Mayank Mansingh Kaul’s list of small but memorable museums to visit

Housed in havelis and overlooking the Himalayas, these under-the-radar museums offer visitors an intimate experience

June 09, 2023 02:10 pm | Updated June 10, 2023 09:41 am IST

(Clockwise from top left) Ladakhi kitchen utensils, textile exhibits in Amer, Kala Bhoomi, Central Asian Museum, and Bharat Kala Bhavan

(Clockwise from top left) Ladakhi kitchen utensils, textile exhibits in Amer, Kala Bhoomi, Central Asian Museum, and Bharat Kala Bhavan

Among the highlights of my journeys through India researching textiles over the last two decades has been the discovery of some lesser-known museums. While my effort as an independent curator has been, often, to consistently question the framework of such formal institutions themselves, some of those I list here have left a lasting impression on me. They are relatively small, compared to large format mainstream museums, offering an intimate experience for visitors. They are striking for their collections, architecture and spatial design, and of a pursuit of specific themes and subjects.

Mayank Mansingh Kaul

Mayank Mansingh Kaul | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Central Asian Museum in Leh, Ladakh: Spread over several floors using local materials and traditions of building, it offers a great overview of the history of this part of the Himalayas. Through the terrace, one can catch a fantastic 360 degree view of the city, a great point to take in the landscape around.

Central Asian Museum

Central Asian Museum | Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba, Himachal Pradesh: Paintings from the Pahari Schools of Indian miniature painting and Chamba rumals, which are finely embroidered textiles associated with courtly patronage from this region, form the highlight of this museum.

A painting of Sita in sage Valmiki’s hermitage displayed at the Bhuri Singh Museum

A painting of Sita in sage Valmiki’s hermitage displayed at the Bhuri Singh Museum | Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

Bharat Kala Bhavan in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh: Set within the sprawling campus of the Banaras Hindu University, this has an outstanding collection of Indian art and textiles, which has provided the base for some significant scholarship to emerge from India, specially in the post-colonial period.

Anokhi Museum in Amer, Rajasthan: Set in a beautiful haveli with a view of the Amer Fort just outside Jaipur, this is perhaps one of the country’s first private museums associated with an Indian textile brand. Its exhibits and narrative bring alive the histories of block printing in Rajasthan, explaining the processes involved, while highlighting the company’s evolution as well.

Anokhi Museum

Anokhi Museum | Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

Exhibits at the Anokhi Museum

Exhibits at the Anokhi Museum | Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

Aina Mahal in Bhuj, Gujarat: Decorated with exceptional mirrors on its walls, this forms a set of galleries within the 19th century Bhuj Palace compound. The neighbouring fort complex is now closed for visitors, but provides a great glimpse — even if from the outside — into medieval period architecture in this part of the country.

Kala Bhoomi in Bhubaneswar, Odisha: Conceived on the lines of the original ideas of the Crafts Museum in New Delhi, the vernacular architecture here houses an exceptional collection of everyday objects, crafts and textiles from the eastern Indian State. The choice of native trees and plants in the landscaping further creates an oasis in the middle of a bustling city.

Kala Bhoomi

Kala Bhoomi | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Dakshinachitra in Chennai, Tamil Nadu: The eye does not stop in this artistic haven, a holistic vision of architecture, design and craftsmanship. One meanders — through galleries, courtyards, demonstration areas and lily ponds — completely overwhelmed by what has been achieved in the past in this part of the world.

Dakshinachitra 

Dakshinachitra  | Photo Credit: Shaju John

The writer is a Delhi-based independent textile curator.

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