Trying to find cultural places in agriculture-dominated Haryana is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. But then you can always expect life to throw some surprises up sometime. While doing an article on unusual museums in and around, I came across the Urusvati museum. Which is just on the outskirts of Gurgaon, less than 20 km’s from IFFCO Chowk towards Jaipur and only about a km off the national highway. This small hidden gem takes you through the romantic journey of many lovers through paintings and folk tales. And acquaints you with the local culture away from the city chaos.
Places to visit in Gurgaon – Urusvati Museum of Folklore
Housed in a double-story building within a sprawling green patch of land. Almost like an oasis in a desert, this farmhouse-turned museum takes you far away from city life. And takes you through the folklife some real and some mythical. This museum was established in 2002. It is regularly used by schools to introduce children to various art forms. And to provide a platform where artists can get together. Spread over 8000 Sqft there is ample space available for such activities.
Stories in Terracotta Tablets
As you enter the Urusvati Museum, you would see the traditional stories carved in Terracotta tablets which are put on the pillars of the front courtyard. Amongst others, there are stories of Maharana Pratap, Mira Bai, and her beloved Krishna. On some of the tablets, the potter has proudly put his signatures. While others chose to be anonymous. There are paintings on some of the pillars depicting the love stories of yesteryears. There is ample seating arrangement for you to sit and admire the lush green surroundings. Which has a swimming pool, a well, and an Ayurvedic garden?
There are two walking paths. A walkway called Thandi Sadak. And another called Gul Gulfam walk where you can walk surrounded by the tall silver oak trees, with a distant feeling of being in Kashmir.
Sanjhi – Folk Art Form
On the wall of the front courtyard is Sanjhi, a folk art form, rooted in the local beliefs and culture. This is something that took me to my childhood. When my grandmother used to put Sanjhi on the walls of our ancestral home in Punjab, before Dussehra. Sanjhi is a form of Goddess which according to some literature is worshiped by unmarried girls.
As far as I remember, my grandmother used to do this. Because she wished for something. And said if her wish is fulfilled she would put Sanjhi on the walls of her house every year till she is alive. This is how we got to learn about and celebrate Sanjhi with her. All the neighborhood kids used to join the Pooja, sing songs, and wait eagerly for the Prasad that followed.
Folklore about Sanjhi
Some people also say that it is to attract wealth and prosperity that you put Sanjhi on the walls of your house. Now what is interesting about this 9-day long ritual is that you create the Goddess out of clay and cow dung yourself. There are some basic things that you make like her face, moon, sun, stars, birds, animals, and her body. But then you are free to decorate it any which way. You use matchsticks with molded clay to make the sun rays. You can paint these pieces any which way and paint the Goddess in the colors of your choice, with base color being the color of the clay. Cow dung is used as an adhesive to paste all the clay pieces together so that the image of the Goddess is created on the wall.
Memories of Sanjhi
Sometimes a cloth is put on top of the Goddess, but it is optional. After this every evening, there is Pooja, followed by the distribution of Prasad. On a ninth day, the Goddess is taken off the wall and taken to a nearby water body, usually the village pond, and immersed in it. And begins the wait for the Goddess to return the next year. This was my most treasured discovery in this museum. Which connected me with a part of my past that I had almost forgotten. And would have never recalled it if I had not seen a very familiar Sanjhi on the wall.
Displays at Urusvati Museum
On the first and second floors is the main part of the Urusvati Museum. There are various displays of paintings, fabrics, embroidery forms, jewelry, garments, dresses, utensils, dance costumes, headgears, cowbells, musical instruments, and perfume boxes from almost all north Indian states. There are items that were used on specific occasions like the one in Kullu Dussehra. And an attempt to describe the fairs and festivals of the region through the typical rituals and associated things like music and dance. The range of items captures the nuances of the region. And goes beyond what is obviously known about this region.
There are a lot of items that you would typically see at the village fairs. There are artifacts of everyday use which are no longer a part of our daily lives like the ones used to make lassi.
Love stories and folklore are the main themes of this museum. Now there are some famous love stories that we know of like Laila Majnu, Heer Ranjha, Sohni Mahiwal, Shiri Farhad, Sassi Punnu, and Rustam Sohrab, most of which are based in erstwhile Punjab. But have you heard of stories of Usha and Anirudha of Himachal, Habba Khatun of Kashmir, Roopmati Baaz Bahadur of MP, Momal and Mahendra of Rajasthan? Or the stories from Haryana like Nihal de-Nar sultan, Heeramal-Jamaal, and Chap Singh-Somvati. Then there are stories from literature like Nal Damyanti and Shakuntala-Dushyant which have been depicted via miniature paintings. Bringing alive the erstwhile literature and evoking curiosity to read them.
Beyond love stories, there were also other folk stories of the region. About the fakirs and saints and famous people. Parables like Akeh Nandan, which take you back into the past where messages passed through generations through these oral stories. What I found extremely interesting is that all the stories are handwritten in the museum, using calligraphy. On the face of it, it may look like a random observation. But a handwritten word is far more personal and real than a printed page. It almost feels as if the writer is personally telling you the story.
To wrap up your visit, there is a souvenir shop in the museum. Where you can buy items crafted by various craftsmen. I wish there were more items to pick and choose from, especially the one with absolute local flavor. There is an entry fee of Rs 50/- which I think is steep compared to most museums in the country where it hardly exceeds Rs 10/-. But then this is a private museum and funds need to flow in for running and maintenance. Do pick up the booklet on love legends of Haryana published by the museum which has folk stories from Haryana along with beautiful illustrations.
For those living in Gurgaon and around, this is a good place to spend a lazy day not too far from the city. Add the museum to your list of places to visit in Gurgaon.
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