IGRMS Challenges Ahead

Dr. Kishor Kumar Basa

Veethi Sankul
Human Odyssey
Tribal Habitat
Rock Art Heritage
Ceramic Section

    Conceived during early 1970s, started as a subordinate office of Department of Culture in Delhi in 1977-78 and set up in Bhopal in 1979, the IGRMS has come of age. In 2000, a Southern Regional Centre was set up in Mysore. There are some typical features of this Museum. Firstly, stretching over a territory of about 200 acres of land in Bhopal, this is the largest anthropological museum in India and one of the biggest in Asia. Secondly, open air exhibitions constitute a hallmark of this museum enabling visitors to experience the rich cultural diversity of this country. Such open air display of house-types in the form of Tribal Habitat, Himalayan Village, Coastal Village, and Desert Village - constructed by the concerned ethnic groups using raw materials brought from/the respective localities - not only exemplifies the ingenuity of human adaptation in diverse eco-systems, but also symbolizes the aesthetic expression in such eco-friendly structures bringing a soothing respite to the urban dwellers of the concrete jungle. Thirdly, IGRMS is one of the few museums in the world which can claim to have prehistoric rock paintings within its own premises. Such rock shelters are also a part of open air display. Besides, the museum has been carrying out the documentation, preservation and dissemination of various arts, crafts and traditional knowledge system in the form of 'Do and Learn' education programme, Workshop, Seminar, Artist Camp, opening Heritage Window in school, and organizing festivals, thus emphasizing not only in the preparation of a database, but rather more important, in reviving and revitalizing such arts, crafts and traditional knowledge systems linking them with livelihood as well as their preservation and dissemination at a community level. Thus, this museum has been associated with a paradigm shift in the museum movement by emphasizing the notion of people and the community as the curator of our heritage while the role of the museum is that of a facilitator in the process. The opening of Veethi Sankul- the indoor museum - will, it is hoped, playa complementary role to the overall activities of the museum.

    Notwithstanding these achievements, we have to encounter with many challenges, particularly in an age of globalization. The quest for cultural identity has become an important theme in the midst of a debate on the cultural consequences of globalization as to whether globalization leads to homogenization of culture or not. While 'culture' has been the key concept in anthropological museums all through, a major challenge anthropological museums encounter is how to reconcile between the celebration of cultural identities of all possible hues and forms on the one hand and the potential rupture some of them may cause to the concept of the contemporary nation state on the other. Another challenge is how to 'decolonize' Museums in Third World countries by questioning the 'unreflective Eurocentric' view of museum display where a particular 'frozen' moment in time is often captured and presented as if it is perennial and timeless. The display of Indian diaspora in an age when Non Resident Indians are playing an increasingly important role in our economy and culture is another major challenge. Moreover, locating the subtle and creative dimension of global-local relationship and displaying it in museum, thus demonstrating that cultures in the so-called 'peripheries' are not peripheral to the economically powerful western 'centre' is another challenge for Anthropological museums. Moreover, emphasis on ecological history in an age of 'green movement', exhibition on disaster and its management, displacement of people as a result of economic development, linkage of museums to eco-tourism and ethnic tourism, documenting, preserving and displaying the traditional knowledge system as a potential database for 'alternative development strategies' are some other important challenges for anthropological museums in general and IGRMS in particular, in an age of globalization.

    Our museum has one of the richest data base in audio-visual archives on different arts, crafts and other aspects of traditional knowledge system in the country, covering hundreds of hours of recording. However, these are in 'a raw state'. Cataloguing, classifying and developing them into finished product backed by further research and then bringing them in CDs are a challenge for us at the moment.

    In the recent years, there has been an emphasis on intangible cultural heritage both by UNESCO and the Govt. of India. Intangible cultural heritage, according to Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, Director General, UNESCO "is not just the memory of past cultures, but is also 'a laboratory for inventing the future". Of course, for us in IGRMS, the distinction between the tangible and the intangible in a way is a heuristic device since a tangible heritage might have an intangible dimension and the intangible heritage might have a tangible manifestation. Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of heritage, we are aware, must not segregate rather should encompass both the categories. Hence we have included folk and tribal painting and narration of myths in terra cotta forms in our open air display. In fact the open air exhibition of mythological trail is a unique way of portraying an important form of intangible cultural heritage. Although we have conceived several projects on intangible cultural heritage, a major one is to study the intangible cultural heritage of the communities living in the buffer zone villages around the World Heritage Site of Bhimbetka. In fact, this has a good potential. One could extend such activities around other World Heritage Sites maintained by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the rich intangible cultural heritage should also be displayed in/or, at the proximity of site museums of A.S.I so that a visitor would get a comprehensive and not a partial view, of the heritage as a whole in that locality,

    Encountering such challenges is not an easy task. However, optimism reigns supreme in us, in the family of IGRMS since we are reminded of the inspiring message of Swami Vivekananda:

"If the sun by the cloud is hidden a bit,
If the welkin shows but gloom,
Still hold on yet a while, brave heart,
The victory is sure to come".


Veethi Sankul (the indoor museum):


Human Evolution and Variation:

    Gallery No.1 of the main museum building is based on the conceptual theme of human evolution and human variation. The main objective of presentation here is to depict the evolution and human variation. The main objective of presentation here is to depict the evolution in a lucid manner which can help a common man to understand the landmarks in the process of human evolution. The exhibition depicts various stages of biological changes for evolving as modem man through pictorial exhibits as well as models, charts, sketches, etc. supported with related information. Man has passed a long journey to reach his present physical form, such as bipedalism, uprights stature, highly developed brain, articulation of speech and some other anatomical changes are being presented stage by stage at this gallery.

    Ever since man acquired erect stance and bipedalism, his hands became free to prepare artifacts from stone, bone, antler etc. His tool making capacity provided a unique place in animal kingdom and his capacity is otherwise known as culture. The stone age culture being presented by depicting three stages Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Cultures in India.

    Human variation is an important factor for understanding human evolution and its existence on earth. It is being presented in a general but genuine way to explain human variation with the help of diagrams, photographs and models. This gallery is followed by exhibits on human odyssey.

Human Odyssey:

    Rich variation in human life-styles as observed in space no matter how much discrete each of them may appear, subscribes to the uninterrupted saga of man's destiny. Broadly, they manifest in different forms, though every one possesses multiplicity in expression. From a close observation, nevertheless, what becomes evidently conspicuous is people's commitment to the cause of respective adaptive strategy. It is only natural under the circumstance that adaptive process as the operative force not only regulates the speed and direction of the odyssey, this too, acts as the source to provide people with confidence in their day-to-day activities.

    Pre-agricultural communities, for whom the quest for food remains the major pre-occupation, cultivated a strategy of living in total harmony with the rhythm as well periodicity of nature. They were and are aware that nature is bountiful and has been the sole provider of food for them. Therefore, in their day-to-day behaviour, submission to the cycle of periodicity emerges as the inherent tendency. This in turn acts as the moderating influence all through their life.

    Cholanaikan's knowledge of habits and routes of migration of elephants, with whom they share the resources of the forest in which they live, gives them confidence that they are safe and free to explore the bounties of nature. The nomadic Birhors know what eatables will grow in which corner of the forest during which season of the year. Their material possession appears inadequate but they do not at all feel impoverished. The Onge have a detailed inventory of choppy waters that surround their habitat. Their hunting fish with bows and arrows and operating out-rigger canoes are sports as well as means of livelihood. Undifferentiated job allocation, emphasis on sharing food, and community ownership of resources make them confident operators.

    The unending quest for food by gatherers, hunters, and fishermen experiences a turning point once humanity could master the art of domestication of animals. life-styles of the buffalo herding Toda, sheep tending Rabari and the transhumant Gaddi demonstrate partial freedom from the endless search for food since sources of food move along with the semi-nomadic herders. But they do not quite reach the threshold of food production.

    The shifting cultivators grow food only for themselves and for their fellow men in the rotating fields that belong to the community and do not generate surplus. Thus the values of sharing as found among the gatherers and hunters continue uninterrupted. The Naga terrace farmers do not share the food crops grown in privately occupied fields without expecting some return but allow cultivators of adjoining fields to use water resources for irrigation to grow crops. Settled agriculturists cultivate privately owned plots, generate surplus and use the same to buy services of fellowmen and position of power and authority.

    Appropriate control and regulation of surplus enable humanity to release labourers for specialization of profession in non-productive purposes which in turn develops and sustains civilization mostly through manual services that downgrades human dignity. Consequent development of hierarchical structures of the society and marginalization of labourers make human labour a marketable commodity. Thus the spirit of freedom ends up with enslavement of various forms and shades. Accordingly, human dignity becomes the casualty.

Open Air Exhibition

Tribal Habitat:

    The Tribal Habitat is the first open air exhibition curated in IGRMS which includes splendid traditional dwellings and other rural structures ranging from the vast stretches of the Himalayan and the fertile Gange tic plains in the north to the lush green rain forest of the North east, the dense forest zones of central and eastern India and hilly tracts of South India. Its development was conceived in the 1980's when the dwelling type of Warli, Katkari and Agaria were constructed as exhibits, but the actual momentum pf the concept came in the mid 80's and the exhibition was finally opened on January 28, 1988. Since then new additions are also being made in successive years. Presently, this open air exhibition has 23 house types and, 3 youth dormitories of different populations, 2 village gates and 3 temples and shrines. In addition to these, around 16 other forms of structural exhibits enhance the beauty of this open air exhibition premises giving a feeling of rural life and tranquil respite from the life of urban anxiety to the visitor.

    The exhibition is not merely a collection of traditional houses and a repository of household objects, it stimulates to define every single component of human survival and dependence under different ecological settings. It is a sincere effort to portray the social, cultural economic and religious sphere of a tribal society under the spectrum of its habitat, which are developed in the original forms. The most striking feature of this exhibition is that all these exhibits are not a model but are the original dwellings built by the tribals themselves, based on their own traditional ground plan and architectural patterns, using the materials which they traditionally used for the construction of these structures in their respective areas.

    A very genuine concern for the maintenance and structural conservation of the exhibits in the open air premises is the way it employs traditional methods as practiced by the concerned population. The museum management has already acquired the knowledge from respective populations for traditional maintenance and upkeep of these built structures and displayed household material based on which these are maintained.

    The Tribal Habitat has exhibit of dwelling types of Warli people from Maharashtra, Toda and Kota tribe from Tamil nadu, Bodo Kachari Mishing and Karbi tribes of Assam, Kutia Kond, Sa ora and Gadaba tribes of Orissa, Ra thwa and Choudhri tribes of Gujarat, Agaria and Bhil tribes of Mad h yaP r ad e s h, Tharu tribe of Uttranchal, Kamar and Rajwar people of Chhattishgarh, Santhal tribe of Jharkhand, Thangka Naga, Kubai Naga and Ranshakshim tribe of Manipur, Kucheneme and Chakesang Naga tribes of Nagaland, Birhor people of Jharkhand, Reangtribe from Tripura, and Lepcha tribes of Sikkim. This exhibition has the Youth Dormitories of Muri, Ao Naga, Kanyak Naga and Zemi Naga tribes also.

    Other than the above mentioned house types which are spread in an approximate 42 acres land in the tribal habitat, another development has emerged to portray the Himalayan architecture and its habitat which is now popularly known by the exhibition areas as Himalayan Village. It has an entrance gate called Parol that gives access to this exhibition area. Recently a four storied traditional house type called Chokat has been a curved from Uttaranchal, installation of which is currently under progress in the said premises as an Himalayan Village exhibit. This traditional structure is well known for its greater receptivity which could have resisted the seismic disaster of the 1991. Other traditional structure of this exhibition include the Maoli Mata temple from Chattishgarh, the Toda shrine from Tamil nadu and, the Umang Lai shrine from Manipur. The two village gates constructed on traditional state in this exhibition are Ao Naga gate and Chakhesang N aga village gate.

    In addition to the above exhibits pertaining to the traditional house types, temples and village gates, the premises of tribal habitat are also enriched with other structural exhibits such as Meitei Thumkhong an exhibit with.. complete open paraphernalia, showing the traditional salt making devices prevelent in Ningel people of Manipur who are solely responsible for the production of Meitei Thumpak- the indigenous salt of the meiteis, bullock carts of different populations including the gypsies, oil press or the oil expeller from various areas, memorial pillars (Stone and wooden), ancestral domes on terracottas belonging to the Choudhry tribes of Gujarat, Mongra Dev the crocodile deity, Dussehra Charriot from Bastar, a huge Iron pan Kadhai from Himachal Pradesh, traditional furnace for extracting iron from iron ore by the Agaria and the Asur tribe, Abode of Anga dev, a deity of Baster area, megalithic enclave comprising recreated Megalithic sites from Meghalaya and Vidharbha region of Maharashtra, Ao-Lamba: the suspension bridge of the Ao Nagas and many more terracotta figurines in the exhibit of complex of potter's hamlet and kiln.

    The exhibits and the environs of the museum give a respite to the visitors from the dins and bustles of the urban life. This open air exhibition celebrates the cultural diversity of tribal and rural India in the form of different house types emphasizing the eco friendly nature of these structures as well as throwing light on an important aspect of the traditional knowledge system of India.

Rock Art Heritage:

    Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya is one of the few museums in the world where pre-historic rock paintings are found in the museum premises. The museum has developed an open air exhibition named the Rock Art Heritage by using some of these shelters. There are 36 rock shelters containing prehistoric painting situated in 4 locations in the museum premise. The Sangrahalaya opened this exhibition in the year 1991. Coinciding with this, a national seminar was also organized on the theme 'Rock Art in India'. The Sangrahalaya has constructed a separate building near the chain of rock shelter. This building titled 'Adi' or 'Rock Art Center' was built for providing introductory orientation on rock art in India with special reference to the rock art in Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya's shelters. Adi is one of the important periodical exhibition facilities of the Sangrahalaya where some other periodical exhibition are on display based on the themes related to the working of this museum. Nearly 11 shelters closer to the Adi have been facilitated by improvising path ways for comfortable visit to the shelter, to witness the paintings, some of which can be traced back to Mesolithic period.

    The museum has also prepared a special signage and information system in these rock shelters for which prehistoric paintings are etched on metallic plate as they are distributed in a particular shelter. These plates are mounted on pedestal made of fiberglass in the form of natural rocks. These labels become very useful to the visitor in locating the situation of painting on wall or ceiling of the shelter where it has been drawn by pre-historic painter.

    This exhibition serves as a universal expression and communication of human thought since the dawn of humanity. Depictions of human and animal figure in the paintings in these shelters are in large numbers.

    A travelling exhibition has also been prepared on the Rock Art Heritage of India with special emphasis on the rock art in this museum premises. This traveling exhibition has already been mounted in a number of places in India and in a few cities in Italy.

Ceramic Section:

    India has one of the largest and varied living traditions of terracotta in the world. It was wit the view of studying the vast tradition spread out cross the length and breadth of the country that the ceramic section was formed in this museum. The section has been routinely engaged in the documenting the rich tradition. The documentation has been carried out both in the field as well as by inviting artists to work in the section for long duration. In depth documentation of various techniques involved in the craft of terra cotta including the treatment of clay, tools and technique used in the making of the objects, colouring and other embellishment used and finally the process of baking of the objects has been done. Besides the socio-religious and socio-economic aspects related to the craft including the myths, customs, rituals, role and position of potters and the craft in the society are also taken into the account.

    The march of globalisation has made deep inroads into remote villages and things are being replaced at a pace never envisaged before. The traditional warp and weft of the society in which all the artisan communities including the potters had a defined role is being ripped apart by the tremendous pull of the new market economy. The section wants to keep a chronicle of these inevitable changes.

    Besides, in keeping with the aim of the museum of preserving and documenting of the disappearing traditions and also of reviving as many of them as possible, the section orients its activities along these very lines. Little improvements in techniques can go a long way in helping the terracotta to survive better in the changed market scenario. Such upgrading, for example, baking of terracotta to a slightly higher temperature which improves its chances of survival during transportation from one place to another, are being promoted.

    The section is also concerned with the development and maintenance of the open-air-exhibition 'Mythological Trail' centred around various folk and tribal myths of India. Here the folk and tribal artists from various parts of the country have striven to give form to their myths, beliefs and rituals in their respective mediums and styles. The materials used have been varied, ranging from clay, stone, brass, iron, wood, terracotta to paint colour. These myths are relatively unknown to people at large by virtue of their being part of the oral, intangible heritage of the country.

    At present there are thirty eight exhibits on display in the exhibition, the Mythogical Trail for preparing which about sixty artists have worked. However, the nature of the exhibition is such that there is scope for further expansion. Apart from being ancient, myths are also the most valid document of the trajectory of a culture, as much as the seed-archive of they are people and their world views. Understanding the myths of a culture is a prerequisite to understanding it.

    In its simple and straight forward manner, this exhibition underlines the of much quoted unity and diversity of the Indian Culture and in addition also provides the rare opportunity to establish link with the rich tradition, mythologies, rituals and insights of the folk and tribal culture.

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