Friday, 18 May 2018

The Lesser-Known Museums of Kolkata

Such is the reputation of Kolkata’s Indian Museum, that when one says museum or “jadughar” in Kolkata, the Indian Museum is what one refers to, and that one word is enough for taxi drivers to take you to your destination. However, housed in various buildings around the city, are a number of smaller museums, from 1-room displays to multi-gallery affairs, which house antiquities and objects that can educate and provoke curiosity.


ADDRESS – 5, Ashraf Mistry Lane,
Kolkata - 700019
GPS - 22°32'01.1"N 88°21'23.2"E
HOURS – 11am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Shut Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays.
TIME TAKEN TO VISIT – 40 minutes

The first education minister of independent India, Sayyid Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin Ahmed, known by his pen name “Azad”, was from a conservative, traditional, Muslim family. The family moved to Calcutta in 1890 because Azad’s father, Maulana Kahiruddin needed treatment for a broken shin bone. For the next few years, the family stayed at a number of rented addresses around the city, finally settling into the building on Ashraf Mistry Lane. This was the building where Azad lived with his wife, Zulaikha Begam. The building has been restored and occupied by the Maulana Azad Institute of Asian Studies since 2005. The ground floor contains a one-room museum which displays several items of personal use, including Azad’s famous dark glasses as well as photographs and the Bharat Ratna he was posthumously awarded.


ADDRESS –113, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy Road
GPS - 22°34'57.8"N 88°22'27.6"E
HOURS – 11am to 5pm, Sunday to Saturday. Mondays closed
PHOTOGRAPHY – Not permitted
TIME TAKEN TO VISIT – 60 minutes

The Police Museum on APC Road was once the home of famous Bengali social reformed, Raja Rammohan Roy and was built around 1814. It was sold via auction in 1830, the year he travelled to England. The building was used by the Kolkata Police for a very long time before the decision was taken to turn it into a museum in 1996. Inside the museum are a large collection of weapons from the pre-Independence period, especially weapons used by armed revolutionaries against the British. Khudiram Bose’s last letter to his sister before he was hanged is touching. The government has also displayed 64 files related to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose which were declassified recently. Also on display is the entire skeleton of Biswanath Dutta, murdered in 1994 by his brother Aloke, a former police constable as well as the blood covered swing from the Hetal Parekh murder case.


GPS - 22°34'22.7"N 88°20'48.5"E
HOURS – 7 days a week, 11am – 4pm
PHOTOGRAPHY – Permitted without flash
TIME TAKEN TO VISIT – 40 minutes

Located in the red building immediately behind the GPO, the Postal Museum has recently re-opened after a long time. On display are a large number of weapons used by postal “runners”, fascinating equipment such as signal lamps used by the post office and recreations of scenes from the early days of the post in India. There are also two ornate, colonial-era post boxes, several advertisements from the turn of the century, and postal savings account books of the some of the most celebrated Bengalis of all time, including Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Also on display is the plaque placed by Curzon on the location of the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta as well as photographs of the brass lines inside the GPO, marking the position of part of the wall of the old Fort William.


ADDRESS – P 1/4, C.I.T. Scheme-VII(M),
V.I.P. Road,
P.O. Kankurgachi,
Kolkata - 700054
GPS - 22°34'55.5"N 88°23'28.3"E
HOURS – Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm. Closed Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays.
PHOTOGRAPHY – Not permitted
TIME TAKEN TO VISIT – 40 minutes
PHONE – 2320-7623

The Heritage Boats of Bengal museum is the brainchild of Upendranath Biswas, formerly the joint director of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the former minister for backward class welfare in the West Bengal government. 46 models of traditional boats of Bengal are on display, along with notes explaining the specialty of each type, and what they were used for. Since Bengal is riverine country, boats were the primary form of transport and crucial to commerce. However, Bengal’s rivers can be of a vastly different character, from the rapid and shallow streams of the north to the languid and deep rivers of the south. Each river and demands a different kind of boat and these boats have evolved over hundreds of years. However, now, with the rise of modern forms of transportation, Bengal’s traditional boat-making industry is at risk, and many boats are disappearing altogether. The museum also has a booklet for Rs. 15 and a book for Rs. 500 detailing all the boat types. The museum is currently housed inside Ambedkar Bhavan in Kankurgachhi.


ADDRESS – Sido Kanu Dahar,
Kolkata 700069
GPS - 22°33'55.1"N 88°21'02.4"E
HOURS – Fridays to Wednesdays, 3.00 pm to 8.00 pm. Thursdays closed.
ENTRY FEES – Rs. 5/-
TIME TAKEN TO VISIT – 30 minutes

The Calcutta Tramways Corporation, or CTC, has come up with a unique initiative to showcase its 140-year heritage in the form of Smaranika (literally meaning memorabilia), a tram museum housed inside an actual tram, stationed at the Esplanade Tram Depot. On display are interesting equipment and gadgets used by the Calcutta Tramways Corporation over the years. Among them is a Coin Exchanger with Punch and Ticket Pockets used in the 1950s by Conductor for giving change of correct denominations to passengers. There are also a large number of tram models such as the Byomkesh Bakshi Tram Car - a double-bogie wooden tram car #567 of the year 1931 that was specially modified at CTC Nonapukur Workshop in the year 2013 for the shooting of the Hindi film 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshi' directed by Dibakar Banerjee. The Smaranika tramcar, officially designated CTC-142, was built in 1938 and has been renovated and modified to accommodate a cafeteria in the 1st class compartment, and a tram museum in the rear, 2nd class compartment. The cafeteria serves basic tea and coffee; don’t expect your fancy lattes and green teas here. Along with that, there are soft drinks and various chips and crisps which are sold at MRP. It’s a great place for a long, relaxed Calcutta-style “adda” or chat and the staff tells me that on weekdays a place to sit may be difficult to find.


ADDRESS – 6 Fairlie Warehouse,
Ground Floor,
Strand Road,
Kolkata 700001
GPS - 22°34'36.5"N 88°20'49.0"E
HOURS – Monday to Friday, 10am to 4:30pm. Closed Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays.
PHOTOGRAPHY – Allowed with prior permission

The Maritime Archives and Heritage Museum is Kolkata Port Trust’s endeavour to showcase its heritage. Opened in 1870 and constructed by the British East India Company, Kolkata Port is the oldest port in India and the history of the city is tied into the development of the port. Set up in 2008, the Maritime Archives and Heritage Museum showcases some wonderful models of ships that were once used by the Port Trust, including ships used for dredging. On display are also antique Port Trust signalling equipment and a number of photographs of famous incidents related to the port. There is also the 100-meter-long steel tape, used during the construction of the Howrah Bridge. What makes it special is the fact that it does not expand or contract significantly, even when it is very hot or very cold.


ADDRESS – 85 A, Raja Ram Mohan Roy Sarani (Amherst Street)
GPS - 22°34'58.6"N 88°22'16.9"E
HOURS – Tuesday to Sunday, 11am – 4pm. Mondays closed
ENTRY FEES – Indian children (up to 11 years) Rs. 5, Indian adults Rs. 10, Foreigners Rs. 50
PHOTOGRAPHY – permitted against Rs. 50 fee
TIME TAKEN TO VISIT – 60 minutes

No. 85 Amherst Street, now 85A, Raja Rammohun Sarani, Simla House, was the residence of the family of Raja Rammohun Roy, his two sons Radhaprasad and Ramaprasad lived there with their families.  The property was purchased by Rammohun from one Francis Mendes for Rs. 13,000/- probably in the year 1815. It was in this house that Rammohun Roy for a while held weekly meetings of the Atmiya Sabha, the precursor to the Brahmo Samaj.  The building had been taken over by encroachers from the 1960’s and in 1972, on the occasion of the bi-centenary birth anniversary of Rammohun Roy, the Rammohun College initiated a move to acquire the building. The museum was inaugurated in 1999 and houses replicas of many items that once belonged to Raja Rammohan Roy, along with photographs and models that memorialize important events in his life – a wealth of information for those who want to know more about the man who had Sati, the practice of burning a widow alive on her husband’s pyre, banned.


ADDRESS – Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre,
IB 201, Sector III,
IA Block, Salt Lake,
Kolkata - 700106
GPS - 22°34'23.8"N 88°24'48.3"E
HOURS – Monday to Friday, 11am to 5pm. Closed Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays.
PHOTOGRAPHY – Not permitted
PHONE – 2335 6796

Vadya Vithika in Salt Lake is the Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre’s effort to preserve endangered tribal musical instruments. It was inaugurated by West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi in 2016. Although the museum has more than 450 instruments, only about 265 are on display in two large rooms. The instruments are divided into 4 sections, percussion, string, wind and solid instruments, such as cymbals and ghungroos. I had heard of the “dhamsha”, the tribal percussion instrument, but this is the first time that I saw it, and several of its variants. There are also various extremely large and strange shaped string instruments and it is difficult to imagine how they are played, or even what sound they make.


Diamond Harbour Rd,
Diamond Park,
West Bengal 700104
GPS - 22°27'19.5"N 88°18'12.3"E
HOURS – Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm. Shut Mondays and all Central Govt. holidays
ENTRY FEES – Students Rs. 2, adult Indians Rs. 10, Foreigners Rs. 50
PHOTOGRAPHY – Permitted with permission and payment

The Gurusaday Museum has been in the news of late thanks to the central government deciding to cut its funding. If that were indeed to happen, that would be a tragedy, because it is the only museum of folk art in Kolkata and is truly remarkable.  The Gurusaday Museum is the work of one man, civil servant, and author Gurusaday Dutta. In an era when folk art was not given any importance, it was Gurusaday Dutta who travelled tirelessly through Bengal, documenting its remarkable folk art and collecting art objects from all over the state. His collection today showcases some truly remarkable examples of Bengal’s folk art, especially “kantha” embroidery work, “pata” paintings and sculpture. The collection also showcases beautiful objects of everyday use in traditional Bengali homes, such as ornate wooden casts for making sweets. If you have an interest in art, the Gurusaday Museum can keep you enthralled for several hours. The museum has now come up with coffee mugs and stationery which can make for great gifts as well.


ADDRESS – 67/3, Diamond Harbour Road,
Saptarshi Bhavan,
Baro Bari,
Kolkata - 700008
GPS - 22°28'47.1"N 88°18'40.2"E
HOURS – 10am – 12 noon and 5pm to 7pm, closed Thursdays
PHOTOGRAPHY – Not permitted
TIME TAKEN TO VISIT – 40 minutes
PHONE – 24473550/9830289400

Established in 2005 by the The Sabarna Roy Choudhury Paribar Parishad, the descendants of the Sabarna Roy Chowdhury family from whom the East India Company purchased the 3 villages of Gobindapur, Sutanuti, and Kolikata which form the basis for modern Kolkata, the Sabarna Sangrahashala showcases family artefacts and heirlooms such as precious old furniture, ancient kitchen utensils, hunting trophies and a large number of documents related to the history of the city, including the verdict in the Kolkata Birthday Case, where the court declared that  Job Charnock was not the founder of Calcutta (Kolkata), nor is 24 August is the city's birthday, and that Kolkata was an important trade and religious centre before the arrival of Charnock. The museum also contains its own reference library with some books and supports research on the history of the city and publishes an annual tabloid as well as books on the history of the region.


Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Biswarup Ganguly

ADDRESS – 1, Satyen Roy Road
Kolkata 700034
GPS - 2°29'57.8"N 88°19'04.0"E
HOURS – 10:30am - 4:30pm, Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
ENTRY FEES – 5, students’ fees are waived against a prior application
PHOTOGRAPHY – with written permission, against a charge of Rs. 10 for every 4 photos.

Under the aegis of the West Bengal State Archaeology Department, the State Archaeological Museum was established in 1962. The museum currently has 7 galleries showcasing painting, stone sculpture, metal, early history etc. Of particular interest is the Jagjivanpur gallery, which contains a massive scale model of the ruins of a Buddhist monastery unearthed in Jagjivanpur in Malda. The stone sculptures, a large number of them being of the Hindu Sun God, are beautiful and I was awestruck by the minutest of anatomical details which had been faithfully reproduced by ancient artists. The museum also houses an excellent bookshop, which contains titles published by the State Archaeology Department, including the very useful series of books listing the antiquities of each district, which is invaluable for explorers like myself.


ADDRESS – Ecospace,
Action Area II,
West Bengal 700156
GPS - 22°35'08.4"N 88°29'24.4"E
HOURS – 11am to 7pm, closed Mondays
PHOTOGRAPHY – with permission
TIME TAKEN TO VISIT – 40 minutes

The Fanattic Sports Museum is the brainchild of sports historian Boria Majumdar and houses sports memorabilia from a large number of sports, such as Cricket, Soccer, Hockey and athletics. There are a large number of T-Shirts, shoes and sports equipment used by legends. Among the star attractions are Don Bradman’s bat and shooter Abhinav Bindra’s glove which he used to win his Olympic gold in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. There are a large number of bats, shirts and other equipment used by various players of the Indian Cricket Team. The museum also has an auditorium which is used to screen major matches. It is a favourite with the IT crowd who work in and around Rajarhat.


ADDRESS –1, Queens Way,
West Bengal 700071
GPS - 22°32'40.2"N 88°20'33.0"E
HOURS – 10am – 6pm, closed Mondays and national holidays
ENTRY FEES – Rs. 30 (Indians), Rs. 500 (Foreigners)
PHOTOGRAPHY – Allowed, no flash, no tripod
PHONE – 2223-1890

In spite of the fact that it is the city’s most prominent monument, many Kolkatans are not aware of the fact that the Victoria Memorial, in fact, houses a museum inside.  Many more have never been inside, or have been inside only once, which is a pity because it is quite a remarkable collection.  The Victoria Memorial Hall contains 25 galleries which showcase paintings, sculpture, arms and ammunition and historic artefacts. A large number of galleries are presently shut for renovation. Among the various exhibits are a large number of paintings by the Thomas and William Daniell, who spent a number of years in India, painting landscapes. The Victoria Memorial Hall has recently announced that photography within the galleries will be permitted, without the use of flash or a tripod. I would personally like to see two things that are supposed to be in the collection – the throne used by the Nawabs of Murshidabad and the painting “The Embassy of Hyder Beck” by Johan Zoffany.


The majority of the museums covered in this list receive few visitors around the year. Indeed, many people who live in Kolkata are not even aware that so many museums exist. This is because of multiple reasons. First, a number of the museums are attached to government institutes and therefore remain shut on weekends and all public holidays. Second, many, if not most of the museums lack an outreach programme or proper publicity. In Singapore, one can take free air-conditioned buses that keep running between all the malls. What if we could have a tourism company that had a museum tour every weekend with a bus that took tourists to 6 museums every Sunday? With a little bit of imagination, the possibilities are endless.

- by Deepanjan Ghosh


Sunando said...

Thank you Deep. This blog is a travel guide for those who loves photography and the history of Kolkata & West Bengal. Keep it up. Best of luck. Pictures are awesome.


astoundingbengal said...

Nice post.