A museum of extraordinary things is dying in Kolkata

Gurusaday Museum at Joka is the finest and biggest folkart museum in Asia. It faces an imminent closure.

Gurusaday Museum at Joka is the finest and biggest folkart museum in Asia. It faces an imminent closure.   | Photo Credit: Ashok Nath Dey

Govt. funding for the once-glorious Gurusaday has dried up

Tucked away in the south-western fringes of Kolkata, on a sprawling plot of land in Joka, is the Gurusaday Museum. It holds within its walls a lone man’s treasure chest of artefacts spanning over five centuries of the art and culture of undivided Bengal.

Starved of funds from the Union Textile Ministry, which nurtured it for long, the staff of the near-forgotten repository haven’t received their salaries since November 2017. Prized exhibits are deteriorating with poor upkeep.

“Take this, for example,” says Bijan Mandal, the embattled curator and executive secretary, showing off a large tapestry in the traditional kantha stitch of Bengal. It depicts sadhus, animals and flowers, bayonet-wielding soldiers and policemen (who wear British uniforms), and cloistered women peeping out of windows as dhoti-clad men ascend horse-drawn carriages.

Stains of neglect

Poor maintenance is causing ugly stains to form on the reversible (both sides are identical) 19th century masterpiece.

The 3,300 exhibits at the Gurusaday — Tagore, Gandhi and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan were among its supporters — reflect the vitality, mores and religious beliefs of rural Bengal. Renowned painter Jamini Roy not only contributed paintings to the museum but collected for it on behalf of founder Gurasaday Dutt, an ICS officer under the British government.

Dutt built the museum over his service tenure and bequeathed it to the Bengal Bratachari Society, also founded by him. The Bratachari way, still practised in the school that’s run by the museum, teaches rhythmic movement and coordinated breathing with song and dance to connect the young to their roots.

Funds dry up

What triggered off the decline? Mr. Mandal says, “Although we were short of funds, till November, we did receive an annual grant of ₹45 lakh from the Development Commissioner for Handicrafts, but a letter in November told us to become self-sustaining. Funds totally dried up after April 2017. We hope to get some support for the last fiscal year, but the future is bleak.”

Hope for help

He added that a museum of this kind needs at least ₹1 crore towards annual upkeep, which cannot be met internally.

There was no response to The Hindu’s efforts to contact the Development Commissioner. Mr. Mandal now hopes for help from the State government.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 1:20:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/a-museum-of-extraordinary-things-is-dying-in-kolkata/article23629783.ece

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