Mumbai’s oldest museum, the Bhau Daji Lad in Byculla, celebrates its 150th anniversary at its present site. The milestone was marked on Tuesday by Maharashtra’s Minister of Tourism and Environment, Aaditya Thackeray, who launched a book and a special exhibition. Thackeray also discussed progress on a pending plan to expand the museum.
The book launched on Tuesday – Mumbai: A City Through Objects, edited by the museum’s honorary director Tasneem Zakaria Mehta – is a showcase of 101 artifacts from the museum’s collection. These include old maps from the 17th century, done in watercolor and ink, and colored postcards of Bombay from the 18th and 19th centuries. The corresponding exhibit is titled Hall of Wonder.
“The history of the city and the history of the museum are so intimately linked. The story we tell in the book, and through the museum, is not a grand story of battles and emperors. It’s the story of the common people, the common man — the craftsmen, industrialists, merchants and traders who built this city,” says Mehta.
The museum opened in Fort in the 1850s. In 1872 it was reopened in Byculla as Victoria and Albert, Bombay, a reference to the corresponding institution in London. It was renamed in honor of Indian polymath Dr Bhau Daji Lad, physician, Sanskrit scholar and antiquarian, in 1975.
From 2003 to 2008, the museum underwent award-winning conservation and restoration, a joint effort of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation.
“It was an early example of a successful public-private partnership model for conservation,” says conservation architect Vikas Dilawari, who worked on the project, led by Mehta. “This building set a very high benchmark for conservation at the time and helped spark a wider conservation movement in the city.”
The restoration of the museum won a UNESCO Award for Conservation Excellence in 2005, still the only building in the city to win this award.
Even if you think you know the city, the museum is worth a visit. “There are so many rare artifacts on display here, like Elephanta’s elephant, old maps and the boundary stones of Bombay. In the 1960s there was a wave of nationalism and many statues of European figures have also been moved here, public spaces. They stand in the courtyard of the museum,” says Bharat Gothoskar, founder of heritage awareness organization Khaki Tours.
“Going forward, we would like to work on using digital media to enrich the in-person experience,” says Mehta. “A QR code could take you to layers of information about an artifact, videos and interviews with curators. With funds and the right environment, we can do so much more.