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Recreating the past

Some of the displays at Children’s Museum on Siri Fort Road. Photo: Meeta Ahlawat

Some of the displays at Children’s Museum on Siri Fort Road. Photo: Meeta Ahlawat   | Photo Credit: MEETA AHLAWAT

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ASI’s innovative Children’s Museum on Siri Fort Road, housing replicas of some exquisite carvings, is an abode of knowledge for young minds

A large number of our museums specialise in being quiet and discreet. Their obscure location, at times, help in keeping them hidden. Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) Children’s Museum surrounded by the ruins and lush greenery in South Delhi is one of those. The non-ticketed museum located right next to the 15th Century Siri Fort Wall in South Delhi and a lesser known Muhammad Wali Masjid, came up in 2008 with the view to familiarise children in the Capital through the replicas of significant heritage sites across the country. It is housed in the building which was once Delhi Development Authority Officer’s Club. The ASI acquired it in 2003 following a legal battle led by writer Ajeet Cour and late former Primer Minister V.P.Singh.

K.K.Muhammed, then ASI Delhi Circle Superintending Archaeologist conceived the idea and had replicas of sculptures like Didarganj Yakshi (Mauryan Period, Bihar), Gudimallam Sivalingam (1 Century B.C. Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh), Mahishasura Mardini (Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu), a rare figurine Rudra Siva (7 Century, Tala, Chattisgarh), Jesus Christ on the Cross (16 Century, Goa) — placed in the museum. And they are all over. Right from the moment you enter the museum, in the spatial green lawns and the galleries.

It was a rainy day when we visited the venue and found most of the captions for the outdoor sculptures missing. So were the ASI officials. With galleries closed, fans and lights switched off and no officers in sight, it was exploration in the real sense. We sighted the staff after sauntering around for nearly half an hour and it was only then the lights were switched on in the gallery which houses replicas of some rarely seen sculptures and figures hidden in caves or kept in museums in the country or outside. Fasting Buddha is one such unusual work. Built in the Kushan Period (3rd Century), it shows an emaciated Buddha — something I had never seen — it is believed to be the finest example of Gandhara art. The work is now in Central Museum, Pakistan. Trivikrama Panel, Arjuna’s Penance, Mahishasura Mardini, Didarganj Yakshi (found on the bank of Ganga in 1917 and now on display at Patna Museum) and other masterpieces occupy the gallery. And here they are accompanied by impeccable captions.

My favourites in the section: Shhalabhanjika (Pratihara, 9-10th Century, Madhya Pradesh), a sensual woman figure without hands carved in buff sandstone in dvibhanga dubbed as Indian Monalisa, Ravana Shaking Mount Kailash from the 5th Century Dashavatara caves, Drunken Lady (a dead drink lady drooping with intoxication) being helped by two male attendants.

Coming to the ‘Astitva’ gallery, there is a possibility of it being closed when you visit but don’t get discouraged. Persist and you will have it opened for you. The ASI brilliantly weaves the tale of vandalism here. The exhibition designed by National Museum and Muhammed in 2008 has become a permanent feature. The site explains defacement and defiling of these sites through photographs and recreation of encroachments and illegal occupation of the monuments. Another gallery is dedicated to highlight the work of ASI through photographs of monuments showing them before and after conservation. “It might be looking very quiet today but otherwise it is filled with schools. But funds are a real problem,” says Prem Singh, a temporary employee of ASI hoping to be made permanent, who has zealously guarded the structure from illegal occupants since its inception.

(Children’s Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry is free and photography is allowed.)

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 6:14:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/recreating-the-past/article11274289.ece

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