S.K. Aruni traces the history of the second oldest museum in south India

Bangalore and Chennai share a common style of colonial heritage. One such example is the Government Museum.

After successfully establishing museums in Britain, British officers began to establish similar ones in India. They displayed antiquities and ethnographic materials that were collected in India.

In 1851, the Madras Government Museum was established and immediately there were efforts to establish one in Bangalore. This was materialised in 1865. The Government Museum at Bangalore is the second oldest in south India.

Foundation

E.G. Balfour, who was the medical officer of the Madras Army, was transferred to Bangalore in the 1860s. He advised the Chief Commissioner of Mysore State L.B. Bowring to establish a museum similar to the one in Madras. Balfour already had a good collection of zoological and natural specimens to exhibit. Bowring supported the efforts and established the government museum in Bangalore on August 18, 1865, which came to be known as the Mysore Government Museum.

A formal official notification was issued in the Mysore Government Gazette on 17 April 1866.

This notification record is still preserved in the State Archives Department in Bangalore. It also mentions that the government invited citizens to donate both cultural and natural specimens for display.

The museum was housed at the Cantonment's jail building (present Good Shepherd Convent compound) and continued to function from the premises till 1878. As it was housed in the jail building, it was not suitable for scientific display. Hence it was decided that a special museum building would be built near the Cantonment.

Finally, a site in Cubbon Park, opposite the Attara Kacheri, was selected.

The then Chief Engineer of Mysore State Col. R.S. Sankey planned and built the museum in 1878.

Although the Attara Kacheri and the museum were built in same period, they differ both in style and layout.

Architecture

The museum is built in the neo-classical architectural style. The temple-fronted portico, Corinthian columns, circular arches, sloping eaves and the prominent parapet walls with sloping walls and other features reflect this style of architecture. There are two porticos on either side, and these were used as entrances to the museum. One of them still contains the name of the museum in Kannada. After Independence, an extension was planned and an annex building was constructed.

'Fun house'

The museum is nearly 148 years old. It was once attached to the Government Horticulture Department of Mysore State. J. Cameron and G.H. Krumbigal served as its superintendents.

Popularly, the museum was also known as ‘Thamashe bungalow' (fun house). Over four lakh people visited every year during the pre-Independence period. During the Karaga and Vijayadashami festivals, the number of visitors increased.

Mondays were reserved for Gosha women (purdah system) and men were not allowed on this day. Once, the Maharaja of Baroda visited the museum and donated Rs. 500 for its development. The museum was closed on Wednesdays.

Rare paintings

Records mention the efforts that went into bringing in sculptures of historical and cultural importance. The famous Begur hero-stone, Aatakur inscriptional slab and the earliest Kannada inscription, the Halmidi inscription, are found in this museum. Rare paintings of Mysore, Tanjore and Deccan rulers are found.

The writer can be contacted at skaruni@gmail.com