Amid the hustle and bustle of Mumbai stand some stately
buildings, remnants of the British Raj. Among them is that of the Prince
of Wales Museum, named after Prince George (Later George V) who visited
India in 1905 and laid the foundation stone of the building.
Not far from the museum, its architect George Wittet also built the famous Gateway of India on the seafront, near the Taj Mahal Hotel. Through the arch the Prince made his royal entrance to India as King George V for the Delhi Darbar in 1911.
Designed by George Wittet, the foundation stone was laid in 1905 by the visiting Prince of Wales. The building was completed in 1914, converted to a military hospital during World War I, and finally opened in 1923 by Lady Lloyd, the wife of Sir George Lloyd, then governor.
Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, the facing is done in
yellow and blue stones quarried from the Mumbai region. The dome is
modeled after the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, Karnataka. It incorporates a
variety of details from different Indian styles, small bulbous cupolas on
towers, Saracenic arches with Muslim 'Jalis' as fillers, semi-open
verandahs and Rajput 'Jharokhas'.
The structure forms a long rectangle of three storeys, raised in the centre to accommodate the entrance porch. Above the central arched entrance rises a huge dome, tiled in white and blue flecks, supported on a lotus-petal base. Around the dome is an array of pinnacles, each topped by a miniature dome. Indian motifs such as brackets and protruding eaves are combined with so-called Islamic arches and tiny domes.
The plan of the Museum is simple, with a central hall from which the staircase leads to the two upper floors with galleries branching out on the right and left. An extension on the right-hand side of the main building (as you stand facing its front entrance) houses the natural history section. The second floor houses the Indian miniature-painting gallery, the pride of the museum, and next to it are the galleries of decorative art and, to the left of the central well of the staircase, the gallery of Tibetan and Nepali art. Above, on the second floor are the European painting, armoury and textile galleries.
There's a lot to see in the Prince of Wales Museum and one'll be doing oneself a disservice if one rush to see it all in one go. To walk around the key gallery is like experiencing 5,000 years of Indian art in a capsule.
An excellent collection of Indian miniature paintings
occupies much of the second floor, but they're poorly presented apart from
those displayed in helpful thematic groups. Some superb examples of the
19th century Pahari School of Painting displayed in the museum are Shiva
and Parvati (Kangra), Uma worshipping Shiva and a second Lord Shiva and
Goddess Parvati (Guler, 18th century), in which Parvati is offering Shiva
a garland of skulls as if it were as beautiful as one made of flowers.
Krishna with the Cows Herds (Garhwal, 18th century) and the work drawing of the holi Festival (Kangra, 19th cantury) shows Krishna and his friends throwing colour on Radha and her companions to celebrate the spring festival of Holi.
Other paintings of importance on display include Aurangzeb reading the Quran, which is also spelt as Koran, (Pahari, Jammu), the painting of Raja Balwant Deva with his Barber (Jammu, 18th century), one can almost read the Barber's thought's, the painting of the Lady with an Attendant and a Peacock (Pahari, Kangra, 1775) is remarkably beautiful and lyrical work.
There are some typical examples of Deccan School of Paintings that have pale green, mineral-coloured backgrounds with figures placed squarely in the foreground. The collection of paintings from Bundi, of the 18th century, in this gallery deals with the theme of love.
This floor also has fine examples of Nepalese and Tibetan
art, including a beautiful l2th century Maitreya, with his head surrounded
by a halo, slightly inclined. The gentle, sensuous curves of the torso are
draped in garments and jewelled chains to suggest texture and movement.
The Tata family, a large industrial house with interests in the sciences and the arts, donated the collection displayed in The Nepal and Tibet gallery. The Buddhist and Hindu images in metal are gilded, and studded with gems. Statuettes of Tara, the Buddhist goddess of compassion, Vajradhara, Lord of the Thunderbolt, and of Lakshmi Narayana are studded with turquoise, ruby and diamond. Most beautiful of all is tiny Avalokitesvara from Nepal, of the 17th century.
For those interested in glass, jade and porcelain, the gallery on the second floor presents an extensive collection of art objects donated by Sir Ratan Tata and Sir Dorab Tata. The collection includes objects carved in rock crystal, metal ware and lacquered woodwork.
There are samples of Indian jewellery and object in silver, enamelled jars and 'Hookah' stands. Some jade objects and samples of Bidri work are also on display. One can also find fine examples of elaborate ivory work from Japan, like the Cock on a Tree, with feathers of ivory. There is also a collection of weaponry and a section devoted to porcelain and glassware-much of it from China.
It also contains two galleries of largely European oil paintings, including three murky Constables, a Bonnington and a Gainsborough. On entering this area it immediately becomes clear that European art historians dubbed Indian paintings 'miniatures' because they were familiar with.
Rather charming are the two portraits of Lady Ratan Tata and Lady Dorabji Tata, which, if viewed from a distance look exactly like portraits of English ladies, complete with gloves and fans, dressed in the fashion of their British rulers.
On the mezzanine level, there's a small gallery devoted to
Indian prehistory and protohistory. It consists largely of primitive tools
and ornaments excavated by Sir John Marshall in Mohenjodaro in 1922.
On the first floor central balcony of the museum are displayed objects of decorative art in ivory, silver and wood of the late 18th and the 19th centuries. Some paintings have also been displayed in this area, which leads the visitor into the picture gallery.
The latter is divided by partitions to create enclosed cubical spaces. The paintings, donated by various patrons, from one of India's best public collections of work, representative of many styles and schools. At the entrance of the gallery, to the left, in the first cubicle, is an illustrated manuscript of the 'Kalpasutra' and the 'Kalikacharyakatha' of western India, dated to the end of the 15th century.
In the ground floor gallery are impressive local sculptures
from Elephanta Island, Parel, Thane and Jogeshwari. The Elephanta
sculptures include a composed four-headed Brahma, a dramatic portion of
the Buffalo Demon being killed by Devi, and a fragment of Lord Shiva and
Goddess Parvati accompanied by a splendid dwarf.
Much of the sculpture collection consists of works from 11th and l2th century Gujarat and Karnataka. There's also a sizeable collection of classical Gandhara Buddhas, including a series of well-labelled miniature panels showing scenes from the enlightened one's life. Other notable sculptures include four beautiful red sandstone 6th and 7th century ceiling reliefs from Huchchappayya-Gudi in Aihole, Karnataka. There are terracotta's of the Indus valley Civilisation: animal sculptures and figurines including a mother with a child suckling at her breast. Some sample terracotta's of the pre-Mauryan to Gupta periods in the pinched and hand moulded style are also on display. The Natural History Section The Natural History Section was added to the museum from the collection of the Bombay Natural History Society. This section on the ground floor has a large selection of Indian birds, a low-tech but educational exhibit on snakes, and stuffed examples of the usual suspects ranging from rhinos to monkeys and lions to deer. The highlight is definitely the freakish 20-foot-long Saw Fish that must have shocked fishermen when they hauled it up in their nets in the waters off Government House in 1938. All the exhibits are well labeled.
Timings: 10.15 am to 6.00 pm
Closed On: Mondays.
Mumbai being the capital city is well connected by air, rail and road with the important places within and beyond the state. For local transportation taxis, city buses and local trains are available. The Churchgate (Western Railway) and C.S.T. (Central Railway) are the nearest railway stations.
Accommodation is available at the hotels in Mumbai.