Past Forward

National MuseumVisitors at the National Museum.

Free guided tours at the National Museum is a walk down history lane.

Dating 2500 BC, the unclad dancing girl is considered the most significant find of the Indus Valley civilization.The10.8 cm figure in bronze is one of most well-known artefacts in the collection of the National Museum. So when Kanika Gupta introduces it to the group of eight that had assembled on a sultry afternoon for a tour of the museum, not surprisingly there are expressions of familiarity. Gupta, their guide, has a concrete task to initiate the uninitiated to the masterpieces at the museum. "It is not the visitors' fault if they are apathetic to visiting museums. This is an outreach programme, to inculcate a feeling of ownership among visitors," says Dr Venu V, Director-General of the museum.

The team of 30 guides including young art historians, trained archaeologists, retired professionals; factory owners and homemakers takes visitors on a 90-minute round with 30 halts. Our guide, Gupta, is an art historian and filmmaker. The programme is an opportunity for her to gain experience at the museum. The background in history seems to help. Before each artefact, details of the period are shared as well as that of the subject. We are told that in the early phase of Buddhism, Hinayana, Buddha was represented through symbols. A sculpture from Amravati, during the rule of the Satavahana dynasty (2nd century BC to 2nd century AD), has footprints depicting him in a scene from his birth. In another sculpture, an empty throne symbolises Buddha and in yet another it is the chakra and the lotus. The Gandhara School cast him in a soft black stone with Greek features.

Different parts of the Shivling Bramha, Vishnu and Rudra also generate interest, as does a sculpture with Shiva emerging out of a lingam. There are discussions of a provincial Mughal miniature depicting Dara Shikoh's marriage. We whisk past the textile and arms galleries with vignettes from Indian history, as Gupta manages to complete the tour in the exact time duration. The visitors appear content; the free tour has been worth their while. With thousands of artefacts in the collection, talking about some more might have made the tour more inclusive, but then the attention span of the visitors might be limited.

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