Book launch marks 150 years of Dr Bhau Daji Lad museum

The book launched on Tuesday — Mumbai: A City Through Objects, edited by honorary director of the museum Tasneem Zakaria Mehta — is a showcase of 101 artefacts from the museum’s collection
The artefacts include old maps from the 17th century, made with watercolour and ink, and coloured postcards of Bombay from the 18th and 19th century. (Hindustan Times)
The artefacts include old maps from the 17th century, made with watercolour and ink, and coloured postcards of Bombay from the 18th and 19th century. (Hindustan Times)
Published on May 17, 2022 11:15 PM IST
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ByCherylann Mollan

Mumbai’s oldest museum, the Bhau Daji Lad in Byculla, is celebrating 150 years at its current site. The milestone was marked on Tuesday with Maharashtra minister for tourism and environment Aaditya Thackeray launching a book and a special exhibition. Thackeray also discussed moving forward on a pending plan for a museum extension.

The book launched on Tuesday — Mumbai: A City Through Objects, edited by honorary director of the museum Tasneem Zakaria Mehta — is a showcase of 101 artefacts from the museum’s collection. These include old maps from the 17th century, made with watercolour and ink, and coloured postcards of Bombay from the 18th and 19th century. The corresponding exhibition is titled Hall of Wonder.

“The history of the city and the history of the museum are so intertwined. The story we tell in the book, and through the museum, is not a grand history of battles and emperors. It’s the history of ordinary people, the common man — the crafts people, industrialists, merchants and shopkeepers who built this city,” Mehta says.

The museum originally opened at Fort in the 1850s. In 1872, it was reopened in Byculla as the Victoria and Albert, Bombay, a reference to the corresponding institution in London. It was renamed after the Indian polymath Dr Bhau Daji Lad, a physician, Sanskrit scholar and antiquarian, in 1975.

From 2003 to 2008, the museum underwent an award-winning conservation and restoration, a joint effort by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation.

“It was an early example of a successful public-private partnership model for conservation,” says conservation architect Vikas Dilawari, who worked on the project, which was helmed by Mehta. “This building set a very high benchmark for conservation at the time and helped in triggering a larger conservation movement in the city.”

The museum restoration won a UNESCO award for excellence in conservation in 2005, still the only building in the city to have won this award.

Even if you think you know the city, the museum is worth a visit. “There are so many rare artefacts on display here, like the elephant of Elephanta, old maps, and the limit stones of Bombay. In the ’60s there was a wave of nationalism and many statues of European figures were moved here as well, from public areas. They stand in the museum courtyard,” says Bharat Gothoskar, founder of the heritage outreach organisation Khaki Tours.

“Moving forward, we’d like to work on using digital mediums to enrich the in-person experience,” says Mehta. “A QR code could take one into layers of information about an artefact, videos and curator interviews. With funds and an enabling environment, we can do a lot more.”

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