Museum Treasure: The painted Vedas

When I stepped into the paintings gallery of the Government Museum at the Gadh Mahal in Jhalawar, a depressing sight greeted me — flickering fluorescent lights, dusty glass-fronted cabinets, and a general air of neglect. All this combined to ensure that the visibility of the exhibits was poor. The saving grace was the pops of colour on the walls from where the paintings were mounted.

I must admit that I was tempted to turn back without seeing the paintings, but then decided to do a quick round of the gallery — there was always the chance that there would something interesting lurking in the room somewhere. The first set of paintings I saw was a Baramasa, or a set of 12 paintings that depicted a mood and emotion for each month of the year. They were nice, but not particularly exceptional, and I moved on to the next display, a set of four paintings.

And realised immediately that I was seeing something extraordinary and unusual. So much so that I read and re-read the labels accompanying the paintings to reassure myself that the paintings were indeed a pictorial representation of the VedasRig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva — in (zoo) anthropomorphic forms.

Painted Vedas, Government Museum, Jhalawar, Travel, Museum Treasure, Rajasthan
RIG VEDA: The information card accompanying this painting says “Donkey faced God seated in padmasana, he holds veda and rosary in a hand and shown in meaningful posture”. [sic]
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Museum Treasure: Vaikuntha Kamalaja

The Dr. Ramnath A. Podar Haveli Museum at Nawalgarh in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan was built in 1902. Originally a residence and known as Podar Haveli, it was converted into a museum after major renovation and restoration works were undertaken of the frescoes and murals that cover every inch of its exterior and interior walls.

The Haveli Museum, which is over 100 feet long, is supposed to have 750 frescoes on its outer walls, passages, two courtyards and all the rooms in the lower level. Every fresco/mural is detailed and covers themes from mythology to local folk tales to whimsical depictions of everyday life.

Though there were many stunning works of art at the Haveli Museum, there was one that caught my eye — more for the unusual subject than for the quality of art. It was like an Ardhanareeshwara, but instead of the composite image of Shiva and Parvati, it was one of Vishnu and Lakshmi.

Vaikuntha Kamalaja, Vasudeva Kamalaja, Vasudeva Lakshmi, Composite form of Vishnu and Lakshmi Ramnath Poddar Haceli Museum

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Chintamani Lokeshvara , Museum Treasure, Museum Exhibit, Himalayan Art Gallery, CSMVS, Mumbai, Nepal, 19th Century

Museum Treasure: Chintamani Lokeshvara

The Himalayan Art Gallery at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) reopened earlier this year after a period of extensive renovation and restoration. For some reason, I had never entered the gallery in its previous avatar and the re-opening and ensuing write-ups in the newspapers gave me the perfect chance to remedy that.

One rainy afternoon in August this year saw me at the Himalayan Gallery, which has a collection of prayer wheels, a Buddhist shrine, sculptures, jewellery, tangkhas and more, displayed there. The gallery is bright and colourful and the soft Tibetan music played in the gallery transported me to another time and place.

Among all the exhibits on display, what caught my eye was a rectangular wooden plaque, which at first glance seemed to be heavily carved. A second, and closer, glance revealed that not only was the wooden plaque intricately carved, it was studded with gems of all shapes and sizes. The information plaque read: Chintamani Lokeshvara.

Chintamani Lokeshvara , Museum Treasure, Museum Exhibit, Himalayan Art Gallery, CSMVS, Mumbai, Nepal, 19th Century
Chintamani Lokeshvara, Jeweled Plaque, Nepal, 19th Century CE

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Museum Treasure: The Bhu-Varaha at CSMVS sculpture gallery

The sculpture gallery of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) has many treasures within, with some of them being more impressive than the others. One of the “quieter” sculptures is that of a 10th century Varaha from Karnataka.

On my visits to the sculpture gallery, I would give this sculpture — which is about 3.5 feet in height and about 2 feet in width — only a cursory glance, passing it over for other exhibits. It was not until I had to write an assignment as part of my Indian Aesthetics course at Jnanapravaha, where I had to choose one of the sculptures in the gallery that I had my first good look at the Varaha.

And regretted not having paid attention to it before, so rich were the details and the iconography. At the end of my detailed tour of the sculpture gallery, there was no doubt which sculpture I would be writing about. 🙂

P1050175

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Museum Treasure: Silk Money of Khorezm

Q: What does a country do if there is a shortage of paper to print currency?

A: No problem. They print currency on a material they have in abundance.

When the rulers of Khiva of the Khorezm Province in Uzbekistan faced paper shortage at the beginning of the 19th century, they turned to a material they had in abundance —Silk, which was used to print currency of large denominations

Silk Money, Khorezm, Uzbekistan, Museum Exhibit
Silk Money or currency printed on silk

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Museum Treasure: The 8 Shivas

When you enter the sculpture gallery at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) at Mumbai, look to your left. You will see a towering slab of ‘stone’, about 11-12 feet in height. If you stand in front of the slab and position yourself a few feet away from it, this is what you will see.

Mahadeva, Ashta Shiva, Parashiva, Sculpture Gallery, Relief, CSMVS, Museum Treasure, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu SangrahalayaYour eyes will be drawn to the central standing figure and the 6 figures who surround him. Two figures emerge from his shoulders and one rises from behind him. You will notice three more figures emerging from the middle figure — two from his sides and one from behind him. In addition to these 7 figures, you will notice five more figures grouped around the legs of the central standing figure.

Now move closer to see the finer details on the relief.

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