The visit to Istanbul’s Archaeological Museums was the highlight of my trip to there in October 2019. The Istanbul Archaeological Museums is made up of three units — the Istanbul Archaeological Musuem, the Ancient Orient Museum and Tiled Kiosk Museum — and together exhibit over a million artifacts. I could have easily spent a couple of days at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, but time was a constraint and I could explore for just a couple of hours. I was in a daze for most of the visit as the exhibits were about civilisations and cultures I had only heard of and had read about; this was the first time I was getting to see their material remains.
One of the most impressive set of exhibits that I saw were some sarcophagi from the Royal Necropolis at Sidon (present day Lebanon, then part of the Ottoman Empire). These were excavated in the late 19th century and then transported to Istanbul. Though each sarcopagus was different and interesting in its own way, one of them stood out me for the emotions it evoked. Even seven months after my visit to the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, the one exhibit that has immediate recall is the Sarcophagus of the Mourning Women and the subject of this post.
In one of the galleries on the ground floor of the Government Museum, Bengaluru, there is a cordoned off area in the centre which holds a large wooden piece of furniture with delicate inlay work. From the cordon and the placement one would assume that this is an important exhibit and also be a little puzzled by the lack of any information about it. Except for a piece of paper taped on the surface which says “Dressing Table”. That’s it.
It is almost as if the Museum was telling the visitor that now that you know what it is, you can admire it and move on. Or you can attempt to interpret it.
I chose the second option once I saw the details and the theme of the inlay work on the dressing table, which has two distinct parts — the lower simple table with minimal inlay work, and the ornate upper part. The upper part of the dressing table has an elaborate depiction of the Hindu god of love and desire, Kamadeva and his consort, Rati. Both are depicted with bows made from sugarcane stalks and flower tipped arrows. Kamadeva or Manmatha as he is also known as, sports a mustache and is heavily bejewelled. Rati, who is also the goddess of sexual desire and pleasure strikes a bewitching pose. Both are framed in separate panels with very delicate arabesque design on them.
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 Vedas — Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva — in (zoo) anthropomorphic forms.
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.
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.
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. 🙂