Chennai: A day at the Government Museum

Sculptures coming to life, puppets talking to each other and ancient civilizations resurfacing to tell us their tales. Haven’t we all wished that we could spend a magical night at a museum? Then again, not all of us can be Ben Stiller. Rohini Mohanraj explores the Government Museum and discovers history and art at its best.

The Government Museum in Chennai has a spot reserved in every tourist’s itinerary. Deemed as one of the oldest museums in the country, it was inaugurated in 1896 by Sir Arthur Havelock, the then Governor of Madras. Located in a sprawling complex, the museum consists of six buildings and 46 galleries. Read on to know which 10 things here are not to be missed!

Bronze Gallery: There are over 1,500 bronze figures with impeccable carving: the Buddha, Jain gods, and specimens of Hindu gods, goddesses and devotees. The most prominent of these are the Nataraja sculptures dating back to the 11th century. Time has surprisingly not done much damage to the artifacts.

Recovered from a range of locations in South India like Guntur, Amaravathi and Mysore, these timeless beauties reflect different styles of art and illustrate the transition from traditional to conventional fine art. It has an entire building devoted to the bronze figures displayed on specially-made wooden counters with halogen lamp lighting. Art enthusiasts can get more information through audio visual aids and brochures listing details of the statues.

Connemara Public Library: Named after Lord Connemara who was the Governor of Madras long before Sir Arthur Havelock, the library is the place to be for books, newspapers, journals and publications on any subject you can think of. The pride of the library is its splendid reading room and the teakwood shelves. This concrete ocean of knowledge has also been functioning as the information centre for UNESCO since 1956. Did you know that even the math genius Ramanujam studied here?

Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings: Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings are a feast to the eye. He was one of the first Indian artists to gain critical acclaim abroad. Most of his paintings depict the beauty of South Indian women, comparing them with Hindu goddesses. The ‘The lady with fruit’ painting is one of his most famous works. The paintings are in a gallery with fibre optic lighting, thus preventing any possible damage by ultraviolet and infrared radiation.

The Museum Theatre: The Museum Theatre has played host to plays and performances in the city for the past 100 odd years. Every Chennaiite has spent many a wonderful evening here. Today, the paint on the walls is chipping off and the seats smell musty but the magnanimous theatre boasts of a façade that imparts almost a royal feel to the place.

The Children’s Museum: A treat for every child’s imagination, it has fountains, wind mills, dinosaurs and everything else that can fascinates a kid. My earliest memory of the museum was that of exploring the children’s section as a 6-year old with starry wide eyes. I got so carried away by the unique place that I strayed away from my parents and got lost!

Zoology section: The Baleen Whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling in the Zoology section is enormous! It measures over 60 feet in length and was found in Mangalore. Child or adult, everyone tends to gape at the skeleton in awe.

Coin collection: If you are a numismatic enthusiast, you will appreciate the extensive coin collection here. The numismatics section has a separate gallery where large size replicas of rare coins are displayed.

The Geology section: This features some interesting fossils. Most noteworthy of these are the ones of an elephant skull and a rhinoceros.

Ancient civilisations: An entire gallery is dedicated to theIndusValley andHarappa civilizations. Take a look at the interesting pottery and tools and know more about the way of life back then.

Puppet gallery: Another section that amuses everyone alike is the puppet gallery. Here, you will find puppets in costumes from different parts of the country.

Entrance fee is around Rs 15 for Indians and Rs 250 for foreigners. 

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