Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya was founded in 1905.
One of my favourite places to visit for a spot of culture is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. One of the finest examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture in Mumbai, it has winding staircases and labyrinthine rooms filled with objects spanning centuries and from around the world.
The sheer breadth of the collections can often make it hard to appreciate the intricacies of the objects and, surprisingly often, the humour the artists have worked into their creations. Luckily, I was able to get a few people who work there and know the collections inside-out to tell me about their favourite objects so I can keep an eye out for them on my next trip.
Nilanjana Som: Assistant Curator (Art)
Favourite object: Dvarapala Yaksha from Pitalkhora, on display in the Sculpture Gallery on the ground floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.
“I am sure this object comes to life at night. It is probably the most alive sculpture in the Museum. This gigantic Dvarapala Yaksha, who at his time was guarding cave no. 3 at Pitalkhora in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, is one of the finest icons of early Indian art. Pitalkhora, Elephanta, and other cave and temple art from this region may never get their due credit in the chapters of Indian art history, but one can see these fine sculptures of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu art at CSMVS.”
Divya Pawathinal: Senior Curatorial Assistant
Favourite object:Suzuri Bako (writing box) from Japan, on display in Japanese Art section of the Chinese and Japanese Art Gallery on the second floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.
“Spread in showcases in the Chinese and Japanese Art Gallery, these writing boxes are my favourite. Made of lacquer, these were boxes made for storing writing materials. The decorations of landscapes, animals, or trees on these are very skilful. The most curious thing is that the cover image will not be similar to the interior images. The small water pots in these boxes have most intriguing shapes. Being a curator, whenever I get to hold these it is always awe-inspiring and I always find a new detail.”
Vineet Kajrolkar: Project Assistant
Favourite object: David and Abigail by Erasmus Quellinus II, on display in the Dorab Tata Gallery on the second floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.
“This mesmerising painting has small surprises hidden in it: the sleeve of a soldier looks like a goblin’s face, David’s shoe is embroidered with a lion’s head, and his helmet has a beautiful swan on it. But the most appealing, to a foodie like me, is the variety of meats and freshly baked breads fallen out of Abigail's basket.”
Vaidehi Savnal: Coordinator, International Relations
Favourite object: Snuff Bottles from China, on display on the second floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.
“While walking into the gallery of the Far Eastern collections, one cannot but help pause at the entrance to look at two cases filled with little snuff bottles of every colour, design, and material imaginable. These bottles, that would fit in the palm of your hand, date back nearly 300 years to when court officials of the Qing dynasty and the common people alike would have carried them around for an occasional whiff of snuff. What makes these snuff bottles utterly fascinating are the sheer variety of designs - common symbols derived from legends, religion, or superstition and still others that are, well, just plain kitsch — like the one in the image, which is my favourite.”
Renuka Muthuswami: Project Coordinator
Favourite object: Assyrian reliefs from the palaces of Ashurnasirpal II and Tiglath Pilsier III, on display in the mezzanine floor near the Pre and Proto History Gallery of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.
“I always stop dead in front of the Assyrian reliefs. The incompletion of the fragments creates a sense of a certain uneasiness that I cannot resist. One knows why one must value the mysteries of all that is historical, but not quite why one is drawn to it.”
Bilwa Kulkarni: Education Officer
Favourite object: Mahishasuramardini from Elephanta, on display in the Sculpture Gallery on the ground floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.
"Even though the top portion of this sculpture is missing, the rest is exquisitely carved. What draws me most to it is the stark juxtaposition of delicate femininity represented in the curvaceous body of the goddess and the sheer power that she exudes with her foot placed firmly on the demon and her vice-like grip on his jaw. To me, it is the ultimate symbol of feminine energy that can be just as gentle and nurturing as it can be aggressive and brutal if messed around with!"
Kinjal Babaria: Senior Education Associate
Favourite object: Head of a Damsel from Akhnoor, Kashmir, on display in the Central Foyer.
"I find this head of the damsel to be the most beautiful object in the museum's collection. The finesse with which the artist has sculpted this head is marvellous. Her curls and the crocodile hair ornament she is wearing are the cherry on the cake!"
Krutika Chaudhari: Museum on Wheels Associate
Favourite object:Ivory carvings from the 18th century, on display on the second floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.
"I like ivory carvings. This one is unique in its composition with metal, stone, and ivory, all used together to form a musician."
Bhavdatt Patel: Administration Officer
Favourite object: At the Crossroad by Emil Rau, on display in the Ratan Tata Gallery on the second floor of the Heritage Wing of the Museum.
"Not being from an art background, I can only give a layman's perspective. I often go back to this painting because I find the composition and the intensity of it very captivating."
Rajesh Poojari: Conservator
Favourite object:Ashokan Edict (No. 9) from Sopara near present-day Mumbai, on display in the Sculpture Gallery on the ground floor of the Heritage wing of the Museum.
"This edict is important to the world because it is one of the earliest references of the rules bestowed by a king of ancient India. The edict is written in the Prakrit language and Brahmi script. It is also close to my heart because I was lucky to work on the conservation of this treasure."
—By arrangement with thecitystory.com