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Tracing Our Routes

Friday, January 05, 2018

Taking in the artefacts and the history on display at ‘India and the World: A History in Nine Stories’, an exhibit at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya at Fort, Aakriti Patni traces the history of our country through nine chapters

Tracing our routes, diving into the depths of history... As historical junkies, we love delving into the different eras, and exploring and unearthing the unheard facts from history. And, the perfect exhibit for those who like to lose themselves in the narration and re-telling of historical stories is on display at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. The museum is known for its innovative and interesting exhibitions, and this time it has truly outdone itself, curating an exhibition that traces the history of India and the world in nine stories. If you haven’t had a chance to explore the exhibition yet, we give you the rundown as we go through some their interesting stories.

Chapter 1: Shared Beginnings
(1,700,000 years ago – 2000 BC)

The first chapter opens by exploring the beginning of human history. Taking a look at our ancestors, this story throws light on the tools and technology that were used in the very beginning of human life, and traces the connections between life from different parts of the country. The common thread lies in the tools used, specifically the hand axe, and this is where the story shines. Our distant ancestors travelled from Africa to Asia and Europe, bringing with them the hand axe and then arrived in India perhaps as early as 1.7 million years ago. The same tools were made for tens of thousands of years wherever these distant ancestors travelled. This chapter has on display the different hand axes and pots that were used by our ancestors.

Chapter 2: First Cities

(3000 BC – 1000 BC)

This is the next step in history. After tracing the beginnings and early life of humans, come the civilizations that changed how people lived and shaped the lifestyle that we know. Exploring the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Harappa that we have studied, this chapter displays the objects that were made by the people who lived and ruled in these first cities and provides glimpses into their lives — how they lived and the obstacles they faced.

Chapter 3: Empires

(600 BC – AD 200)

From mere hunters to traders, man grew from living like a caveman to living in a planned civilisation, and ultimately living like a king, creating empires and kingdoms across landscapes. The age of empires that began spreading across Asia saw the birth of royalty and the creation of the ruler. This chapter delves into the rich history and heritage that the different empires have left behind, and examines how kingdoms from across the world have influenced the history of India. On display are relics, statues and artefacts that belong to different empires.

Chapter 4 and 5: State and Faith

(100 AD – 700 AD)

As we saw the rise in the birth of empires and rulers, religion, too, gradually developed and became a defining aspect of the different empires. With great power came great responsibility for the rulers and many of them relied on asserting the faith of their people through religion and the divine power of the gods. Coins were the medium widely used by the empires to advertise their bond with a certain faith or deity. The Hindu Guptas, the Zoroastrian Sassanians and the Christian Roman Empire used coins to spread religious imagery, while also advertising and putting on display the ruler’s devotion to that particular faith. In stark contrast, Islam brought a new style of coinage, which emphasised that it was the word of God, rather than the ruler, that held the empire together.

Chapter 6: Indian Ocean Traders

(200 AD – 1650 AD)

This chapter highlights the global connection and international relations that India formed right from the very beginning. Linking people and places, communities were able to interact as traders and travellers used the Indian Ocean for their travels and explored the world like never before. Indian Ocean trade increased around two thousand years ago at the time of the Satavahana Dynasty in India and the Roman Empire, and saw the movement of both raw materials and manufactured goods. On display in this chapter are the different relics, the artefacts and the many statues that belong to different eras and empires, but which found their way across the world.

Chapter 7: Court Cultures

(1500 AD – 1800 AD)

Court life emerged in South Asia as the rule of the Mughals settled in, as it was greatly known for its opulence and literary culture, miniature paintings and monumental architecture. The courts of the Deccan sultanates — Islamic kingdoms in southern India — the Hindu Rajput courts of Udaipur, Jaipur and Jodhpur were also known for their court culture and wielded political power. The paintings and objects of this period reveal the magnificence of these courts as well as the complexities of their etiquette and the hierarchies emplaced to instil the perception of the court.

Chapter 8: Quest for Freedom
(AD 1800 – PRESENT)
Image credit: www.indiaandtheworld.org

Walking through the exhibition, each chapter builds up to the fight for freedom that people from across the world have been vying for. The quest for freedom is a story that spans from the beginning of time to the present, and it is a quest that is being carried forward into the future. From the abolition of slavery to the pursuit of independence, freedom has been craved by all cultures and countries, and the quest for it has had an international presence and a global influence. In this section, paintings, photographs, posters, everyday objects and contemporary art provide different perspectives on these struggles from around the world.

Chapter 9: Time Unbound

Stepping away from this historical journey the exhibition has presented us with, the last and final chapter takes a look at the relationship with time, the living world and that which lies beyond. Though the exhibit has presented the history of India and the world in a linear fashion, historical notions and perceptions differ from culture to culture, and the last chapter examines the different perspectives of time and our relationship with the past through contemporary objects.

ON DISPLAY

Olduvai Handaxe

(Chapter 1: Shared Beginnings)

A masterpiece, highlighting the art of a toolmaker, the Olduvai Handaxe, which is dated 800,000 to 400,000 years old, was found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania and belongs to the British Museum. Handcrafted from quartz, the hand axe has been thinned and refined to create a symmetrical, teardrop shape, which added little to its usefulness. This suggests that the skill invested in producing beautiful hand axes may have had other purposes. They may have been status symbols or used in rituals. Not just for functional purposes, hand axes are said to be the earliest indications of artistic endeavours.

Statue of a woman

(Chapter 2: First Cities)

Dated 2400 BC, and belonging to the British Museum, the statues of women were discovered in the early cities of ancient Mesopotamia. Frequently seen at temples and sacred sites, the statues were in prayer poses. Their eyes were inlaid with precious stones and their eyebrows meet in the middle, which was considered a sign of great beauty.

Festivities around the relic of the turban
(Chapter 3: Empires)

Not belonging to a particular empire, rather signifying the power an emperor possesses and linking their authority and command with that of the gods, the relic of the turban comes from a Buddhist temple in the village of Phangiri. This relic is definitely an interesting one, as rather than highlighting the historical facts of the year, it throws light on the play for power and focuses on the psychology of the different rulers. Whereas kingship was based on the power a leader held, this sculpture reveals a parallel concept from the Indian philosophy of not holding on to power, which is similar to that of Buddha or Prince Siddhartha, who gave up the promise of kingship, symbolised by the removal of his kingly turban, in order to pursue his lifelong quest for enlightenment instead.

Gupta dinar of Samudragupta

(Chapter 4 and 5: State and Faith)
Image credit: www.indiaandtheworld.org

Belonging to the collection of our very own museum, CSMVS itself, this gold coin dates back to AD 335 to 380 and hails from the Samudragupta dynasty. The coin is symbolic of the Ashwamedha yajna, an elaborate and public vedic rite of kingship that was revived by the Gupta kings to assert themselves as a Brahmanical monarchy. The coin is characterised by a horse standing before a sacrificial post on one side, and the queen holding a towel in one hand and a flywhisk over her shoulder on the other.

INDIA AND THE WORLD: A HISTORY IN NINE STORIES

A landmark exhibition, presented as a collaboration between the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) in Mumbai, the British Museum in London and the National Museum in New Delhi, India and the World: A History in Nine Stories traces the history of India and explores the strong connections that India has shared with the rest of the world.

A unique exhibition where the collaboration brings together three different museums, it is truly the first-of-a-kind and an extremely ambitious project for all three museums. Allowing for diverse cultures to flow together and piecing the international history of India, this exhibition has on display more than 200 objects that belong to the different museums and even private collectors. Commemorating 70 years of Indian independence, it is a fitting celebration as the exhibition delves into the rich history of the country, and through nine different chapters examines how international relations and the global connection has had an influence on India. The sharing of collections allows other countries with diverse cultures to become equal partners in the world narrative. Speaking of the exhibition and the collaboration, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, director general of CSMVS, tells us, “The exhibition will highlight India’s glorious past through a carefully selected range of objects representing important moments in India’s history. They are set in a wider global context to explore connections and comparisons between India and the rest of the world. The purpose is to share an encyclopaedic collection with a country that does

not possess one, and also to help develop a generation of global citizens.”

Objects as diverse as figural representations, inscriptions, coins, tools, paintings and jewellery are brought together in dialogue to demonstrate the common threads of human history. The installations are specially designed to complement and enhance the narrative of the exhibition. Using light as a medium to evoke the context of time through the nine stories without taking the attention away from the objects on display, a story is weaved and the exhibition takes you on a journey as you walk through the nine chapters that explore the different facets of history.

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