How many times have you seen a museum dedicated to a city or celebrating the diversity of a city? I do not recall any, so, I was very happy when I landed at Bhau Daji Lad Museum at Jijabai Udayan in Byculla East Mumbai. Have been reading about the brilliant restoration of this Mumbai City museum in news. That was one of the primary reasons I wanted to visit it. I wanted to see what a good restoration could do to a century-old museum. I must say I was delighted to see the new avatar of the museum in Mumbai. Though I have not seen the old one. My uncle who has seen it a few decades back and could explain the differences restoration has brought and the originals that still stand.
Visit Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum
As the oldest museum in the city of Mumbai, the museum has seen many avatars. Beginning as Central Museum of Natural History, Economy, Geology, Industry, and Arts in 1855, it was formally opened as Victoria and Albert Museum in 1872. It went by that name till 1975 when it was renamed. And dedicated to one of the key persons involved in bringing up this museum – Dr. Bhau Daji Lad. By doing so the city brought focus to its first Indian Sheriff. Someone who wore multiple hats of a philanthropist, historian, physician, surgeon and served as secretary of the Museum Committee when it was first instituted.
My uncle told me a few stories of the incredible work that Dr. Lad did for the poor in the city. The museum owes its current avatar to the restoration by INTACH. I am curious to know if this is their best restoration work till date.
The building in pistachio green is how it was built – to be a museum. As a collection, it documents everything about the city of Mumbai – the islands that came together to make this iconic city. Small doll sized dioramas showcase all possible communities that lived in Mumbai – both the natives and the migrants. Curator told us that these dolls were specially made for this museum and there are much more that are not on display. In small showcases, it documents the traditional professions and games of the city like basket weavers, potters, barbers, cowherds, bangle seller, dyers etc. The first floor has the history of Mumbai with many ship models on display. There are mythological scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. There are models of all important pilgrim places. This part probably showcases the divine side of the city.
The building interiors itself is stunning. Impeccably maintained old buildings are so charming, even when it is just a big hall with two floors and a few rooms around. The flooring with imported tiles has stories in it; the railing of the staircase still bears the signs of days of Victoria Albert. The busts of founders and contributors stand in the middle of the hall. One of the rooms had a library and again one of the most beautiful I have seen. Another room was hosting an exhibition.
Gems of Museum
We walked out from the back door through a small curio shop to be led to another big one from where I did pick up some lovely bookmarks. However, in the open also lay some precious gems. There was a life-size truck made of ball bearings that are standing in open. There was another exhibition by Valay Shende on Migrating Histories of Molecular Identities. That created scenes from other eras like a line of cans for kerosene distribution using molecules with human portraits as a theme. However, the biggest catch outside the Bhau Daji Lad museum was the Elephant from Elephanta. I have always wondered where is the elephant that gives the island with the famous caves its name. Here it was – in ruins but still standing proudly on the right side of the museum.
There are other old pieces from the roads of Mumbai that now have a permanent place in the museum premises.
Must visit Museum of Mumbai
There are many big and small surprises in the museum. Rather let you discover them for yourself. What I liked most about this museum and would go a long way in keeping it alive is that the place is a living space with exhibitions, workshops, and even some courses. It gives you a reason to come back to it making it a thriving cultural space of Mumbai. It is one of the Tourist places in Mumbai city.
Mumbaikars must visit the museum, especially on weekends when there is a free tour by the curator. Add it to your wish list of Places to visit in Mumbai.
Another Recommended Museum in Mumbai to visit: Mani Bhavan.
More India Museum’s to visit, read on my Travel Blog.