Mumbai, once known as Bombay is the city of contrasts. It is home to the billionaires of India and also to some of the poorest who live on the streets. Here you will find people working for hours to make their ends meet. In addition, you’ll find people just sitting idle watching the crowd pass by. Mumbai provides a view of the modern India but still retains its history. In this three-part series, we explore the history of Mumbai. Before I proceed, I would like to thank the museum officials for their quick email note. In addition, for allowing me to take pictures and for providing me guided tour and sharing information. All images are courtesy of Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum and clicked without using any camera flash.
Located right in the heart of the city is Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, earlier known as the Victoria & Albert Museum. The museum is right next to the Jijamata Udyaan. Earlier known as Rani Baug (Queen’s Garden) or Victoria Garden. It is likely that you might have missed this building standing here for over a century.
A Little Back in Time
The concept of this museum was born in London somewhere around 1850. Bombay then was growing rapidly and was the richest trading town in India. A city museum was vital to celebrate and honour the country’s rich cultural traditions. A museum which would reflect the diversity of culture and traditions in Bombay.
The Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum opened in 1857 and it is the oldest museum in Bombay. It is the third oldest museum in India after Indian Museum (1814) in Kolkata and Madras Museum (1851) in Chennai.
In 1851 the first ‘Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations’ took place in London’s Crystal Palace. It was during the preparation time of this event that Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria decided that it would be ideal to display the industrial arts and crafts of the British colonies to the world to boost Britain‘s trade.
In 1855, the “Central Museum of Natural History, Economy, Geology, Industry and Arts” museum came up in Town Barracks. Replica of the beautiful arts and crafts sent to the Great Exhibition from the Bombay Presidency became the highlights of the museum’s core collection.
In 1858, the Crown took over the governance of India from the East India Company. Many active citizens of Bombay were of the opinion that a public institution needs to be built in Bombay.
Affluent and honourable citizens of the city attended the public meeting at the Town Hall. People from different communities including Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis were present here. Jagannath Shankar Sheth, one of the eminent merchants of Bombay chaired the meeting. The meeting focused on the collection of funds for the construction of the museum building.
Dr Bhau Daji Lad and Dr George Birdwood were the secretaries of the Museum Committee. They were in charge of raising funds to establish the building and also to enlarge the museum collection. Due to lack of funds, the museum building took ten years to construct. Dr Bhau Daji Lad was at the lead of urging citizens to donate generously to the museum.
On the other hand, Dr George Birdwood designed the original layout of the building. The basic design of the museum would include a long hall and Doric pillars inside. The design also includes galleries on either side of the building and large windows for light and ventilation. Architects of Scott McClelland and Company approved the building design. They retained many of the Birdwood’s original designs.
A lot of thought went into creating the design of the building. Bombay being the richest city in India, the design has to dazzle the citizens. On the other hand, the design must reflect and showcase the Empire’s might. Dr Birdwood chose the Grand Renaissance Revival style to design the building.
On November 19, 1862, Governor Bartle Frere laid the cornerstone of the Museum. The event attended by the elite citizens of the city. On May 2, 1872, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bombay was opened to the public.
However, things didn’t go well with the museum after India’s Independence. The second part of the series will be about the historic revival of Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum.
Enjoy the photographic tour of the museum below:
The grand structure standing in the middle of the long hall certainly deserves some attention so here are some shots of it.