The presence of Bhai Mati Dass Museum in Chandni Chowk reinstates the fact that there is space for different museums serving different purposes

Quieter and quainter a museum, more interesting it turns out to be. And the Capital is full of them. Bhai Mati Dass Museum in Chandni Chowk, our focus this week, is one such space. Surrounded by the hustle bustle of Chandni Chowk, a stone’s throw from Sisganj Gurdwara which is thronged by thousands of devotees everyday and five minutes away from Chandni Chowk Metro station ensuring a continuous stream of people, the museum appears like an oasis.

The museum is named after Bhai Mati Dass — a disciple of Guru Tegh Bahadur — who was cut into two pieces right at this site. Despite the busy intersection (Bhai Mati Dass Chowk) drawing its name from the same historical figure after whom is named the museum, it still sounds news to many. That the chowk has the famous Victorian period fountain should have lent it even greater recall value but these factors didn’t integrate to produce the expected result. But the truth is that Bhai Mati Dass Museum has existed at the site, in the same structure since 2000. Before that the building was home to Majestic Cinema.

As I frequent the museums in the city, I realise accessibility is definitely not the issue for there are hardly any museum which are in the back of beyond. Couple of hours that I spent at the museum, it received five visitors. But the visitors weren’t there just for the museum. They were curious devotees who had come to the gurdwara and decided to just drop in. Engrossed, they carefully read the detailed captions in Gurmukhi (it has captions in Hindi and English too) and then engaged in short conversations about the same.

As experts across the globe mull over repositioning these institutions so as to fit them into altered worlds of today, there has emerged space for different kinds of museums to coexist. And it is in here that this museum belongs to.

The museum, managed by Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Committee, is opened 365 days. The visitors need to walk inside with their heads covered. And there is an inn right above the museum. While these aspects set it apart from other museums in the city, the 100-150 paintings dealing with Sikh history put it back within the traditionally known purview of museums. Realistically painted canvases construct the Sikh history narrative with much verve. Brightly painted works narrate the story of Sikhism and as it grew under the guidance of 10 gurus. Significant scenes — both known and unknown — drawn from guru’s lives capture the attention of the onlooker.

The paintings not only focus on the gurus but have sections dedicated to other important figures like Baba Budha ji, Sain Mian Mir (a famous Sufi saint who laid the foundation stone of Hari Mandir Sahib), Mata Sundari Kaur (wife of Guru Gobind Singh) Rani Jindan (wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and mother of Maharaja Duleep Singh and various other women, who played important roles in Sikh history, important battles like Battle of Bhangani (battle fought by Guru Gobind Singh).

And not far from the entrance is the section dedicated to Bhai Mati Dass, Bhai Sati Dass, Bhai Dyal Dass depicted being martyred as their guru Tegh Bahadur watched on in custody right at the same spot where stands the museum. Guru Tegh Bahadur was then beheaded at the same spot.

“While some artists were commissioned to do these paintings by the committee, some like Sobha Singh ji donated their works,” says Iqbal Singh, a senior museum official. With bright colours, a stress on facial expressions and poignancy, the simplistic works immediately strike a chord with the viewer. “Sikhism doesn’t allow us to make films on our gurus. So how do we tell the youngsters about its origins and the history? Through literature and art. We have a library too and there is this museum. Now, we are planning to connect it to take it closer to the gurdwara so that it gets more visitors,” he adds.