I stand in the middle of the central hall. The open hall which provides a fantastic view of the whole interior inspires awe in the onlooker. Eight Rajasthani pillars seperates the Octagonal courtyard from the aisle that leads to the side halls and the upper storeys. Exquisitely decorated wooden arches can be seen on the first floor of the building. On the second floor the design of the lotus petal that holds the dome can be seen.The huge dome which spreads above the third floor of the
La Source, replica of the 19th century painting of the same name
Indo-Saracenic style building gives the hall a much more expansive and spacious look. But none of these caught my eye as I entered this hall. Instead they rested on a sculptural replica of a 19th century painting. It is that of a a nude woman standing upright with a pitcher in her left hand. Her right hand crosses above her head to hold the base of the pitcher. She casts a glance which is at the same time inviting and innocent. I was immediately enamoured by her.
This white marble beauty who adorns the Central hall of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), previously Prince of Wales Museum, is a replica which was commissioned by Shri Dorab Tata. It is a marble replica of a painting called La Source by Jean Auguste Dominiqe Ingres which was done in the 19th century. Till then, I knew the Tata’s as a business family, but after visiting this museum, I was impressed by the contribution that they have made to preserving art and cultural heritage, both of our country and the world. CSMVS houses the private collections of two Tata’s, Shri Dorab Tata and Shri Ratan Tata among others.
After having spent more than two months in Mumbai, it dawned on me that I haven’t visited the famed Prince of Wales Museum. I should say, I absolutely abhor the practice of Indianising all monuments. Mumbai (Bombay), is now flooded with Shivaji named monuments starting with the Victoria terminus, International Airport, Prince of Wales museum and what not. It would even have been okay if this was done with the aim of evoking the our cultural icons’ image in our people’s memory. However, Maharashtra seems to stake claim to only the legacy of Shivaji, while conveniently ignoring the contributions of other rulers and dynasties that have added to this magical land’s history.
CSMVS is located near the Victorian & Art deco ensemble of Mumbai and is housed in an Indo-Saracenic building designed by George Wittet. Wittet had already designed the General Post office building in
Chathrapathi Shivaji Museum
Mumbai and in 1911 would go on to design the most famous landmark of Mumbai, The Gateway of India. While the Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, Prince of Wales museum was commissioned in 1905 to commemorate the visit of Prince of Wales, the future King George V, to Bombay. It was a time when Victorian architecture was inspired by Asian exoticism and these elements, particularly Indian and Persian elements, continued to inspire the European architects. Thus Wittet would go on to incorporate many of the Indo-Islamic elements of design into his design of this building. When you visit the museum do not forget to look out for architectural elements like the huge dome, the overhanging eaves, minarets, pinnacles and vaulted arches.
Many things about the way CSMVS is administered is impressive. First off, the staff is pretty co-operative. They point you in the right direction if you are in need and are very eager to help. There is an audio guide that is provided if you pay an extra forty rupees, which would introduce you to some of the attraction of the museum. However, I do not recommend this to any Indian visitor since this guide is mainly targeted at the foreigner who is not familiar with our culture. As far as Indians go, all the basic information that is provided in the audio guide will most probably be known to us. The museum charges separately for using a still camera and video camera. While in this age the distinction between the two is blurred, it is better you get a ticket for still camera and not video camera because video camera charge is a hefty thousand rupees. This practice of charging a hefty fees for video shooting is prevalent in almost every tourist place worth visiting in India. In many places like Ajanta and Ellora there is a ban on shooting movies. I don’t know what benefit these restrictions bring, given that video documentaries of all these places are already available in Youtube and hence preventing private people from shooting movies is not going to provide any extra security.
CSMVS has sections on Natural History, Gandhara sculpture, Pre and Proto history including a very
Natural History Section
impressive section on Harappan civilisation, Assyrian Palace reliefs, numerous sculptures and inscriptions from various parts of India, miniature paintings of India, Krishna gallery, Tibetan-Nepal gallery especially Buddhist art, European paintings, Arms and Weapons Gallery, Chinese and Japanese art. Some of the collections in these sections have been contributed by the two Tatas, Dorab Tata and Ratan Tata.
As for me I particularly enjoyed the sections on Harappa, Gandhara and Miniature paintings. War gallery is impressive given that it has some impressive pieces like Emperor Akbar’s armour, Emperor Shah Jahan’s sword, Sultan Alauddin Khalji’s sword etc. To the observer who is academically
Miniature of Harappa, Prince of Wales museum
inclined, I recommend an entire day at this place. There are all facilities that a person needs to spend a day in this building without going out, including a cafeteria.
The section on natural history with a huge collection of stuffed birds, animals and reptiles is impressive but leaves a lot to be desired. There is a lack of information on the species on display and you end up seeing a lot of animals whose name or features you won’t remember by the time you walk out of the door. It is very important that interesting information
Sculpture section has exquisite pieces like this Uma Maheswaramoorthi
is coupled with items on display to evoke the curiosity of the lay observer, which is where the CSMVS falls behind. The same can be said on the sections on China, Japan and European paintings. This is especially true for an Indian visitor since we get little exposure to these items as part of our curriculum or daily life and hence are left out of the opportunity to truly appreciate these items or understand their value or view them in context.
The museum is pretty crowded with a lot of kids coming there as part of their academic visits. One thing that is really sad is that these children end up touching the artefacts which might cause damage to these items. This happens even with families who simply view these items as something with which a photo can be taken. Indians really lack in this department and view these items with such a casual attitude that we
Brahma in the scultpure Gallery
end up unconsciously damaging our heritage. Lack of awareness or conscious cockiness is on display all the time at places like this. It is this same attitude that results in Indians vandalising national monuments by etching names on it. If we fail to appreciate these cultural centres like they should be and refrain ourselves from adhering to the etiquette that is expected in such places, we would be in an unenviable position as far as preserving our cultural heritage and projecting ourselves as a civilised people to outsiders goes.
In many cases the security guards kept on pestering me telling me videography is prohibited when what I
Miniature paintings section is very informative
was really doing was capturing a photosphere. This kept on happening throughout my visit. At one point one guard went to the extent of saying “Flanorama” is not permitted as it is a video. I asked him to report me if he thought so and that I would explain myself to the concerned people if the need arose. He simply smiled at me sheepishly and left the scene.
Museum visits are tiring and amusing at the same time. As you visit more museums you also begin to see certain patterns and motifs that keep repeating in our culture. For example, one such theme is the Mahishasuramarddini. This particular story, where goddess Durga slays the demon Mahisha ( bull shaped demon) can be seen in a lot of depictions. I saw more than one Mahishasuramarddini sculptures in the halls of CSMVS and same can be said of the Dinkar Kelkar Museum, Pune or Soneri Mahal, Aurangabad. It is also the case with mudras (hand gestures) of many of the deities like the Varada mudra or the features of deities like Shiv, Ganesh, Krishna and Balaji. It would be unfair to write off a museum because you are unable to appreciate these factors on your first visit. Keep visiting them with an open mind and slowly these factors will start to seep into your mind and who knows, one fine day you might turn out to be the expert on Art and Architecture of India.
If you found something amazing about Prince of Wales museum that I missed out on, Please leave a comment. Remember, Sharing is caring