An interesting and insightful visit
Last summer, I travelled to India to visit my grandparents who live in Baroda, Gujarat. Despite the heat, I decided to venture to Baroda’s “must see attraction” and it did not disappoint.
Upon arrival, I was struck by the beautiful architecture, which had a similar style to Victorian buildings in London, so it was no surprise that it was built by Robert Chisholm, a British architect, in 1894. It was built on the lines of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Science Museum, combining the legacy of colonial architecture with traditional Indian design.
The museum houses an impressive collection of objects from across the world including Europe, Central and Southeast Asia. From textiles, sculptures to minerals, taxidermy and fossils the museum covers natural history, culture, art, earth sciences and zoology. Something for everybody.
So how has the museum come to acquire all these amazing objects?
Commissioned by Sir Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the Maharaja of Baroda State between 1875-1939, the museum was part of his educational reforms for the state. Travelling far and wide alongside scholars and dealers, he sought to develop a wide-ranging and extensive collection. Japan, Egypt, Tibet and Nepal are just a few of the places the objects come from.
Conservation and budget
It took roughly two hours to walk through the exhibits. Having learnt about the display and conservation of objects I can’t help but go into museums with a critical eye. I was particularly struck by the old displays, handwritten labels, minimal interpretation and direct sunlight on stunning textiles! In many ways, I was dismayed to see these objects displayed like this: I thought there was such scope to transform the exhibits from traditional cabinets into something more dynamic and innovative, given the history and rich culture of the many artefacts. It would be an interpreter’s dream project!
After my visit, I reflected on whether funding might be a reason behind the slightly old fashioned approach to curation. A bit of research revealed that the Archaeological Survey of India manages the conservation of heritage sites and running of museums. Although the budget has increased over the years India spends less than 1% of its annual budget on culture according to statistics from India’s Ministry of Culture.
Some museums provide too much information and it becomes overwhelming and distracting. Despite Baroda Museum’s minimal interpretation and short concise labels it actually helped focus my attention solely on the objects themselves.
This museum is a wonderful illustration of an Indo-Saracenic building with an extensive collection. So if you are ever in Baroda it is worth a visit.
Highlights: Akota Bronzes, 22m long Blue whale skeleton, mineralogy from Durham and of course the Egyptian mummy.
Price: Indian citizens – Rs.10 (11p) and Foreigners – Rs. 200 (£2.14)
© Sophia Marion Patel