Jadu Ghar: The house of magic in the heart of Calcutta
June 7, 2013 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Established in 1814 by founding curator, the Danish botanist Nathanial Wallich at the premises of The Asiatic Society, the Indian Museum of Calcutta* is the oldest museum in Asia and the 9th oldest in the world. Referred to as a "museum of museums", considered outdated and obsolete, its Victorian Era majesty dimmed by modernization, the grande dame of Indian history still manages evoke paeans to its otherworldly wonders:
With collections to rival the Smithsonian and the British Museums, it isn't just a storehouse of countless artifacts from the world over. The building seems to be a tiny world, an island in the midst of a busy street. The tall gates with their spikes are the doorways to different recorded ages. All those entering through the high steps are travelers in a time machine. But this is not all that Kolkata's Jadughar or "House of Magic" has to offer. Its jadu lies in the magic with which it houses portions of man's past. The high ceilings seem to stretch to infinity. Amid the silence there is vibrant life. Showcasing essential elements of different cultures, the dark, often dank, interiors show up the objects more sharply. Gradually the eyes grow used to the absence of light; the smell seems natural. It is this ambience that gently draws you in and makes the textbook history we are used to, a tangible living reality.
It remains a wonderful time-warp with plenty of mangy-looking stuffed animals, fish and birds, together with fossils so beloved of Victorian collectors, as well as fascinating Indian friezes, bas-reliefs and stone carvings and art.
posted by infini (5 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Oooooh, lurvly post, thanks! Lots of good reading for the weekend (and beyond)!
posted by filthy light thief at 10:02 AM on June 7, 2013

May I recommend the House of Magic and the "offer. its jadu" links as a starting point to understand the essence of what makes this concept (a museum known as a house of magic) so different in the Indian context?

I remember wandering down those corriders as a child when I lived with my grandfather in Calcutta. Today's deep dive just makes me wanna go back in time again.
posted by infini at 10:17 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, lovely. I'm going to have to visit there next time I'm in Kolkata. I wish it had been posted in December before my last visit! Thank you!
posted by beowulf573 at 11:31 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Truly amazing post on a stunning subject. All museums should be like this! Thanks infini.
posted by Ahab at 11:37 AM on June 7, 2013

A great, world-class museum. Highlights for me were the Bengal Painting Gallery, and the Zoology Section, which is one of the best natural history areas I've ever seen.
posted by daveje at 2:00 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

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