The Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

I love museums, and I can spend hours inside them pottering about and looking at their varied collections. And yet strangely, for some inexplicable reason, I have never really explored the museums in my city of Mumbai. Of course, I have visited them as a child but not really visited them, if you know what I mean.

Bhau Daji Lad Museum 2So one rainy day in August last year, I took the afternoon off from work to see the Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (BDLM). This was a museum that I had never visited, but one that I had heard about a lot from Appa. I went without a camera as I automatically assumed that, like most Indian museums, photography was not allowed. Big mistake. Non-flash photography was allowed in the Museum, though they don’t really advertise the fact.

The dazzling 3-hour BDLM visit was a visual treat all the way — right from the stately Museum building to its grand interiors (that reminded me of a ballroom) to its tastefully displayed collection — and one that stayed with me longer than the time I spent there. I knew that I didn’t just want to write about the BDLM’s artefacts in my Museum Treasure series, but write an entire post on the Museum itself. And since I wanted to include photographs, I had to wait for an opportunity to visit the BDLM once again. And last month, I got that chance and when the Museum opened it’s doors that Friday morning, I was the first to enter with a big smile and my camera. :-)

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

The entrance to the Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

According to the information given on its website, the BDLM is Mumbai’s oldest and India’s third oldest museum. It was established in 1855 as the Central Museum of Natural History, Economy, Geology, Industry and Arts and was first housed in the Town Barracks with Sir George Birdwood as the Curator. Incidentally, Sir Birdwood was also a Professor at Grant Medical College, Registrar of the University of Bombay, and Sheriff of Bombay, besides acting as secretary of the Asiatic and Horticultural societies. Phew !

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, MumbaiIn 1858, public funds were sourced and raised for the construction of a museum building. Dr. Bhau Daji Lad played a major role in securing funds and getting the Museum building constructed. And what a building it turned out to be. Built in the Palladian style of architecture with grand Victorian interiors, the museum building was opened to the public on 2nd May 1878 as the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was renamed as the BDLM in 1975, in honour of the man whose vision, perseverance and dedication ensured its establishment, but sadly not its maintenance as the Museum fell into a deep state of disrepair and neglect over the years.

The building and objects required comprehensive restoration. The original colours and details had effaced. The delicate stucco and stencil work was badly damaged. The iron pillars had separated from the walls and many of the etched glass panes were broken… There was no narrative or any labels to explain the artefacts and the history of the collection. (BDLM brochure)

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, MumbaiA unique public-private partnership in 2003 saw three organisations come together for the restoration and revitalisation of the BDLM — the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). After 4 years of intensive restoration, the Museum was reopened to the public on 4th January 2008.

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

The antique turnstile at the entry and exit to the Museum

I have not seen the Museum in its derelict condition, but can only imagine what it must have been like (considering that many of our public buildings all over the country are in a state of ruin). But I saw the wonder that is the restored Museum and can share it with you right here. Let’s begin with a quick tour of its grand interiors:

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

The statue of the Prince Albert dominates the main hall in ground floor

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

A view of the display cabinets

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

Detail of one of the lamps and ceiling design. Notice the restored, stencilled pattern on the ceiling

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

The grand staircase leading up to the first floor of the Museum

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

The beautiful chandelier

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

Looking down into the main hall from the first floor

The Museum has several galleries like the Industrial Art Gallery, the Origins of Mumbai Gallery, the Founders Gallery, and the Kamalnarayan Special Exhibitions Gallery. A large part of the Museum’s collection showcases the importance of 19th century in the evolution of Mumbai into a major metropolis — the people, the different communities, the industries, professions, etc.

There are scaled down models of people from different communities, model villages, farming implements, traditional indoor and outdoor games played by men and women, different professions… There are water-colour paintings, a collection of some wicked looking arms and ammunition, musical instruments, pottery, ivory figurines, brass ware, old maps and photographs of Mumbai… There are scenes from Hindu epics, scaled down representations of temples…

Let’s take a peek at the BDLM collection:

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

A tiny canon made of agate and hessonite

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

A row of colourful ganjifa cards

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

A bird made from a bison’s horn

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

Brass lamps

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

Carved in wood: A scene from Rama’s court

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

A scene from the Mahabharata where Krishna comes to the court of Dhritirashtra on behalf of the Pandavas

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

Different types of sadhus and sanyasis

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

A model of “The Tower of Silence”

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

Bangle seller

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

An old map of the Bombay Harbour dating back to 1626

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, MumbaiThe grounds surrounding the BDLM are home to a number of statues of people connected with Mumbai, including one of Queen Victoria herself. The marble statue, however, has not fared very well and is now pockmarked and discoloured. At least the statue of Queen Victoria has a head, some of the statues are headless !

There are other interesting artefacts too, including the one shown below. Obviously salvaged from somewhere in Mumbai, it boggles the mind to imagine that sometime in the past Mumbai must have been a town!

A stone that once marked the town limits of Bombay

A stone that once marked the town limits of Bombay

From 19th century onwards, Bombay (as Mumbai was known then) was a bustling trade and industrial centre and my route back home from the Museum takes me through Parel, the city’s former industrial heartland. Amidst the new skyscrapers stand the remnants of Mumbai’s industrial past in the form of skeletons and ruins of abandoned mills and warehouses.

To me, it appears very apt that the city’s first museum has a major section dedicated to industrial arts and life in the city. Of course, the museum is by no means comprehensive, and I doubt if any museum can ever be that. In a city whose industrial past is fast getting obliterated and forgotten every single day, the BDLM has an important role to play in preserving that part of Mumbai’s history.

I highly recommend a visit to the BDLM to every Mumbaikar, and every visitor to the city. You don’t have to spend half-a-day like me there; even an hour is sufficient. The Museum is located in Jijamata Udyan (formerly known as Victoria Gardens) and you could combine a visit to the Mumbai zoo, if you so wish, as that is also located there.

But do visit.:-)

Note: Apologies for the terrible, appalling photographs. I was so worried in ensuring that the flash was switched off, I didn’t check the settings. It is only when I downloaded them on my laptop that I realised how bad the photographs were. But on the bright side, this gives me one more chance to visit the BDLM, doesn’t it? :-D

52 thoughts on “The Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

    • There are things that will interest R like models / dolls of people from differen communities, different types of headgear, miniature villages, games, etc. It is almost like a golu collection. Unfortunately, they are not at her eye level and you’ll have to carry her to show her these things. Maybe a quick walk through the museum and a picnic at the Jijamata Udyan would be nice. The weather’s lovely now.

  1. So now our expert on museum treasures has struck gold in her own city :D Goodie good. The place seems very interesting, but there are no nuggets that you found in London museums, are there, else we would have got to read that too! And know what? You saved yourself a reprimand of bad lighting and photography from me, by putting in that disclaimer of ‘no flash’ at the outset :D

    • The Bhau Daji Lad Museum deserved a post all by itself. Of course, certain artefacts are going to find their way into the Museum Treasure Series. Wait and watch. :-)

      Photographing inside the museum was tough. The glass shelves are not made of non-reflective glass and the dim/focussed lighting was a challenge to photograph in. Add to this my own lack of knowledge to photograph in such conditions. So yes, the photographs are a mess and I apologise. I put up a note on the bad photography now..

    • The Bhau Daji Lad Museum is on the tourist map, but pales in comparison to standing outside film actors’ houses and waiting for a glimpse of them. This is a sad, but true state of affairs.

    • Somehow I thought that you had already visited it, since I remember you telling me that you visited the Botanical Gardens there. Never mind, now go and visit this beautiful museum. You’ll love it :-)

  2. I love it how you talk about your love for museums. I am precisely like that as well :) I love reading the tit-bits about influence of culture from elsewhere, the pottery used, the lifestyle indicators and al that! I make the curators and guides go crazy when I click every little item on display because I want to be able to look at them whenever I want or forget. I even click writeups sometimes if we are in a rush and cannot read everything.
    enjoyed this post immensely. I am looking forward to write about one such museum visit in Colomo and am so telling you when I do :)
    Thanks for sharing. I will visit it when I am there! Ofcourse :)

  3. Reading this post brought back fond memories of our visit to this museum last year. I could spend hours here absorbing all the information and looking at the display pieces and the architecture. The photographs have brought out the wonderful ambience (if I may say so, for want of a better word), the rich colours used and artworks.
    I definitely want to make another trip there sometime.
    P.S. I notice that the weapon section has not been photographed!

    • Chalo, chalo, lets go. I need to take better photographs anyways of this place. And pray why would I even want to photograph that wicked looking, weapons section? :-P

  4. Wow so many wonderful pictures. BTW, I think that all museums should allow non-flash pictures since people can share those images on facebook and blogs and create free publicity and awareness about the museum.

    • I agree, Sunil, I whole-heartedly agree. I fail to understand our paranoia about cameras in museums. Even after so many months, I am still angry that the Sarnath Museum did not allow photography. In my opinion, it has one of the best, albeit small, collections I have ever seen. To not be able to photograph Asoka’s Lion Capital was so frustrating and criminal… Museums in India have just about started alllowing photography and hopefully this trend will catch up with the Sarnath Museum as well.

  5. I am not much of a museum person, though I think I would love a visit to one if accompanied by a good guide and lots of information and discussions. :) You make museums sound so interesting. :)

    Loved this post – it is so full of info. The pics are great, too. Loved the interior and the exterior of the museum, and some of the artefacts, too. We will surely visit this place whenever we visit Mumbai. :)

    • Museums are not everyone’s cup of tea. I have a close friend who considers them creepy and likens them to burial grounds and nothing with induce him to enter them. :-) As for me, if I am visiting a place for the first time, I actively seek out museums there.

      In my opinion, one doesn’t really need a guide inside a museum as the best thing is to wander around and stop at places that appeal to you. As I mentioned in the post, one doesn’t have to spend hours; even a little time is a good way to begin. Hope you enjoy your next Museum visit. :-)

      I have enjoyed visiting the Vishveshwaraiya Museum in Bangalore. Have you been there?

      • No, haven’t been there yet. :(

        I know you don’t really need a guide in museums. What I meant is that I find them very boring, and that shouldn’t be, when they are so full of interesting artefacts and bits and pieces of people and culture! So, if you have a knowledgeable person with you to discuss about such stuff and conjure up images in your head, I surely wouldn’t find them boring. :)

  6. nice post, Sudha. i was really impressed by the renovation work done on the museum.. and speaking about it before the renovation, well, i remember seeing the building once on my visit to the zoo… it was completely off limits… and from the outside all we could make out was that badly needed a coat of paint. but it wasnt really derelict on the outside. the inside of course, is another matter. no idea what it must have been like, but going by the state of the zoo, it must have been forgotten for quite a while and certainly must have been in terrible shape. good thing they renovated it before it fell apart!

    • Anu, I do not like zoos at all and the last time I visited one I was 8 and did not have much of a choice as it was a school picnic to Victoria Gardens, sorry Jijamata Udyan, in Mumbai. I don’t even remember seeing this building there.

      But what a renovation and restoration. It is a labour of love to revive and restore this Museum and I hope that it receives a lot of patronage and appreciation and never slides into ruin and decay like before.

  7. Great place to visit and to think I didn’t even know about it. Many many thanks for telling us about it! I want to visit this place quite immediately considering I haven’t been out on Mumbai sojourns for a bit long now!

    • It is a great place to visit and one can even combine it with a walk in the gardens ! And if you like museums then this is a great place, it’s not too big, the collection is interesting and there are some quirky ones to amuse you as well !

  8. I love the brass lamps and the chandeliers. looks like both the museum and the restoration have been a labor of love. I hope it continues to be maintained.

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  10. Your posts always bring to light facets of my city that I have never thought of of knew of before. Thank you for the wonderful write up and photos (they are not as bad as you seem to think!). Had not read the posts in a while, your post on the clock tower at Jijamata Udyan brought me back here (which was also very enlightening).

    • Thank you for your lovely words. Sometimes we a need a gentle nudge to see things around our immediate surroundings and I’m glad this post was one of those. And the photographs are bad, Nimna. Some bit of editing and doctoring has been done to cover the worst and since the resolution has been lessened the errors are also minimised :-)

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  15. The photos look great Sudha. The Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, India’s second oldest museum, lay in a grossly derelict state before a Tripartite Agreement between the MCGM, the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation and INTACH to restore the museum. Today, the museum is one of the finest museums in Mumbai.

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