Museums in Delhi

Delhi, the capital of India, is home to many museums, built around various themes. These museums not only shed light on evolutionary phases of our ancestors but also our thousands of years old cultural continuum. Delhi boasts of varied kinds of museums which reflect upon the rich cultural and civilizational existence of Delhi since the time of legendry Mahabharata.

National Museum of India: National Museum is a rich, well chronicled and sophisticatedly preserved artefacts, sculptures, manuscripts, paintings, art and music instruments. National Museum keeps a visitor mesmerized and portrays proud past and ancestral gift. The Royal Academy's winter exhibition at Burlington House, London (1947-48) was the inspiration for India's National Museum, which opened on its present site in 1960. National Museum consists of three floors. The first (ground) floor is dedicated to sculptures and prehistoric artefacts. Second floor houses manuscripts, miniature paintings and antiquities. The third floor displays a surprise, pre-Columbian art from America, and a musical instrument collection. Most groups of exhibits are arranged chronologically.

There are many items deserving special interest and attention but few like massive carved elephant from the Sunga period, relics of the Buddha which were discovered only in 1972; a bust of Lord Vishnu found at Lal Kot (the first Delhi); the Babur Nama manuscript, written by the first Mogul emperor himself; the memoirs of Jahangir; an illuminated Mahabharata; the collection of miniature paintings, particularly the jewel-like examples from the Mughal period; Mayan terracotta from Mexico; and Inca metalwork from Peru cannot be missed.

International Museum of Dolls: This excellent and unique museum lies on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg ('Fleet Street of Delhi'), nearby the corporate office of The Times of India. Nehru House accommodates the International Doll's Museum. This is an amusing, as well as an instructive display of dolls, dressed in around 500 local costumes from the Indian sub-continent. However, the collection is, as implied, international, and the museum claims to possess over 6,000 dolls from eighty- five countries. Although the sources are named, the periods of the dolls and their costumes are not. Particularly appealing are the examples from Japan.

Gandhi Memorial Museum: In front of Raj Ghat, the shrine of Mahatma Gandhi, lies Gandhi Memorial Museum. Of greatest interest to most visitors are the meagre personal belongings of the Mahatma Gandhi. The collection includes his stick, sandals, spectacles and watch. Also displayed, a grisly exhibit, is the bullet that killed him.

Indian War Memorial Museum: The earlier Naubat Khana of Red Fort has now been converted into the Indian War Memorial Museum where weapons, uniforms and badges from ancient times are displayed. It is a nice collection of weapons used by the Mughal and the British. It clearly demarcates the technological difference and gap between the two sides.

Crafts Museum: The superb Crafts Museum occupies part of Pragati Maidan Village Complex. The central exhibition hall is surrounded by many buildings named after various regions of India. Many of them have been transferred here from their original locations. As a result, there is a strong sense of authenticity, enhanced by praiseworthy reticence in the use of caption boards.

Charles Correa, the internationally renowned Goan architect, designed the museum, which was founded in 1951 with the aim of encouraging and maintaining the traditional skills of Indian craftsmen. Over 20,000 individual items are exhibited, many of them antique. These items include textiles, ceramics, enamels, jewellery, masks, toys and carvings. Musicians and dancers in traditional dress perform throughout the day free of charge and craftsmen may be observed at work. Several shops and a nice restaurant create a very good environment and facility. No hassling of visitors is permitted .

Purana Qila (Old Fort) Museum: There is a small museum in Purana Qila compound that exhibits archaeological discoveries made during excavations within the complex in 1955.

Jaipur House, built for the Maharajas of Jaipur, has been converted to accommodate the National Gallery of Modern Art. Exhibits, on two floors, are primarily by Indian artists, or foreigners who have worked in India, such as Thomas and William Daniell. Influences from other countries are apparent. Few Western visitors will find the museum of overwhelming interest.

Rail Transport Museum: Vintage train enthusiasts may wish to visit the Rail Transport Museum. Many tourists visit India primarily to experience travelling on the country's vintage, steam-powered trains which still operate in parts of the country. For those and others of a nostalgic disposition, a visit to the Rail Transport Museum is a must. The museum, laid out to resemble a station yard, was opened in 1977. It is spread in a 10 acre site which is toured by the non-stopping Joy Express, a miniature steam train, throughout the day (except1-1.30pm).

India's first train departed from Mumbai on April 16'1853 at a time when only eight other countries in the world had introduced a rail system. A network evolved very quickly, partly owned by individual states and partly by private companies. Even at the time of partition, forty-eight separate operators existed but now the entire system is controlled by the national government.

Most exhibits, but not all, were made in the industrial centres of northern England and shipped to India in component parts for local assembly. Fairy Queen (Leeds), of 1855, is the oldest steam engine in India still in working order. Adjacent, the Rail- bus was converted from a bus made by the American Dodge motor company. Rangotty was built in Paris in 1877 to run on a unique 4 foot gauge track. Its brakes are wooden. The Maharaja of Patiala commissioned this monorail train in 1907. Initially, mules pulled the coaches but were later replaced by four German steam engines. Garraty, weighing 253 tons, was the most powerful steam engine ever to operate in India.

Equally fascinating is the collection of beautifully restored coaches, owned by and luxuriously fitted-out for Indian princes. The white saloon was specially prepared for use by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) during his visit to India in 1876. The country's railway history is related in a permanent exhibition, housed in the octagonal building near the entrance. On display is the tusk-less skull of an elephant that inadvisably charged a mail train in 1894- and lost the confrontation.

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