In the heat of Hyderabad, one afternoon I went to the Nuabat Pahad with a thought to write about everything there – Birla Mandir, Birla Science Museum, and the Birla Planetarium. I obviously did not expect much at the science museum. And having seen other planetariums, I did not expect anything much different there. Since it was afternoon, I decided to do the museum and the planetarium first. As I reached the ticket window, I figured out there is a gallery of modern art as well. So I bought all the tickets and proceeded to the museum with an aim to finish it before the planetarium show starts.
Birla Science Museum & Planetarium – Places to visit in Hyderabad
Walking towards the museum building, I saw stone sculptures scattered all around in lawns, in between spaces and making it a cultural space. The museum building is a modern glass and steel building. But the path leading to it has a pillared wall that brings in the Indian element in the space. I entered the hall to find there are many floors of the museum and decided to start with the science museum floor. It is not really a museum, but an experimental place. Where the simple principles of science are demonstrated through simple equipment and processes. Most of the principles that we have studied in school are here for you to see, learn first hand and enjoy.
You can play with the equipment. Enjoy the illusions, see the colors, float the balls, create patterns, dance in the air and re-live your school days. Most equipment is simple but in working condition. If you cannot figure out anything, ask the helper there. He would show you how it works. By the time I finished this floor, it was time for the show at the planetarium. Which was a usual show that you can skip if you have seen it earlier? Otherwise, it is a good experience to sit back on recliners and look at the simulated sky and take a walk through the solar system, milky way and draw the constellations.
Institute of Culture
As I came out of the show I saw a board of Institute of culture and went to check it. And was delighted to see a huge library on archeology, art and art history. I was taken to a gallery of modern art for more information. It was a delight to see the displays that very wisely use the available space and display art through various mediums. A young boy in fiber welcomes you at the entrance, followed by other models in metals and then a stage like a place designed with terracotta on the theme of Vishwaroop of Sri Krishna enthralls you. This creation is really impressive and has been done by the artists in situ. A board explains each piece and its part as the Vishwaroop of Lord Krishna.
I could spend hours looking at it, but in the interest of time, I walked around and saw paintings. And was pleasantly surprised to see a painting by Gurcharan Das amongst other noted painters. Curator of the gallery was kind enough to point me to the basement where there was a collection of paintings by Iqbal Hussain. A storytelling style on the themes of Ramayan and Mahabharata using only watercolors on paper with amazing vibrancy and clarity. Next time I need to go with more time to see them in detail.
I went back to the science museum building and went to the basement to see the archaeology gallery. Again impressed by the collection, its maintenance, its display and the helpfulness of the staff. I began with the gallery of the personal collection of Nirmala Birla that included the porcelain collection of household items and dolls. The doll collection is huge and some of them are limited edition. A full display of white dolls will mesmerize you. The Lladro Porcelain collection is worth admiring. I especially loved the colorful Spanish lady in a standing pose. The ivory gallery is also amazing and includes everyday use objects, paintings, carved deities, and stories carved in whole tusks.
Then there are collections in jade, cut glass, wood, mother of pearl, Bidri work, metal work. There were objects from around the world like Chinese jade tabletop and folk figures, Japanese flower vases and some African displays. Each display had proper lighting and clean objects places in a manner that you can fully appreciate them. Indicating regular maintenance.
Archeological Gallery at Birla Science Museum & Planetarium
The archeological gallery has stone sculptures, potteries, iron objects, terracotta figurines excavated from the places in the region like Kurnool, Warangal, Krishna District, Mehboobnagar, Karimnagar. There is even a child fossil to see. There are engraved pillars with half medallions, sculptures of Jain Teerthankaras some of which are in dark porous stone, a stupa made of towering Teerthankaras, various Saptamatrika panels, Yakshini, Bhairava, Surya and Vishnu figures. Smaller sculptures have been wonderfully displayed on small altars on the wall.
The Wooden gallery has a huge carved model of the temple gopuram with a Dashavatar door. There are other carved panels with themes like Gajalakshmi, doors, carved pillars, bell stands with Yali figures and Padmavalis, all in dark ebony color.
Bronze Gallery & Tanjore Paintings
The bronze gallery has the famous south Indian bronze collection, and the displays are categorized into themes. There is a collection of Tanjore paintings with some half-finished ones, Deccan or Wanaparthy miniature paintings, Kalamkari paintings. Handwritten manuscripts including one on horses in Gurmukhi besides the Ramayana, Bhagwata, Kalpasutra, Yajurveda in Devanagari and Firdausi Shahnama in Arabic. There are some palm leaf manuscripts as well. Then there are Ganjifa cards, a collection of ancient locks and other everyday use items and a mandatory gallery of arms that I always tend to skip.
On one of the walls, there is stupa re-created out of the actually broken pieces of a stupa and I found it very tastefully done. I was really impressed by the upkeep and the management of these galleries. The security guards were not only courteous but knew about the collections. In fact, as they spotted me looking attentively at the objects, they made sure that I have seen the most peculiar items. In the Nataraja display, I almost missed a peculiar price where the Nataraja is upside down balanced on his left hand. The guard made sure I noticed it. Another one showed me a scene depicted in the ivory paintings and the mythological stories carved in them.
They also knew the patrons i.e. the Birlas and would tell stories about them like when they come, where they stay, what they do. Rarely in India have I found employees so engaged with the employer and the work!
Dinosaur Leg Bones at Birla Science Museum
The top floor of this building houses a dinosaurian with a life-size display of a dinosaur, much like you see in natural history museums. There are a few fossils of trees and dinosaurs that are also on display. Next floor houses two dioramas – one of Antarctica and the other of underwater excavations for the lost city of Dwarka. You can know about underwater archeology a bit here.
I think this is a gem of a place with a misplaced name. Why do they still call it a Science Museum, when it has a brilliant collection of ancient art, modern art, and archeological artifacts? Unfortunately, they do not allow any photography and even their website has very limited pictures.
A must visit for everyone living in or visiting Hyderabad.
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