The National Museum (NM), situated at the junction of Janpath and Maulana Azad Road, New Delhi, is one of the biggest museums of India. The museum showcases diverse articles, ranging from the pre – historic age to the modern day art. The collection of the museum also boasts of 200000 samples of artwork (both foreign and Indian), spanning a period of over 5000 years. The National Museum of the History of Arts, Conservation and Museology, an accredited University since 1989, offering Doctorate and Masters level courses in the diverse streams of art, such as History of Art, Conservation of Art and Restoration of Art, is, also a part of the National Museum. The National Museum, originally situated in the premises of the Rashtrapati Bhawan, was inaugurated by Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, the then Governor General of India, on 15th August, 1949. The foundations for the modern day National Museum were laid by Jawharlal Neheru, on 12th May, 1955, the then Prime Minister of India, with the subsequent formal inauguration on 18th December, 1960. The present day National Museum is under the supervision of the Department of Culture, Ministry of Human Resources, and financed by the same authoritative body.
The project of the National Museum in chronicling the diverse forms of art in india:
The National Museum Institute (NMI) has embarked on the arduous project of implementing a thorough research and categorizing the various art forms of India, inclusive of performing arts. The Department of Museology, under NMI, has already commenced flagship projects in remote areas like the plains of western Uttar Pradesh and the Ladakh Mountains. As evident from the statements of Venu V, Director General, NM, “We have started listing the intangible cultural heritage elements of these two regions. They will be models for other such study”. It is to be mentioned here, that the NMI is a functionary under the supervisions of NM. The flagship projects kicked off with the inauguration of an event, involving the communities of the Sikhera Village (Meerut) and Gya village, Ladakh. The events took place on October 17th in both the locations, in congruence with the 10th year celebrations of the Paris pact with UNESCO, pledging to incorporate safeguarding polices, for the ICH (Intangible Cultural Heritage). Efforts were made to increase the synergy between the high school students of this area with the elders. As per the statements of Manvi Seth, Assistant Professor, NMI, “The basic aim is to make the students aware of and interested in the activity. We are creating an opportunity for them to learn from their cultural environment”.
The NMI was proactive in animating the ethnic existing culture of Sanjhi, a conspicuous arrangement of ethnic concepts and designs, to mark auspicious occasions, like ceremonies and life-cycle. Sanjhi is an existing ethnic art form, frequent not only in the said regions, but also the rest of the country. As stated by Professor Seth, “We hosted demonstration of the creation of art forms and laced it with narration of stories besides associated myths and legends”. Following a communication session, to improve synergy among the different members of the community, including schoolchildren and the propagators of the Sanjhi art form, Professor Seth further added, “We have identified the village women and elders as a part of the ICH documentation”.
The project of the National Museum in chronicling the diverse forms of art in Ladakh:
The Gya village, located amidst the Karakoram Mountain Ranges in the upper Indus Valley, witnessed similar communicative sessions with participants attending from various parts of Ladakh. Five elders from this region were found to possess invaluable knowledge of the cultural and social heritage pertaining to the said region, who, incidentally, has been marked to be chronicled as a part of the ICH. These individuals were given chances for delivering lectures, mainly in the form of stories, associated with the celebration of the Losar (Buddhist New Year), and other heritage aspects like handicrafts, and the science of herbal medicines (Amchi), so frequently practiced in the said region. The event witnessed the participation of fifteen students belonging to the Student’s Education and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, between the age group of 16 to 18 years. The group of participating students was mainly from the different areas of Ladakh, inclusive of some schoolchildren from the Gya village itself. Highlighting the participation of the students, to be an encouraging example, Dr Seth had commented, “The students are from rural areas, it is only the pursuit of modern education that leads them to live away from their environment”.
This event was also attended by Stanzin Dorjay, accredited with the rare acknowledgment of shooting the first ever documentary made on Ladakh. Born and brought up in Gya village, Dorjay has also the credits of shooting several other documentaries, reflecting the cultural and environmental issues associated with Ladakh. The events were recorded using full HD cameras and the resulting footage is supposed to be edited into five separate and short films for the purpose of uploading on the Internet, as confirmed by the NMI officials.
The flagship projects of NMI on ICH has received full cooperation of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), which has the concurrent interests of protecting the ICH of Ladakh, so vulnerable and threatened, in the face of the growing tourism industry and the wave of globalization. As a part of the project, NMI offered members of the numerous monasteries in Ladakh, a comprehensive training on the different aspects of museology, through a six day workshop, because many of these monasteries double as museums of the heritage of Buddhism, the predominant religion of this area. With the monastery museum personnel, equipped with proper training, the cataloguing of the ICH of this region will be relatively easier. As commented by Dr. Venu V on this issue, “True the area has several monasteries, some of which serve as museums on the local Buddhist religion, art and culture. Maybe more such heritage repositories are set to open, but NMI is helping them adopt new techniques of conservation, display and documentation”. Stressing on the fact that the training programs have been furnished exclusively to meet the necessities of the Ladakh region, Dr. Seth of NMI commented, “We have identified three remote villages in the region; work is already on in Gya. The broad topics being covered in this module are around documentation (of museum objects and ICH), preventive conservation and security”. While Dr Seth confirmed that invaluable data has been assimilated from the Gya venture of the NMI, two more villages, namely, Chiktan and Skurbachan have been demarcated for NMI studies. The Leh based organization, LADHC, is actively seeking cooperation of the different concerned organizations, operating in Ladakh, to secure a collaborative effort of setting up of the proposed heritage museum in Leh. The Ladakh ICH project had commenced on September, 2012 and within a 14 months period, the endeavors of NMI are visibly reflecting in the attitudes of the residents of this area, who seem to be determined in advocating their rich cultural heritage. Dr. Venu is naturally proud of the culturally conscious population of this region, because the conservation of the heritage of this region involves two phases. While the monks and the monasteries are functional in preserving the structural heritage, the general population proves to be the conservators of the other side of the ICH, through their collective remembrance of folklore, ceremonies and communions. It is evident, that a culturally conscious population will undoubtedly prove to be an indispensable apparatus, for safeguarding the ICH of this region.
The attempts of NMI in cataloging the various art forms of our country including performing arts, which in turn are the torchbearers of the rich heritage of this nation, is no doubt, an extraordinary and path breaking attempt in the history of museological endeavors. Such a feat is being attempted for the first time in the history of our nation, and it is a tedious process, no doubt. If we only consider the individual mother tongues of our country, it will amount to several hundreds. Consequently, the art forms of such a diverse country are seemingly endless. NMI’s noble endeavors will take a long time to be complete, but the results will be a detailed chronicle of the ICH of our nation, an invaluable gift of the NMI, to our country.