Dogra Museum faces existential threat

A casual approach diminishing footfall of visitors

Sunny Dua
At a time when attempts are being made to protect and preserve Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex (MMHC), another building Dogra Art Museum located in the same complex and housing about 8,000 artefacts is facing threat to its existence.
The building is having historic artefacts dating back to 16th and 18th centuries but incessant rains have exposed the way it is being up-kept. While false-ceiling is falling apart and the plaster peeling out, rain water has also made its way into main Pink Hall besides in Gallery of Modern Art through large windows and small Jharokhas.
Still damaging is ceilings of two rooms adjoining the main hall that have completely collapsed making water seep through them. Walls of these two rooms too have given way threatening rest of the building as well. Electricity fitting and lighting on artefacts in the entire building has been done in such a casual manner that entire museum stands exposed to any mishap. The Department of Archives, Archaeology and Museums is looking after two museums one each in Jammu and Srinagar. In Srinagar there are about 80,000 artefacts housed in SPS Museum.
Ever since the Maharaja’s rule ceased to exist in J&K State, this is the third place where artefacts have been shifted to. These artefacts were first displayed in the mini hall of present day assembly complex from where they were moved to Gandhi Bhavan where the gallery was inaugurated by first president of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad in 1954. From here the artefacts were again moved to present building, located in the Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex. It was first named Ajaib Ghar, then Dogra Art Gallery and finally upgraded to Dogra Art Museum.
Present day building which is in dilapidated condition and craving for attention was constructed to commemorate the visit of the British Monarch Edward VII when he visited Jammu as the Prince of Wales in 1875. Strangely there are just two museums in J&K but a casual approach towards this place speaks of seriousness with which the artefacts are being up-kept. Though the meagre staff and couple of officials are doing their best to curate artefacts yet lack of a professional approach is threatening the very existence of priceless pieces that have been kept for display in most unprofessional manner.
The entire complex, where artefacts have been displayed in a jam-packed manner beyond its capacity, has been divided into four halls named Pink Hall, Master Sansar Chand Baru Gallery (named after first curator of Museum), Marble Hall Gallery and Gallery of modern art. While the Pink Hall is packed with almirahs and glass cabinets displaying stone inscriptions in Takri and Bodhi, terracotta excavated from Akhnoor, textiles, armoury, numismatics and manuscripts other galleries house oil paintings, fossils, jewellery, portraits and artworks of contemporary artists.
While Pink Hall is little better preserved, Sansar Chand Baru Gallery is almost like a passage to the Marble Hall. Ceiling of this gallery is done in Khatamband (A Kashmiri art of intricately carved ceiling) that’s very well preserved and attracts viewers. However Marble Hall is having two large marble carved doors. One of the spaces beneath this marble arc door has been converted into a pantry. A fountain that’s not functional and has been camouflaged with boards is in Gallery of Modern Art where water seeps through jharokhas.
A walk through the museum without any guide despite furnished theoretical framework for explaining artefacts attributed to the artisan in a casual manner makes no sense. Another major reason why this only museum of Jammu is not on tourism map and attracting crowds is because of location and inaccessibility. Though the location with respect to artefacts is apt and has a heritage value but on maps it’s located in such a corner of the city that its almost inaccessible to tourists and even local inhabitants.
There are several thousand local people including children who have never ever visited this Museum only because it’s not accessible and doesn’t have parking space. The one that existed stands banned because of ongoing restoration work on Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex. While making announcement or issuing advertisements about banned parking inside the complex not even a single about parking for Museum visitors was mentioned anywhere which gave an impression that the place has been declared out of bounds for all.
The situation is so grim that there hardly is any footfall during summers. The number of visitors on any casual day doesn’t even cross two digits. It’s only during winter annual Darbar move that people throng this place. The department of of archives, archaeology and museums manning this place however organises routine events like International Museums Day or World heritage Week and likes where school children are made to visit the place. That’s the time of the year when footfall increases.
Interestingly, there were some carved and painted doors that were taken out from different adjoining buildings of Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex and kept in the museum. Owning to space constraints many such doors and other artefacts have been dumped in corners and on empty spaces since they cannot be displayed. There are several other items that need space to be displayed but its again the space that is not allowing Dogra Art Museum officials to do justice with them.
Another hurdle that the museum staff faces is lack of adequate equipment for conservation laboratory. Since a science is involved even in displaying artefacts many of which are fragile, lack of experts in the field also forces staff to apply their minds in best possible way to display the collections in whatever possible way they can. This is something which can destroy or damage the artefacts if not handled carefully. Since there are many expensive rather rare and priceless paintings lack of adequate security is also a concern. Assistant Director, Department of Archives, Sangeeta Sharma when contacted said that the museum is rich in heritage collections and primarily displays terracotta heads excavated from Buddhist site Ambaran in Akhnoor. The style of heads, she said is Gandhar style. Different attires under textiles category belonging to erstwhile royal family and manuscripts including Skandpuran of 16th century, Mahabharata, Persian version of Panj Gunj (Sikandar Nama) 1202 A.D and Shah Nama dating 1654,
Regarding infrastructure Sangeeta Sharma said that because of aging certain issues crop up in the building but there are plans for its conservation as well. “So, when the work will begin the museum might be temporarily shifted and after conservation there are chances of more halls to be allotted to the museum. This will enable us to display more artefacts in a still better manner for the public viewing”, she said.
She said that Dogra Art Museum, Jammu is the abode of treasure trove of Dogra Cultural heritage and known world over for its collection of miniature paintings especially paintings from Basohali (Rasmanjari series), Jammu and Kangra schools. Arms and armoury, metal objects and decorative art pieces besides intricately decorated marble jharokhas with inlay work of semi precious stones in the Marble Hall are all worth seeing. A very nominal fee is charged from visitors so that more and more people could come and see the historic artefacts.
It’s worth mentioning that after the states’ accession with the Union of India, a committee was formed under the presidentship of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, the then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 1954 the then education minister Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq, finance minister G.L.Dogra, famous artist Master Sansar Chand Baru and Padamshree Prof. R.N.Shastri were the members of the committee that set up this art gallery which was later converted into full-fledged museum.