Chhatrapati Shiva ji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
Additional information may please be sent as messages to the Facebook
community, All information used will be gratefully
acknowledged in your name.



Benita Fernando, January 14, 2022: The Indian Express

The Sword of Damocles (1904) by Antoine Dubost, part of the Tata Collection at CSMVS (Source- CSMVS Collection)
From: Benita Fernando, January 14, 2022: The Indian Express
Ashokan Edict No 9 from about 250 BC, discovered in Nala Sopara, Thane
From: Benita Fernando, January 14, 2022: The Indian Express
A painting of the military procession of the Golconda court of Abdullah Qutb Shah from the mid-17th century, part of the CSMVS collection (Source- CSMVS Collection)
From: Benita Fernando, January 14, 2022: The Indian Express

In its centenary year, a look at how the iconic Chhatrapati Shiva ji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya tells stories of our shared humanity

After more than a decade’s wait, a museum was set to be inaugurated in 1921 as a memorial to the Prince of Wales. Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, the memorial would have art, archaeology and science sections, and represent the Bombay Presidency and Sind. It would also encompass the “Oriental region”, including Tibet, Yunnan, Syria and Iran.

However, when Edward VIII, the Prince of Wales, landed in Bombay in November 1921, he was greeted by non-cooperationists and riots that lasted three days. To the great disappointment of the museum trustees, the royal inauguration did not materialise. Then on January 10, 1922, the memorial was inaugurated by the collector of Bombay, JP Brander, and the wife of the governor, Lady Lloyd. With no prince in attendance, the memorial fulfilled its destiny as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India.

The museum, renamed Chhatrapati Shiva ji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), Kala Ghodha, is currently home to 70,000 objects, 26 galleries, and exhibition spaces that match international standards — all of which are managed by a staff of 220. The much sought-after destination attracted a footfall of 10 lakh annually pre-pandemic — tourists, picnickers, school students, art historians, numismaticians and zoologists. It celebrates its centenary this year.

In the pandemic, CSMVS was shut for 16 months, and has survived solely on patronage. It’s a strong reminder of its tumultuous origins. As delayed as its opening was in 1922, the building had been operational since it was completed in 1914. Forgoing its intended purpose, the building first operated as Lady Hardinge Hospital for Indian soldiers in World War I. Then again, during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20. In World War II, the main building of the otherwise functional museum was closed for five years to allow the Red Cross to function. “The history of CSMVS is the history of Mumbai,” says Sabyasachi Mukherjee, its 57-year-old director, who has lived and worked on the campus for the last 15 years. He says, “It was largely people who contributed to the making of the museum. It’s a history that fortunately continues in today’s Mumbai.”

Mukherjee often describes CSMVS as “by the people, for the people”. To start with, the museum opened with a bequest. Ratanji Tata, son of industrialist Jamsetji Tata, had a significant art collection with noteworthy objects, such as The Sword of Damocles (1804) painting by Antoine Dubost, Mughal emperor Akbar’s armour and shield, and folios from an illustrated manuscript of Nala-Damayanti from 1699. TR Doongaji, a trustee of the museum and former managing director of Tata Services Ltd, writes in the Tata Central Archives newsletter in 2021 that of the 5,700 objects at the time of the museum’s opening, over 70 per cent came from this bequest.

A decade later, another bequest followed — Dorabji Tata’s, Ratanji’s elder brother. It had rare pieces from the Ming dynasty, European paintings, and personal memorabilia. The bequests together form the Tata Collection, which celebrates its centenary alongside the museum.

The CSMVS, often mistaken to be a government institution, is in fact an autonomous body unaided by the government. It receives an annual grant from the municipal corporation — a sum of Rs 25,000 since 1922 that was increased to Rs 50,000 in 1970, which has stayed the same since. There was one instance of the Ministry of Culture sanctioning a modernisation grant of Rs 20.3 crore, which was used to create an auditorium, the signage, a conservation centre, a cafeteria and a travelling “museum-on-wheels”, among other improvements.

“We have to move with the times, otherwise youngsters think it’s a dead space. In some parts of India, museums are referred to as ajayab ghar, a place for curios, but people have to understand that this is their own culture preserved here, their guiding force,” says Manisha Nene, director of galleries and general administration at CSMVS.

She cites the instance of CSMVS’s Himalayan Art Gallery, which had great examples of the region’s culture, but once saw few footfalls. Visitors had curiosity but lacked context. To solve the problem, the team spent time in Ladakh and nearby regions, and introduced prayer wheels, audio-visual guides and even a gompa in the gallery. Footfalls rose gradually.

CSMVS was the first Indian museum to introduce audio guides, an idea devised by Kalpana Desai, who became its director in 1996. She recalls, “The museum was centred only around scholars, researchers and curators. We tried to make it a more public-oriented institution.” Now based out of Vadodara, Desai says, much of her time as the director was spent in improving the museum’s infrastructure rather than its collections. The museum’s extension wing used to be “a dingy, jail-like area with walls so weak that they could fall if you blew on them”, Desai recalls. Out of these shambles, a three-storey extension wing was created by architect Rahul Mehrotra and his team in 2002 and funding came from business house Premchand Roychand & Sons.

Desai also saw the museum forced to shed its old colonial name and take on a new one in 1995, under the Shiv Sena government, which was interested in projecting a Maratha association. This was soon after Bombay was changed to Mumbai. Incidentally, CSMVS’s collection has one of the four known portraits of Maratha king Shiva ji, made around 1675 in Bijapur.

When Mukherjee succeeded as director in 2007, his attention turned to the museum collections and collaborations with peers in India and abroad. In 2013, he brought the Cyrus Cylinder from the British Museum for an exhibition of ancient Persian artefacts. The cylinder, from 6th century BC, was displayed alongside a rare Ashokan edict from about 250 BC, discovered in Thane and part of the CSMVS collection. For Mukherjee, this was one of his favourite museum moments—to see the two artefacts, from different regions, conveying ethical codes of behaviour.

“Museums are a symbol of culture and a coming together of different communities. Such experiences motivate people to become part of cultural conversations and help them to respect similarities and differences,” Mukherjee says. CSMVS has shaken off the unfortunate connotations that museums have in India — dusty, poorly lit, spaces for broken objects — and is an institution that has the capacity to pull together different eras and regions. The museum has hosted an eclectic collection from home and the world comfortably under one roof – be it the late Bollywood actor Shammi Kapoor’s memorabilia, a 3000-year-old Egyptian mummy, a 6th century Shiva sculpture discovered in Mumbai, or a Rembrandt and a Rubens.

For the centenary, the museum staff has prepared a mega line-up of exhibitions, lectures, publications and plans for the museum. CSMVS unrolled its centenary celebrations last week with a virtual event, which included an exhibition of its latest acquisition, Thanjavur paintings from the collection of the late Delhi architect Kuldip Singh. Other plans include a 300-seater semi-underground auditorium; a new gallery on the ancient world, in collaboration with the British Museum, Berlin Museum and Mexico Museum, supported by the Getty Foundation; and another gallery on sacred art. CSMVS is also set to strengthen its bond with Mumbai, with the development of a digital archive of the city’s maps and photographs, and a gallery specially dedicated to the city.

As in 2022

Deepthi Sasidharan, February 10, 2022: The Times of India

4 works to see at Chhatrapati Shiva ji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya
From: Deepthi Sasidharan, February 10, 2022: The Times of India
Chhatrapati Shiva ji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya
From: Deepthi Sasidharan, February 10, 2022: The Times of India
Chhatrapati Shiva ji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya
From: Deepthi Sasidharan, February 10, 2022: The Times of India

In 1905, the Prince and Princess of Wales (later George V and Queen Mary) embarked on a tour of India, and a memorial was erected in honour of their arrival. As hundreds gathered at the ‘Crescent Site’ in Bombay (now Mumbai) — a curving bit of land near the calm bay that anchored busy trade shipping — the foundation stone was laid in front of a grand marquee for a grand museum christened the Prince of Wales Museum.

The beautiful Indo-Saracenic structure, with “the three blocks which made up the original design”, was designed by Scottish architect George Wittet. Its Indian pillared hall, elegant jali lattice screens for muted light and its soaring dome is a sight to behold. The whole edifice cost nine lakh rupees (in those days) to be made. But shortly after being operational, World War I broke, an the museum was turned into a makeshift war hospital, Lady Hardinge War Hospital, from 1914-1921.

After the brush with war, came the pandemic. “The 1918 flu spread through international travel, on steamships and trains packed with soldiers returning from World War I. In India, the disease arrived in Bombay on a trooper ship from Mesopotamia (Iraq) in May… The city’s sickest patients were sent to what is today Kasturba Hospital. The Prince of Wales museum was turned into a hospital for returning flu-hit soldiers,” reports TOI.

In 1921, the museum’s core art collections started pouring in from the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, the Anthropological Society, the Bombay Natural History Society and the Tata Collections. In 1921, the Ratan Tata Art collection came in installments, with first the paintings, statues and art from his palatial home, York House, Twickenham, England. Followed by 71 pieces of Venetian glass, 27 jade objects, 313 Indian pictures and 50 paintings from England, among others, in 1923.

In 1915, a valuable collection of ‘Maratha relics’ was also purchased from Purshotam Mawji for Rs. 1,42,500 and, in 1921, a set of “minerals found in Bombay” was gifted to the Museum by Jayme Ribiero. CSMVS received its proto-historic objects and Gandharan sculptures from Takht-i-Bahi, Malakand, Jamal Garhi and Sahr-i-Bahlol a few years later with the subsequent acquisition of the sculptures from historical sites such as Elephanta and Aihole. 

A new city 

In Teaching and Research in Colonial Bombay, John Mathew of Krea University and Pushkar Sohoni, head of the department of the Humanities and Social Sciences IISER, Pune, wrote:

“The city of Bombay was established on economic and mercantile interests and so education itself became a commodity. The broader commercial context in fact shaped its academic contours including the emergence of a museum like the Prince of Wales. With its art and natural history holdings, the museum was a progressive cornerstone that kept pace with the post-war explosion of scientific and industrial establishments that sprang up in the city, like the Royal Institute of Science in 1920, the Institute of Chemical Technology in 1933 for instance.”

Post-independence, the museum grew strength to strength, and today the grand edifice is a Grade 1 heritage structure, making it one of the finest museums in the country. It is home to nearly 70,000 objects ranging from fine art, archaeology to natural history.

It is also home to a conservation laboratory, which functions as the scientific and technical research hub of the museum.

A month before the Covid-19 pandemic made it down its shutters in March 2020, the museum opened two more spectacular galleries dedicated to its numismatics collection and its glittering jewellery holdings.

Dr Usha Balakrishnan, the co-curator of the exhibition, tells this author about a gold hair ornament that was discovered in Elephanta Island in the mid 20th century. The piece, typically referenced in the frescoes at Ajanta, was set with green and white stones, which she presumed were green beryls.

However, when the conservation lab ran some tests, the stones turned out to be green emeralds, and since the only existing mines in that period were found in Egypt, it’s safe to presume that Roman trade dates as far back as fifth and sixth. It was an incredible discovery, catapulting the ornament into one of the top treasures of the museum.

According to Anupam Sah, the head conservation at the museum, “An important highlight of the museum’s conservation journey has been the ability to converse with diverse audiences, communities and indeed the world. Professionals trained in the centre have formed a cohort of conservators around the country and their dialogues have brought new stakeholders into the ambit, including corporate houses wanting to support conservation.”

Sah was brought on board specifically to set up this department, bringing his previous pan-India expertise of what he says is “networking art conservation with other multi sectoral development.” Every museum in India, he says, is mandated to have a preservation space, a potentially powerful role, but few take it seriously.

According to him, earlier the laboratory only preserved and treated artefacts, but by becoming a catalyst for expanded museum activities, including international exhibitions and training programmes, it has helped transform it into a global premier facility.

Their major collaboration is Citi India’s long term flagship partnership with the museum on several fronts including the eight-year-old ConservArte: Citi-CSMVS Art Conservation Project. “As pioneers in support for conservation, Tata Trusts have supported art conservation at the CSMVS from the start,” says Deepika Sorabjee, head, Arts and Culture, Tata Trusts. “In 2004, through a grant for equipment and subsequent support of the Art Conservation Resurgence Project (2012-2015), we saw deeper progress. CSMVS, a beacon in the western region of India, is one of the five partner institutes on the programme.”

As the museum celebrates a centenary year, not only has the museum flourished, it has also focused on refurbishing and restoring the museum building. The historic central hall with its soaring dome has been redone spotlessly.

A wall on the left outlines the institutional history and celebrates the eminent citizens who made this museum a reality a century ago. Attention to international design, pleasing modern colours and new exhibits from the reserve stores await visitors as the third wave recedes in the city and the museum opens its doors again. 
The writer is a museologist, art historian and founder-director at Eka Archiving Services, a private museum advisory firm that works in the museum sector

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