Day 20 – Kolkata

Today I visited the Indian Museum, the largest and oldest multipurpose museum in India and SE Asia. Founded in 1814, it is housed in an enormous building which has seen better days. 

Despite the building’s aging facilities and lack of signage, the museum is full of interesting and surprising content, particularly the remains of an early stupa from the second century BCE found in Bharhut in 1823.

This eastern gateway is 23 feet tall, all made of red sandstone. The other gateways have disappeared over time.

The carvings reflect the village life. This man appears to be having a tooth extracted while a monkey gives him a manicure.

In the early art of Buddhism, the Buddha figure was never represented. Instead, there were symbols, such as a seat, footprints, the Bodhi tree, the wheel and the stupa. Animal spirits are also depicted in the carvings.

The Bharhut display alone made the museum visit worthwhile.

The Egyptian section contains a mummy, along with very good high-level explanations of what the Egyptian civilization of the Pharoahs was about.

The fossil room seemed straight out of the 19th century. This prehistoric deer-like mammal has a horn-spread of 11 feet.

Each table contains fossils carefully labeled from the Cambrian, the Pleistocene, the Mesozoic, and all those other times and places billions of years back that I can never keep straight. Lots of little worm-like spiral fossils and fragments, all named and labeled.

In the textile room, Ram and Sita do their usual thing.

This Baluchari sari has astounding woven detail.

Footwear and ankle bracelets.

More footwear. They do not look comfortable.

One very interesting museum section displayed masks of West Bengal used in religious dances. Here is Durga with her 10 additional heads and third eyes.

Some of the masks are made of paper, cloth and clay. Here’s Krishna of the blue face. Too bad his peacock feather headdress did not fit in the photo.

Some tribal villages produce more primitive masks. The mask collection is so stunning it should be brought to the SF Asian Art Museum for an exhibit along with the dancers and/or videos of the dances. 

No cups, so this man decided to slurp from the spout. 

This cute couple was just one of many Indians who wanted a photo. I could not rest on a bench in the museum without the inevitable “one photo” request. I always say “yes” because it’s only fair exchange for the many I take.

The Indian youth are big on selfies. These are just a few of the many I saw being taken in the museum.

There was a very small exhibit on Durga, the all-powerful, fierce, protective mother. Ride that cat! Kill that buffalo demon! Yee-ha! 

This street shot of the New Market, which is right next to my hotel, is a stock photo.  It must have been taken years back because now there are twice as many people and most of them are on their cell phones.

I could not stop to shop or even take a photo because, one after another, men would harass me…”Where are you from? Come see my shop. I have very nice saris…Come, ma’am, please, just look. Ma’am, come, please…” and the streets were absolutely packed, like riding Muni at rush hour, so I had to keep my eyes on the slippery, wet and broken pavement, and keep one hand clasped over the zipper on my purse, and the other clutching my bag close while edging slowly toward the hotel amidst the harangues. Not pleasant.

But the hotel is a refuge, and I am thankful for it. Tomorrow it’s off to Mumbai.