Dogra Art Museum Pride of Jammu- Against all odds

Rajan Gandhi
People without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture are like trees without roots. In this age of virtual world when people don’t want to have personal experience of even clothes they wear, neglecting the importance of knowing and understanding history is new norm. Termed as boring and unnecessary it is flipped aside as an appendage as all eyes are set for the future, but knowledge about the past is the fundamental bedrock on which the future is built. There are numerous ways of recognizing and learning about the past, yet museums play crucial role in preserving history, culture and heritage. For Jammu, Dogra Art Museum is one such place, a visit with lifelong experience, engraved in mind forever.
Initially ‘Ajaib Ghar’, known today as Dogra Art Museum, was established in a mini hall, now assembly hall in new secretariat, with some collection of arms and old photographs. It was the first step towards setting up of a museum in the erstwhile Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir as subsequently in 1954 a committee was formed under the president ship of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad the then PM of Jammu and Kashmir, along with Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq the then Education Minister, G.L.Dogra the then Finance Minister, Master Sansar Chand Baru famous Artist and Padamshri Prof.R.N.Shastri known as the “Father of Dogri” for his pivotal role in the revival and resurgence of the Dogri language, were the members of the committee. Vidaya Rattan Khajuria (an artist and sculptor) and Vaid Vishnu Dutt were other prominent contributors in establishing the museum. The present day museum was inaugurated by the first president of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad on 18 April 1954 at the Gandhi Bhawan, Jammu. Master Sansar Chand Baru was appointed its first Curator (Head). It was upgraded to a full-fledged museum and shifted to Pink Hall in 1992 at Mubarak Mandi Complex, by the then Governor G.C.Saxena. The intricately decorated marble jharokhas with inlaid work of semi precious stones in the marble hall further used to embellish the charisma of the museum collection.
Objective of this Museum
Collection of antiquities/art objects, preserving them for future generations, creating awareness among students and public by organizing events, getting books/literature about antiquities, art and culture published, highlighting past things of national pride, to advertise culture/rituals/lifestyle of erstwhile Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir through national and international media are few main objectives for which Dogra Art Museum was conceived and established.
Dogra Art Museum at Jammu is in possession of around 7500 artifacts/objects, some of the best available in India, properly taken care by experts right from its inception and among the collections are the following:
Large collection of 18th century Pahari miniature paintings from Basohli school (Rasmanjari series) along with Kangra, Jammu, Poonch, Kashmir, Guller, Kullu, Rajasthani form of paintings depicting scenes from the great epic Mahabharata, Ramayan, Ragmala, Mughal portraits and also a few portraits of Dogra rulers are in the painting section.
Terra Cotta heads
Museum has rare collection of 4th century terracotta heads excavated from Ambaran Akhnoor, 30 kms from Jammu. Unique baroque style with lavish attention to head-dressing as hair arrangement is applied like a wig which shows an influence from the Gupta terracotta tradition.
A vast repertoire of numismatic collection belonging to Kushan era, Mughal, Sikh and Dogra rule are pride possessions of Dogra Art Museum, approximately 4500 in total. Made up of copper, bronze, iron and appropriately labeled, most of them are symbol of sovereignty.
Sculpture of holy trinity of supreme personality of God Head representing the image of Brahma Vishnu & Mahesh, fragmented sculpture of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati and a fragmented sculpture in the form of three headed Lord Shiva dated back to 9th Century, excavated from Akhnoor and Basohli, are at display.
On display in Museum are attires of Dogra Royals like tunic(chouga), turban (pagri), shawls, handkerchiefs etc made up of silk and cotton with intricately designed patterns and motifs depicting the splendour of Dogra rulers.
Stone Slab inscriptions
Three stone slab inscriptions are on display in museum, two in Takri, one dated back to 1882 give the description of MahaKali temple inside Jandi fort and the other dates back to 17th century obtained from Uttarbehani. The third inscription which is round in shape is in Pali script but has not been deciphered till date.
Arms and Armoury
Dogra rulers revered their arms and took pride in possessing and maintaining the vast collection of arms comprising daggers, khokries, shield, swords, rifles, guns, pistols, and cannons etc along with world famous percussion-cap rifles and winchest-gun obtained from British rulers by Dogra Maharajas are at display.
Fossilized body parts of elephant tusk, teeth and kneecap, excavated from Purmandal are on display.
Museum has huge collection of Dogra jewellery such as kanthas, haars (chunkeynechlaces), gokhru (heavy bracelets), jhumka, balis (earings) mathapatti, phool and loung (nose pin), in addition to heavier and more rugged ornaments used by tribal Gujjars, Bakkarwal and Gaddi women.
Skanda Puran written in Devanagri in 16th century on tar leaves, the volume of Lalvakh written in Sharada on birch bark along with rare manuscripts of Shahnama and Sikandernama written in Persian, are prized possession of museum along with manuscript of Mahabharata weighing 22 Kgs.
Musical instruments
Flute, Narsinghas, Dholaks, Sitars, Nagaras , musical instruments used by Dogras are in display at Dogra Art Museum.
The metal ware comprising of big matka, hamam, hukka, elegantly carved trays, tumbler sourced from various places are on display in Museum.
Modern Art
Different works of art from various renowned artists of the region like Master Sansar Chander Baru, Late Vidhya Ratan Khajuria and Late Vijay Gupta to name a few are on display.
Present Museum
After official adoption of Mubarak Mandi Master Plan in 2019 by SAC under Governor SP Malik, Mubarak Mandi Heritage Society was assigned to Preserve-Restore-Conserve-Maintain the historic Mubarak Mandi Complex. After de roofing other palaces of Mubarak Mandi, Pink Hall housing Dogra Art Museum was also targeted as such Museum was shifted to Army Headquarters Building restored by ASI and unused since then. Present Dogra Art Museum has nine galleries namely Painting, Manuscript, Coins, Jewellery, Archaeology, Main Multipurpose Hall, Arms gallery, Modern Art Gallery and Metal Objects Gallery.
Mubarak Mandi Master Plan Projection for Museum
As mentioned in DPR proposed in Zone B as Knowledge Centre, Army Headquarters is to be used to stimulate the informal learning and education processes, to transform the wider visitor experience. In detail ground floor of Army Headquarters is to be developed as Rotation Based Gallery with temporary galleries, multipurpose rooms, office support space, exhibition storage area, toilets, drinking water points, pantry and first floor as seminar/lecture room, library, storage area, event space, utility area, toilets, drinking water point, staff area.
Further as per Master Plan the work to be done at Military headquarters’ building is establishment of access control, installation of lift, fire alarm, CCTV, air conditioning, signage, interior lighting, refurbishment of the interiors, waterproofing of the building, rain water harvesting and installation of water tank.
Present Status
Adopted in 2019, major portion of this Mubarak Mandi Master Plan was supposed to be completed in three years itself but as with other projects of Jammu, even after lapse of more than three years this Master plan implemented by MMJHS is right now limited to de roofing entire palace complex, preservation and conservation of ‘Malba’ in front of every complex building, establishment of labour colonies inside Protected Monument against all norms so much so that famous ‘Raje di Mandi ‘, once a abode for morning/evening walkers has been reduced to bathing ghat of entire labour colony and whole day visitors of Dogra Art Museum are greeted by never school going ever increasing children of this illegal labour colony. Restricted entry for visitors, iron beams, old junk table/chairs, rotten iron and wooden logs along with garden waste, spilled water, cooking smell emanating from labour colony kitchens greet the visitors. Nonexistent underground sewage, which was to be established in first instance, adds further to miseries of visitors. No drinking water, no reception counter, no signage are other missing facilities under MMJHS.
With all this mess at place, only restored structure of entire Mubarak Mandi Complex Army Headquarters is under extreme stress, all around malba induced resultant dampness in the entire structure is the main area of concern as of now. Dust, termite can be seen inside Museum at different places. A visit to site leaves an impression as if MMJHS has been assigned to gradually demolish entire Mubarak Mandi Complex as such future of Dogra Art Museum can very well be gauged in present scenario.
Present Problems
Multiple organizations with zero accountability are right now acting in different directions with the result zero ground work. MMJHS is reporting to Tourism Department whereas Dogra Art Museum is under Archives, Archaeology and Museums Department. Right now GoI’s focus is Kashmir centric only and this department is no exception. Frequently AA&M Directorate is headed by officer with additional charge as well as Deputy Director post of Jammu office instead of technical departmental person. Practically only three/four employees are there in Jammu Directorate office whereas all rest in Kashmir. Acute shortage of staff right from only curator to hall attendants to office staff to even sweepers and chowkidars is the order of day at Dogra Art Museum. Limited budget allocation with major portion for Kashmir means least interest in Dogra Art Museum. Of the total budget allocated 90% is allocated for salary component itself. It is high time to establish separate Directorates one at Jammu and other in Kashmir with own independent budget allocations. Due to space constrain only 953 artifacts, 14% only of 7500+ total artifacts, are at display in 7700 sq ft total area with MMJHS office occupying the first floor of Army Headquarters. Even Museum Library with a collection of around 4500 reference books is at far off Kala Kendra.
Performing under constrains
Despite limited budget, under staffed, no focus on Jammu based Museum, push/pulls and various pressures yet Dogra Art Museum conducted three events namely International Heritage Day, week long celebration of International Museum Day and Azadi Ke Amrit Mahotsav programm imparting lifetime experience to visitors especially school children. Dogra Art Musem is successful in passing on the torch of culture, heritage, traditions and life style of Dogras to next generation.
With no Dogri DD Channel and demolition of Mubarak Mandi Complex in full swing, Dogra Art Museum is the only hope for conserving Dogra Heritage. Remove the bottlenecks, provide the requisite proper infrastructure and budget and this Dogra Art Museum can also be major tourist attraction in coming times. Will Government wake up from hibernation to make things happen, only time will tell.