of them become experiences, like the Sanskriti Museum on Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road. The quietude it acquires on account of its location amidst farmhouses helps its cause further. But for those who haven’t been there, or feel discouraged by its inaccessibility already, let us tell you that it is just 600 metres from Arjangarh metro station.

Museums are usually closed-door affairs but in accordance with the nature of its specialisation, at times the indoors and outdoors are woven together to serve as a display area.

In its character it comes closest to the crafts museum because after all, both are dealing with folk arts and crafts of our countries. The museum tries to recreate certain sites and in turn experiences to give an authentic feel to an urban viewer — like the Aiyanar shrine which is usually found at the periphery of a village in Tamil Nadu. At Sanskriti, the local deity’s shrine is replicated where it is accompanied by other terracotta figurines like horses, etc. But do take a moment to admire Kamadhenu, the sacred wish fulfilling cow depicted partly as woman, partly as cow and partly as bird. The towering wooden birdhouse sacred to the Jain community of Ahmedabad is another wonderful exhibit, displayed in the open area. The spatial lawns of the museum are dotted with many such artefacts that O.P. Jain, the man behind the Sanskriti Pratishthan, the umbrella organisation, has painstakingly amassed over the years. He keeps adding to it, Ravinder Dutt, Coordinator, Sanskriti Kendra, informs us as he takes us around the three museums.

Though there are detailed captions accompanying every exhibit, still the best way around this museum is through guided walks the museum organises. I find it interesting that Ravinder, who is also an artist, has been entrusted with the responsibility of conducting these walks, for an artist can easily convey the aesthetic nuances of the exhibits with the sensitivity required.

Jain wasn’t seeking to create just a museum when he formed Sanskriti Foundation 35 years ago. It was to be a holistic cultural avenue for varied cultural activities with a view to promote heritage. In 1989, Jain came up with Sanskriti Kendra, a cultural hub of sorts. It was in 1993 that he established the museum “showcasing a reference collection for Indian craftsmanship and Indian way of life. I wanted to show how evolved it was,” says the octogenarian art connoisseur over the phone.

The complex houses three museums — one devoted to Everyday Art, one to Terracotta and the third to Indian Textiles. You start with the Museum of Indian Terracotta which begins with snapshots of the pre-historic objects from the Indus Valley Civilisation till the Gupta period and then moves on to present the terracotta traditions followed in later ages and periods. West Bengal’s Mansa ghats, the ritual pottery in terracotta, has been devoted one entire section, and so have the sun-baked figures of gods and goddesses from Bihar. “The USP of these figurines is that they aren’t fired but sun-baked because they believe gods and goddesses’ figures aren’t supposed to be fired,” says Munni Lal, manager, associated with the museum for 30 years. On the wall is painted the story of a woman who resolved to marry her muse from an upper caste community.

Coiled pots of Manipur, ancient Kolu figures of Tamil Nadu including the restored dasavatar figures, terracotta vessels of Kutch, typical courtyards of Odisha, Black pottery of Azamgarh (which looks strikingly similar to bidriwork of Andhra Pradesh) an elaborate phad painting (made by Sri Lal Joshi of Bhilwara, Rajasthan) with a terracotta shrine of a local deity embedded into it are some other exemplary works on display. Remembering the days when Kolu figures were restored seven-eight years ago, Munni Lal says, “The artist couple spent a month here restoring and retouching the idols. They were in really bad shape.”

“And you know why as compared to other pots, vessels of Kutch are smaller in size? In case these break, there is minimal water wastage because water is precious in a region like Kutch,” adds Ravinder.

Museum of Everyday Art

One of the major factors that sets it apart from Crafts Museum is its stress on utilitarian art. This museum is filled with such samples but before you step inside, take a look at the huge molela mural (in terracotta) depicting rural life and the changes modernisation has brought in.

Once inside this treasure trove, it will be difficult to keep your eyes on one exhibit for long because the next item will steal away your glance quickly. It houses items like toys, hukkas, nutcrackers, kitchen items, stylers, account books, ornate inkwells, sevian maker, coconut grater, locks from Kerala region, etc. A vanity box of a local queen of Bikaner in the shape of tiger, a turban box, a sailor’s lamp are my personal favourites.

Museum of textiles

The recently installed touch screen kiosk makes it a highly interactive museum. Divided neatly into different sections, it quickly gives an overview to the visitor. Rare and elaborate Jain temple hangings, paithanis, ikats, patolas, bandhej, pichwais, parsi garas, Banarasis occupy this section, but lace pichwai acquired from a person in Europe is mind blowing.

MUSEUM FACTS

It is open from Tuesday to Sunday (10.30 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

Besides three museums, the complex houses an Enamel Centre, and a Ceramic Centre too where the Kendra runs regular workshops. To join visit the website www.sanskritifoundation.org

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