On my recent visit to Mumbai, I happened to spend some time exploring the Bhau Daji Lad museum in Byculla. The interiors of the museum are a treat to the eye and I recommend it a must visit to museum buffs. Some movies have also been shot here and have lent a glamour appeal to the place.
History of the museum
Bhau Daji Lad museum is the first colonial building to be built to house a museum and also holds the proud distinction of being the oldest museum in Mumbai. It was set up in 1857 and named after the first Sheriff of Mumbai who also happened to be a historian, physicist and a surgeon.
By 1997, the museum was in such a sad state of dereliction, that it prompted INTACH to work on restoring it to its former glory. They signed up with the Jamnalal Bajaj foundation and MCGM to set about the task of sprucing up the museum.
The refurbished museum was inaugurated in January 2008 and opened to public from then on.
Intrigued? Pin it for later
Architecture & Interiors of the museum
The original plan of the building was devised by George Birdwood and subsequent modifications were added to it by the engineers working on the construction.
The Grand Renaissance Revival Style was used to base the design of the building on, to fully impress the citizens with the grandeur of the first museum. The Palladian exterior of the building is complimented by the High Victorian style interiors which by itself was a rare sight in India.
Many of the integral interior elements were imported from England to make this a truly unique specimen of 19th century architecture.
The museum opens into a large rectangular hall in the center which is flanked on either sides by rows of Doric pillars and viewing galleries. The large windows provide ample light and ventilation, lending to an airy feel in the building.
A grand staircase which opens up into two leading arms, has richly ornamented wrought iron railings and balustrades. The pattern is also visible on the capitals and palisades running through the entire museum.
The gorgeous geometric patterns on the floor are courtesy the famous Minton tiles which were a very popular form of flooring in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. These tiles are also called encaustic tiles since the pattern on them is not formed by the glaze but by the different colours of the clays used in it. It gives a “printed” effect to the flooring and looks absolutely stunning.
Add to all this the rich detailing in the ornamentation of the railings, ceilings, capitals and the beautiful colour palette that runs through the building. The craft of stenciling and gilding is of particular note in this museum as they have been used extensively to beautify the interiors.
The museum is divided into two levels and each houses different art collections to showcase the history of Mumbai’s cultural heritage through a series of 19th century decorative arts. Maps, clay models, photographs, rare books, paintings, etc – all set out to display Mumbai’s history and heritage.
Industrial Arts Gallery
The ground floor houses the Industrial arts gallery which displays work produced by Indian artisans who modified their work to suit the European tastes. Many Indian objet d’art pieces became a thing to be coveted by the Europeans which led to the development of decorative or industrial arts.
The walls of landing area of the staircase has been converted into the Founder Gallery where the portraits / photographs of all its founding members are on display.
Kamalnayan Bajaj Mumbai Gallery
The upper floor is dedicated to showcase the story of Mumbai’s birth and progress through the 18th, 19th and 20th century. Maps and dioramas have been displayed to highlight this journey. Many of the migrant communities have been profiled here to record their lifestyle, culture, music, games, etc. This provides rare insight into these communities.
Besides, these there are many other exhibits and collections on display which can be easily perused with the help of the guided tour, conducted on weekends. Sadly there is no audio guide available yet.
The museum also houses a curio / souvenir shop which has some interesting items on sale. The cafe is very basic with hardly any food item on sale. It’s mainly for some refreshments and water – very disappointing to note. In fact the entire plaza and surrounding gardens had such a derelict air to it at the time I visited it. There seemed to be hardly any maintainance being done to the outer perimeter of the museum which was very sad to see.
I hope next time when I visit the museum, it shows the pristine glory on the outside too as depicted in the many photographs in its image gallery.
If you liked reading this post, maybe you would like to read about a graceful building in Bangalore which houses the Summer residence of Tipu Sultan