Thursday, October 18, 2012

The city in focus : Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Byculla Mumbai

Situated in a pool of green, thanks to a classically planned botanical garden, surrounded by the bustling streets of Byculla and its  warren of empty crumbling textile mills, stands a building steeped in the city's rich architectural heritage and history.

With its collection of the industrial arts, economic products of the 19th century and a vast exquisite collection of local artifacts, the 134 years old Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum (erstwhile the Victoria and Albert Museum)  was conceived as  a keeper and narrator of Mumbai's history.

Today however, the institution has a brand new story to tell.. One of painstaking renewal and a meticulous conservation that has restored the structure, interior and contents- all to its original, glitter and sparkle.

To walk into the glittering,  freshly painted interiors  of this Palladian structure built in the renaissance renewal style ( the only one of its kind in the city), it is hard to imagine the state of dereliction it had fallen to in the years after independence.

The original colours and details had been effaced from the, delicate stucco and stencil work was badly damaged,  Iron pillars everywhere had separated from the walls and many of the etched glass panes were broken.  And as is the case with most heritage buildings in Mumbai, haphazard and badly conceived electrification was conspicuous all over the building.

The museum was reopened to the public in 2008, following a seven year long, renovation and renewal project that resurrected 
both- the building and its collection,  from hugely diminished and deteriorated conditions. Led by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage- INTACH, supported by the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation, the project has received various accolades and widespread recognition.

The unassuming green and white structure from the outside, does not quite give away the magnificent interiors  that await one. Even the entry fee into the museum is a humble Rs 10!
But one push past an old railway style turnstile lies a stunning interior. Soaring two storey high walls and a intricately painted ceiling, held in place by handsome cast iron pillars,  intricate red and gold grilles and a delicate celadon green that adorns the wall - lend a matchless grandeur to the space. 

Walking on cool check board tiles, taking in the collection artistically displayed in  re polished and restored wooden cabinets that stand in rows in the central atrium, one arrives at the grand staircase- clearly the high point of the experience. The monumental staircase, with its intricately patterned encaustic Minton tiles lends gravity and beauty to the building, its colours patterns and texture demanding a lot of attention.

As the story goes, the original planner and architects of the museum ran out of money half way through the laying of the tiles..! hence only the stair case and the upper story of the building are laid with the imported tiles, while the rest of the space was finished with locally sourced chekerboard tiles.

Restoration of the priceless collection of rare books in the Museum library is in 

With a frequently updated exhibition schedule, workshops targeting children, adults and teachers and a full fledged year long course in Indian Art History, the museum has much to offer the community. On a much needed break from a hot humid Mumbai day, its cool interiors  have become a favourite haunt for me to spend a few hours engaging with the interiors. It is also one of the few places I am able to take my kids who love the museum's collection. One only wishes there were a small coffee shop besides the existing souvenir shop,  to help extend visits and make it a meeting point of sorts- a kid of hangout Mumbai so desperately needs!


Pipintook said...

Beautiful pictures and a very informative post. You make me want to visit the museum.

Lovely post C - easily one of the best posts on Mumbai i have come across

Chandan said...

Thanks Samika! It is a beautiful building, astoundingly rennovated.. I do hope you get to visit it some time soon.

Anonymous said...

*sigh*... such stunning pics.. I couldn't take my eyes off them to read the rest of the information.. :) Lovely post..


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