Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum celebrates 150 years in Byculla
A group of eminent British and Indian gentlemen, many of whom were Setts or merchants, gathered at City Hall to launch “an economic museum, with natural history and pleasure gardens”. It was December 15, 1858. The assembly was to decide on a permanent home for a collection of geological specimens, stuffed animals and miscellaneous gifts that was currently housed in City Hall.
The cornerstone of the building – proposed as the Victoria Museum and Garden, then later transformed into the Victoria and Albert Museum, to reflect the public’s loyalty to the Empress and their sympathies for the disappearance of her wife – was laid in 1862 by Sir Henry Bartle Frere, Governor of Bombay. The museum building opened to the public a decade later, claiming its place as the “city museum”. In 1975 it was renamed Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, after the first
Indian town sheriff and co-secretary of the museum committee, on the centenary of his death.
On May 2, this Byculla Museum building will turn 150, marking a milestone in its journey. This weekend, the museum kicks off its anniversary celebrations with outreach activities and exhibits, and honors Maharashtra Day at the same time. On Saturday, Archaeologist Kurush Dalal will talk about the food culture of Maharashtra. Sunday activities include a performance of Maharashtra folk tales by writer and performer Ulka Mayur.
Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, the museum director, said in mid-May that they will commemorate the anniversary with the launch of a book they have been working on for five years. Entitled Mumbai-A City Through Objects, the book is co-published by the museum and Harper Collins. “It examines the history of Mumbai, the evolution of the museum and their intertwined relationship… through a selection of 101 objects from the museum’s collection,” said Zakaria Mehta.
The items chosen range from their natural history collection to the museum’s role in supporting the Swadeshi movement in the 1940s. Sir JJ School of Art, such as Nalini Malani, Atul Dodiya and Reena Kallat.
The Dr Bhau Daji Museum was designed not just as a museum, but as a “hall of wonders” and its accompanying garden as “the garden of delights”, as George Birdwood, the museum’s curator, wrote in 1863 The building was originally designed by William Tracey and was eventually constructed by Messers Scott, McClelland & Co, with numerous modifications to the original design. The building is in the fashion of the Italian Renaissance despite the craze for Gothic at that time, with a central nave, with many cast iron elements, like the galleries of South Kensington in London.
The cornerstone can still be seen today at the ticket office, marking the beginnings of the museum. Between 2003 and 2008, the building underwent a major restoration program as part of a public-private partnership. The project won the 2005 UNESCO Award of Excellence for Heritage Conservation in Asia-Pacific, the highest international honor in this field.