LOST HERITAGE PRESERVED FOR POSTERITY-THE CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI MAHARAJ VASTU SANGRAHALAYA, MUMBAI(CSMVS)

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The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India), Mumbai is a fascinating repository of cultural heritage and an institute of learning.

Apart from a representative collection of various forms of art from the Indian subcontinent, the museum houses a very interesting collection of natural history specimens.

It was on January 10, 1922-95, years ago-that the CSMVS opened its doors to the people of Mumbai. The brainchild of prominent citizens of the city, the government agreed to the proposal for a good museum and provided a semi-circular plot of land aptly called the ‘Crescent Site’ near the Gateway of India, with a condition that citizens of Bombay (Mumbai) create an autonomous body and undertake the responsibility of running the museum.

The winning entry by architect George Wittet, the result of an open competition in 1909, thus saw the construction of a beautiful, solid structure of locally quarried grey Kurla basalt and a buff trachyte malad stone. Designed in the Indo-Saracenic style, the monumental edifice is a combination of Hindu and Saracenic architectural forms with some elements of Western architecture that comprises a big dome at the centre and two smaller domes on either side which are complemented by a beautifully landscaped garden. The museum has carefully and consciously preserved its original structure and surroundings, perhaps the only place today is this part of Mumbai, where visitors can have a glimpse of an undisturbed heritage precinct.

The Collection

The museum has a representative collection of various forms of art from the Indian subcontinent and also to certain extent works of art from China, Japan and the European countries. In addition to these, the museum houses a very interesting collection of natural history specimens. This entire collection has come from varied sources such as archaeological artefacts from the excavated sites, through purchases and gifts. A large number of excavated antiquities from the Buddhist monasteries from Gandhara (now in Pakistan) came to the museum in 1909. Two renowned archaeologists, Mr R D Banerjee and Sir Henry Cousens, were instrumental in bringing the pottery and terracotta figurines from Harappa and Mohenjodaro (about 5,000 BCE) and the early Gupta period (4th-5th century CE) terracotta Buddhist antiquities to the museum.

The museum also acquired a well-known collection of Indian miniatures and other important antiquities, more particularly the Maratha textiles, arms and armour from the collection of Seth Purshottam Mavji. The collection was once a part of the treasures of Nana Phadnis (1741-1800 CE). Nana Phadnis, the most influential minister during the reign of the Peshwas, is believed to have collected these antiquities from the distress sales of the disintegrating Mughal Empire. A part of this collection, particularly Maratha textile and costume, was later handed over to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum, Satara for its new Maratha gallery.

The major art collections of Sir Ratan Tata and Sir Dorabji Tata (the two sons of Jamsetji Tata, founder of the Tata Empire) were bequeathed to this museum in 1922 and 1933 respectively.

 

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This wonderful collection, gratefully accepted by the trustees of the museum, constitutes the bulk of the art section. Judging by the total of 5,161 objects that eloquently point towards quality, quantity and variety of this priceless collection, the Tata brothers clearly possessed eclectic tastes and an immense love for art. Various documents, notes and other archival material in the museum show that both Sir dorab and Sir Ratan were guided by expert opinion before acquiring any European and Asian art object. Today, even after 90years of the museum’s existence, the Tata collection still stands as its largest bequest. In recognition of the generosity of the Tata brothers in building the museum’s collection, the management named the two European painting galleries on the second floor after Sir Dorab Tata and Sir Ratan Tata. The museum was further enriched by Sir Akbar Hydari’s collection in 1972 and more recently, late Shri Karl Khandalavala’s collection.

Sculpture

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Several factors resulted in the production of art during ancient times but religion was the single-most important factor affecting art production in ancient India. And it is for this reason that most of the sculptures of ancient India that we come across have a religious theme as opposed to a secular one. The museum mainly houses sculptures from the present states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Kashmir.

Also on display are some sculptures that have their origins in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. Notable among them are the excavated pieces from Mirpurkhas Buddha Stupa (in Sind) and the Buddhist monasteries of Jamalghari, Malakhand, Sahri-Bahlol and Takh-i-Bahi. Sculptures from the Elephanta caves were among the early acquisitions of the museum. So were some extraordinarily beautiful panels that were later found to be from the ceiling of a magnificent temple of Aihole in Karnataka.

Miniature Paintings

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The Indian miniature paintings began as illustrations to religious texts. These paintings, besides being important for these aesthetic value, also help in understanding the sociocultural conditions of their times. The dress, headgear, ornaments and costumes depicted in the paintings are indicative of the cultural identities and interactions that took place in Indian society through the centuries. The gallery highlights a rich miniature painting tradition which developed in different parts of India between the 14th and 19th centuries. There are many interesting and important miniatures on display such as the manuscript of Laur Chandra, portraits of Raja Balwant Singh by the legendary Pahari artist Nainsukh, an illustrated manuscript of Anwar-i-Suhayali etc.

Decorative Art

The museum has a representative collection of objects in jade, wood, ivory, jewellery and textiles which highlight the rich crafts tradition of India. Particularly noteworthy are the intricately carved ivory from Murshidabad, sandalwood jewellery boxes from Karnataka and the exquisite Mughal jades.

Himalayan Art

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The gallery presents a complex, mystic and a fascinating tantric world of the Vajrayan Buddhist pantheon. In tantric Buddhism, all deities are symbols of insight or compassion and the union of these two brings about the state of enlightenment. The gallery on the first floor has a rich collection of colourful ‘thankas’ (painted cloth hangings) from Nepal as well as Tibet. A number of Buddhist and Hindu gilded images are also on display. The extraordinary Tibetan metal image of Songtsen Gampo, the king of Tibet who introduced Buddhism in Tibet in the 7th century, is considered as one of the jewels. The tracings of the mural paintings of Tsaparang Monastery (now ruined) by Li-Gotami (gift of Li-Gotami) also forms a very important treasure of this section.

European Paintings

The European painting galleries in the museum were actually formed from the gifts of the Tata family. The collection includes paintings of British, Italian, Dutch, French and Flemish origin of the period 16th to the early 20th century. For example, there are small landscape paintings of Constable and several important paintings by masters like Bonifacio Veronese, Mattia Preti, William Strang, Jacob de Backer, Peter Paul Rubens and Sir Thomas Lawrence.

Natural History Section

The collection displayed in this section was collected by the members of the Bombay Natural History Society individually or while undertaking special expeditions. These collections were donated to the museum to enable the public to view them and display an interesting compilation of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. Of special interest is the Diorama cases which show the birds and animals in their natural habitats. The section is extremely interactive and is a favourite among children and students. Dioramas and display panels attempt to provide a natural setting for the taxidermist’s art.

The museum is a vibrant, dynamic institution, buzzing with cultural activities, rotating exhibits, outreach events and educational programmes.

How to Reach-The museum is easily accessible from the main Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station in Mumbai.

Entry Timings

Open all 7 days of the week from 10 am to 6 pm

Entry Fees