For a culturally rich country like India, which also boasts of one of the most diverse heritages in the world, it is only imperative that steps have been and should be taken to preserve the past to set an example for the future. Fortunately, for the current and future generations, there are more than just a handful of museums that curate the best specimens from history to represent our rich heritage. Here is, is no particular order, the list of 15 must visit museums in India.
1. National Museum, Delhi
National Museum (Source)
The National Museum in Delhi is one of the most iconic museums in India and one of its kind, housing over 200,000 artifacts ranging from the pre-historic to the modern age. In fact, not just spanning over these eras, the collection at the museum is spread over a huge number of civilizations and religions. In a very rare feature among all the Indian museums, the National Museum houses the National Museum Institute of History of Arts,Conservation and Museology, which offers deemed Masters and Doctoral courses in History of Art, Conservation and Museology.
2. Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai
Prince of Wales Museum (Source)
Constructed in 1915, Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai has one of the most illustrious descents. It was constructed to commemorate the visit of King George V, the Prince of Wales back then. With ample government and royal donation, the museum was styled as an amalgamation of a multitude of Indian architectural styles. The architecture drew strongly from the Golconda Fort and the Bijapur Gol Gumbaz, 18th century Maratha mansion styles, interior columns styled from Jain sensibilities, and an overall influence from Indo-Gothic and Indo-Western styles of architecture. This museum in India itself houses pieces from three distinct categories of art, architecture and natural history. With artifacts from the lesser known periods such as the Rashtrakuta period, the Museum is now expanding to take in pieces of religious relevance as well.
3. Indian Museum, Kolkata
Indian Museum (Source)
Truly a crown jewel in the list of the most illustrious museums in India, the Indian Museum is the oldest and the largest museum in the country. Established in 1814 under the aegis of the celebrated Danish botanist Dr. Nathaniel Wallich, the museum boasts of over 35 galleries in with pieces broadly classified under archaeology, anthropology, art, economic botany, zoology and geology. Some of the rarest exhibits include a human mummy, preserved prehistoric animal skeletons, the Buddha’s ashes, and the resplendent Ashoka pillar, complete with the four lion emblem which now India’s official emblem. For all history buffs, the Indian Museum is one thing they should not miss in a lifetime.
4. Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahmedabad
Calico Museum of Textiles (Source)
One of the youngest textile museums in the Indian history, yet the Calico Museum of Textiles is still the foremost authority in the textile world as of today. The city of Ahmedabad was one of the prime trade centres of textile in the subcontinent and the museum became crucial for the technical and historical study of industrial textiles and Indian handicrafts. With the museum running two publications on the two branches of study it offers, it is one of the most contemporary and sought after institutes in its field.
5. Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad
Salar Jung Museum (Source)
One of the three national museums in India, Salar Jung Museum houses the most meticulously curated collections of all times, by Nawab Mir Yusuf Ali Khan Salar Jung III, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad and the former prime minister of India. Over 35 years, Salar collected items to exhibit and as a personal passion, and the collection grew to a whopping one million pieces in present day. While only a certain part of the total collection is on exhibition, some of the most priceless exhibits include Aurangzeb’s sword, Tipu Sultan’s wardrobe, Emperor Jehangir, Noorjahan and Shah Jahan’s jade daggers and paintings of the iconic Indian painter, Raja Ravi Verma.The museum also houses Quran collections from around the world, including those written with gold and silver. Not to be missed when visiting Hyderabad.
6. Government Museum, Chennai
The Museum Theatre at the Government Museum (Source)
The Government Museum in Chennai is the second oldest museum in India and spread over a lavish 16.25 acres of land also houses the colossal Museum Theatre, which stages Shakespearean plays regularly. The exhibits in the museum are extremely priceless and rare, as is the heritage of the museum itself. Palm leaf manuscripts, Raja Ravi Varma’s famous paintings, and the largest antique Roman collection outside Europe. The Connemara Public Library, one of the most iconic libraries in the city, is also a part of the museum. With a footfall of about a 1000 visitors daily, and more on the weekends. An iconic structure built in Indo-Gothic style, the Government Museum, also known as the Egmore Museum is a one of its kind museum and a gem in the Indian heritage.
7. Victoria Memorial, Kolkata
Victoria Memorial (Source)
The Victoria Memorial, built on the banks of the Hooghly river and in the memory of the British Queen Victoria, is the epitome of some of the strongest blends of Indian styles such as the the Mughal, Islamic and Deccan and foreign architectural styles, such as the Venetian and Egyptian. Again, as two of the most illustrious museums on this list of museums in India, the overall style of the museum is based on the Indo-Saracenic or the Indo-Gothic style. Made entirely of the white Makrana marble, the museum is as exquisite as its exhibits, which include the rare copies of illustrated texts by Shakespeare, works by Omar Khayyam and books on thumri music and kathak dance as well. The royal gallery is houses one of the biggest collections of the British royalty, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The museum, with its sprawling lawns and enviable architecture is clearly a sight to behold.
8. City Palace, Jaipur
Chandra Mahal, City Palace (Source)
The City Palace, one of the most resplendent structures in all of Jaipur and the official residence of the royal family, is not only an architectural marvel but housed within it is a museum. The Palace itself is divided into many complexes, and within the most imposing palaces of it, the Chandra Mahal is where the museum is located, open to local public. The grandeur of the palace and the museum is beyond words, with the intricate carving and every inch of the walls painted to reflect the taste of the royalty over generations. The Mubarak Mahal, a special entrance for the foreign guests of the royalty is a beautiful two storied structure, with a collection of royal costumes displayed on the lower floor and the museum offices and the library on the first floor. The silehkhana, or the armory, is of special interest to the tourists, which has on display, the largest and rarest collection of weapons and handguns in the country. Weapons carved with precious materials and adorned with gemstones are the most popular exhibits. For all those who wish to experience the Rajasthani royalty, must visit the city palace at least once.
9. Shankar International Dolls Museum, Delhi
Shankar International Dolls Museum (Source)
The International Doll Museum, one of the most unique and beautiful museums in India, housing a collection of dolls from all world, curated by K. Shankar Pillai, one of the most celebrated political cartoonists in India, who also set up the pioneering children’s publications, better known as CBT, or the Children’s Book Trust. With political figures from all around the world gifting and donating dolls to the museum, the collection now stands at a whopping 6,500 dolls, divided into two sections, with dolls from the the Asian subcontinent in one and from the rest of the world in the other section. For a lazy weekend in the city, the museum is a fun place to explore.
10. Coswaji Jehangir Hall, Mumbai
Coswaji Jehangir Hall (Source)
The Coswaji Jehangir Hall, also known as the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai is one of the most important and elitist galleries of modern art in the country. Facing a strong cultural decline in the 20th century, the museum underwent 12 years of heavy renovation, physically and ideologically, to reach the heights of exclusivity it has reached now. With world class amenities for patrons, exhibitors and visitors alike, within the museum, are the curated works of some of the best artists, classic contemporary painters like Amrita Sher-Gill and Abanindranath Tagore to the genius MF Hussain as well. One thing not to miss is the beauty of the structure of the museum, as much as the art it houses.
11. Napier Museum, Thiruvananthpuram
Napier Museum (Source)
In the best possible words, the Napier Museum is a delight for adults and children alike. The museum houses one of the oldest zoological gardens in India in its premises. The museum itself, based on the Indo-Saracenic styles of architecture is one of the most visited art and natural history museums in India. With works of famous artists, such as Raja Ravi Varma, and the celebrated Russian theosophist, Nicholas Roerich, and specimens of Tanjore and Mughal art forms, history was never more fun for those willing to delve into it.
12. Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamshala
Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (Source)
With artifacts and manuscripts that date back to the 12th century, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives is one the pioneering institutions in the study and research of Buddhism. With as many as 80,000 manuscripts, 600 Buddhist artifacts including beautifully crafted silk applique thangkas and a three dimensional, wood carved mandala of the Avalokiteshwara, one of the most revered and compassionate Bodhisattva in Buddhism. With an air of peace and serenity descending upon people who visit the museum, it is indeed a calming experience to visitors of this offbeat museum in India.
13. National Rail Museum, Delhi
Seen here, the mini rail that tours around the museum at the National Rail Museum (Source)
Easily the most thronged site of rail enthusiasts visiting the city, the National Rail Museum in the capital of the country is one the most invigorating experiences. If the thumping of a steam engine reverberates in your head and you still can’t get enough of it. With a toy train taking rounds of the 10 acre wide spread museum, with both indoor and outdoor exhibits, this museum in India has something to offer to visitors of all ages. Among the most popular exhibits are the Fairy Queen, the oldest working steam locomotive and the saloons of various Maharajas of states of India. If the thudding of the tracks is what excites you, don’t miss this one.
14. Patna Museum, Bihar
Patna Museum (Source)
In the capital of the state that bustles with culture and heritage, the Patna Museum is a lesser known and often underrated museum of today. Filled with masterpieces made by Buddhist and Hindu artists, a true reflection of the strength and potency of heritage of these cultures, it also houses quite rare British paintings, and even an original World War I cannon. For all that matters, Patna Museum deserves a visit for the old world charm it has to offer and the sheer variety of exhibits here.
15. National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum, Delhi
The Kullu Hut in the village complex at the National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum (Source)
With what seems like a lifetime for a museum, the NHHM, created with the blood and sweat of a revered freedom fighter Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, is one of the most diversely curated, extremely rich with culture and heritage from communities all around India, displaying over 35,000 distinct pieces of handiwork of varying techniques and designs, is truly an institutional marvel. Textiles, tribal crafts, courtly crafts are just some of the many galleries housed within the museum. If you thought that was it to the museum, a longer ride around will prove beneficial, for the museum also houses a village complex within itself, spread over 5 acres and 15 structures constructed within itself, to depict the daily rural life in India. Kashmiri dushalas, Chamba handkerchiefs, Baluchari brocade sarees and Kutch embroidered works are just a few of the pieces that are a part of the treasure trove at NHHM. For all those who cherish culture and Indian diversity, the NHHM is your destination.