Kolkata, February 2, 2014
Video:PM participates in bicentenary celebrations of first Indian museum
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said that while, on the whole, museums in India had been successful in disseminating the rich past of the country, it was also necessary to ask whether they should not attune their approaches and strategies so that they were more in keeping with the enhanced connotation of the term museum.
"There is another related dimension that needs to be borne in mind. Museums across the world are now important tourist destinations," he said in his address at the bi-centenary celebrations of the Indian Museum here.
"Many great cities of our time are defined by the presence of some truly outstanding museums in them. People travel thousands of miles to visit museums. To be truly enriching, the visit must be a complete experience. This means extensive support in terms of signage, documentation and cataloguing. Museums must become attractive places where visitors can observe and learn in a relaxing atmosphere," he said.
He, therefore, called upon the management of the Indian Museum to see itself as an agent of change and development.
"As it renews its journey, it should seriously think about its role as a purveyor of knowledge. It is not enough in today’s world to house a collection. A museum needs to document, study and analyse its own collections, make comparisons with similar collections held elsewhere and build up collaborations with other great museums whose collections reflect and shed light on what it holds," he said.
Dr Singh said the first requirement for this purpose was the development of trained personnel.
"Unfortunately, museology is a woefully neglected field in our country. The Indian Museum can and must take a leadership role in making good this deficiency. By doing so, it will not only enrich its own collection, but will also help other museums across the country," he said.
He said the museum needed to build up this kind of infrastructure and take its rightful place as one of the great museums of the world.
"The restoration that has been completed is a very good start. I would strongly urge the introduction of multi-lingual audio guides that will give the visitor a detailed and authentic account of the major items and displays," he said.
The Prime Minister noted that the museum, founded in 1814, was the first to be etablished in India and was, perhaps, the largest in the Asia-Pacific Region and older than the Smithsonian Institution, which is the largest museum in the world.
He said the building up of the museum was part of a project devoted to what some scholars in the late 20th century called “colonial knowledge”. This produced, besides the Indian Museum, great institutions like the Geological Survey of India, the Survey of India, the Archaeological Survey and even the Census of India.
"It thus set into motion a process that produced the institutional underpinnings of the rediscovery of India," he said.
"Today, the Indian Museum houses one of the finest collections of art and antiquity in our country. In the case of the Barhut sculptures, which date back to the 2nd century BC, the holdings of the Indian Museum are indeed unique. Its collection of textiles is also remarkable. This is truly an institution of which every Indian can be justifiably proud," he said.
Dr Singh spoke about how the role and purpose of museums all over the world had undergone a transformation, from being collections of objects, artefacts and pieces of art to becoming buildings dedicated to the pursuit of learning or the arts.
"The makers of modern India were acutely aware not only of India’s historical past, its richness and its value as a compass for future generations, but also of the enduring value of building institutions. It was not surprising, therefore, that following independence, our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru devoted particular attention to building institutions of cultural and academic significance. Jawaharlal Nehru’s role in nation-building through such institutions is of the greatest significance. The National Museum was established in New Delhi just two years after independence. The museum in the national capital that is named after him, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, is a thriving hub of intellectual and academic activity," he said.
He said the Museum's objective should be to become an essential port of call for any visitor to Kolkata, especially those from abroad.
"It should offer the visitor an exciting and educative prospect of spending a few hours sampling the best of Indian art, sculpture, and other historical artefacts, giving a glimpse of our extraordinary and rich traditions. The Museum’s collection is fully up to providing such an experience," he added.
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