An increasing number of volunteers at the National Museum in the Capital are enjoying sharing its many facets with visitors

With a collection of over 200,000 objects that span a period of more than 5,000 years of cultural heritage, the National Museum in the Capital is one of the largest in the country.

And acting as a bridge between the vast wealth of information of the museum and visitors are volunteers who guide groups of people through the museum’s many collections.

“The love of history makes me come here day after day and volunteer my time to guide visitors through these fascinating corridors that provide a glimpse into the past,” says Poornima.

Several graduates like her, housewives or simply lovers of art and history have undergone a short term course launched earlier this year by the museum to become volunteers.

They are trained to provide a general introductory tour that might be of interest to a first time visitor to the museum. The conducted tour lasts for 90 minutes, and introduces the visitor to the highlights of the museum. The tours are held at prefixed times on working days of the museum.

Starting from the Harappan civilisation to the Indus Valley civilisation and the Gupta period, the tour takes the visitors through a gallery marking the history of the Indian scripts, showing how each letter of each language transformed over the years. On display are gems such as the remains of the skeleton of a middle aged woman from the burial grounds of Harappa with shell bangles and pots that signify the final rituals in that day and age.

Statues of women dot through out the tour where they are seen to be wielding swords, breastfeeding children, dancing, as huntresses and one is even shown to be flying.

There is an entire section on currency, from the barter system to cowries to credit cards that depicts through clay models how different forms of coins used to be moulded, punched, casted and marked.

The armoury section awes with its display of the sword of Aurangzeb, a dagger used in battle, the bow of Bahadur Shah Zafar and the battle axe of Nadir Shah.

Towards the end of this hall, on one side is a massive elephant and on the other a horse.

“This shows that Indians used to consider the elephant to be the royal carriage for important persons as opposed to the horse as seen by the British. So when the British first came to India and mounted horses, they were not given quite the importance they expected to be showered with,” explains Poornima.

The musical instruments section is a must for lovers of music. On visiting it one realises the many kinds of drums that different regions of India have – duff, tabla, marfa and pakhawaj (Uttar Pradesh), Pambai, Udduku and Kanjira (Tamil Nadu), Khol, waist drum, Chadchadi and Chatpati (West Bengal), Damru (north India), Jheer and Naqqara (Rajasthan), tambourine (east India) and nagara (Delhi).

And at each corner the guide offers interesting snippets about the galleries and objects. This they are able to do because they have been equipped with skills and knowledge needed to conduct free guided tours through the Volunteer Guide Training Module. This course is aimed at broadening one’s understanding of the museum and the collection. The two month course with 12 sessions (of 2 hours each) scheduled on weekends, is taken by art historians, curators and experts. There are also sessions to improve one’s communication skills, how to handle groups with ease and comfort. Several people who can keep aside four hours every weekend for the training module and later commit four hours every month for a minimum of nine months to lead tours, signed up for the programme.

Also, the museum as we know it today had an interesting beginning. The blueprint for establishing the National Museum in Delhi was prepared by the Maurice Gwyer Committee in May 1946. An Exhibition of Indian Art, consisting of selected artefacts from various museums of India was organised by the Royal Academy, London with the cooperation of Government of India and Britain. The Exhibition went on display in the galleries of Burlington House, London during the winter months of 1947-48. It was decided to display the same collection in Delhi, before the return of exhibits to their respective museums. An exhibition was organised in the Rashtrapati Bhawan (President’s residence), New Delhi in 1949, which turned out to be a great success. This event was responsible for the creation of the National Museum.

The success of this Exhibition led to the idea that advantage should be taken of this magnificent collection to build up the nucleus collection of the National Museum. State Governments, Museum authorities and private donors, who had participated in the exhibition, were approached for the gift or loan of artefacts, and most of them responded generously. It was inaugurated in 1949 and the Museum continued to grow its collection through gifts, while an Arts Purchase Committee collected artefacts. 

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