Indian Museum in Kolkata: India’s oldest and largest museum

Hitaishi Majumder | Live the World

November 23, 2022

The Indian Museum in Kolkata is the oldest in the entire Asia-Pacific region and the ninth-oldest museum in the whole world. India's largest cultural institution, the Indian Museum is more than two centuries old, having celebrated the bicentenary of its establishment in 2014. The grand old museum that is spread across 930 square meters has 35 galleries and boasts more than 100,000 collectables distributed over six major sections- Art, Archaeology, Anthropology, Geology, Zoology, and Economic Botany. From contemporary paintings to Egyptian mummies, from ancient sculptures to the sacred relics of Gautama Buddha, the Indian Museum has something in store for every visitor who is keen on cultural dissemination.

The history of the Indian Museum

© Wikimedia Commons/ Biswarup Ganguly

The Asiatic Society of Bengal laid the foundation stone of the Indian Museum inside the Asiatic Society building at Park Street, Kolkata, in 1814. This is why the museum went by the name, the Asiatic Society Museum back then. The Danish botanist Nathaniel Wallich not only served as the museum’s founding curator but also donated botanical specimens out of his own prolific collection. In 1867, the construction of the magnificent white building that houses the museum today began. The famous architect W.L.Grandville designed the splendid structure in the Neoclassical style, and the Indian Museum officially shifted to its new abode in 1875. However, it was only on 1st April 1878, that the museum opened its doors for the public at its new address near the New Market area in the heart of Kolkata.

The Indian Museum today...

© Wikimedia Commons/ Biswarup Ganguly

The Indian Museum houses its huge collection of artifacts spread across three floors. Upon entering the museum, you will find the Bharhut Gallery on your right. This gallery exhibits historically significant architectural remains dating back to the first century BCE. From here, you can make your way to the first floor that has the enthralling Paintings Gallery. It is a treasure trove of awe-inspiring miniature paintings from the Mughal period in India along with modern period masterpieces from the stalwarts of the Neo-Bengal school of painting. Be it Gaganendranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Abdur Rehman Chugtai, or the great Jamini Roy, you name a modern Bengali artist, and you will find his creation here. The Coin Gallery at the Indian Museum is another must-visit. At more than 52,000, the Coin Gallery at the Indian Museum has the largest collection of Indian coins in the whole world.

© Wikimedia Commons/ Biswarup Ganguly

And then, there is the famous Egypt Gallery that is always the center of attention. This gallery has a 4000-year old Egyptian mummy, which is one of the six mummies that are currently on exhibit across India. The Egypt Gallery is home to a cluster of stunning Egyptian antiquities and offers a peek into the ancient Egyptian civilization. Apart from these, there are also several other galleries belonging to the zoological, botanical, art, and archaeology sections, with rich and fascinating collections of their own.

How and when to visit the Indian Museum

© Flickr/ Paul Miller

The Indian Museum is well-connected to the rest of the City of Joy. If you want to avail the Kolkata Metro, the nearest metro station is Park Street from where the Indian Museum is located about 350 meters away. You can also avail state-run or public buses to visit the museum. And then, there’s always the iconic yellow ambassador taxis of Kolkata for a day out in the city. You can take a tour of the Indian Museum between 10 AM and 6:30 PM from Tuesday to Friday. On Saturdays and Sundays, the museum remains open from 10 AM to 8 PM. The museum remains closed for visitors on Mondays and Indian national holidays which are listed on the museum’s official website.

Indian Museum: an institution of eminence

© Archi Sengupta

Did you know that it was the zoological section at the Indian Museum that led to the shaping of a Government of India organization called the Zoological Survey of India? The Indian Museum is not only a museum. It is a sanctuary of knowledge that has been a witness to the changing times for two centuries now and has left its mark on the cultural landscape of not just Kolkata but the whole of India. On your trip to Kolkata, a visit to India's oldest and largest museum is a must.

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