Shifting of Artifacts from Patna to Bihar Museum: Is it a case of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’?




Front View of Patna Museum

-Shams Khan

In the heart of Patna, surrounded by lush greenery, lies a magnificent edifice. This medieval era architectural marvel embodies Patna Museum. Here preserved are sculptures, antiquities, manuscripts, paintings, textiles, coins etc., mostly related to the part of the world that witnessed many empires flourish and extinguish in its lap.

Archeological objects and artifacts play important role in discovering and connecting the tale of history and heritage. From these objects, experts draw fascinating and nuance details of the respective period. They extract information of society, lifestyle, art, culture that existed at that time. Thus, historical papers and books find their arguments and conclusions either supported by or substantiated with these carefully kept collections. The reference and index of their works carry the addresses of items and artifacts where they are preserved.

But archeological enthusiasts will soon begin to face a unique challenge if their works bring them to Patna Museum. Most often than not, they would be diverted to a new museum, albeit located within one kilometer distance, but, with altogether different settings. The vision behind the establishment of newly built museum branded as Bihar Museum is to ‘showcase the glorious past of the region at a world class venue’. In order to ensure it, Bihar government has decided to shift a part of sculptures and antiquities of Patna Museum to newly built Bihar Museum. The objects belonging to pre-1764 are shifted to the new museum.

The decision to shift part of objects from the existing museum has drawn consistent sharp criticism, especially, from archeologists and historians. “Patna Museum is famous for rich and rare collections of sculptures and antiquities. Didarganj Yakshi and Chausa bronzes are prominent among them. In the Eastern region only Indian Museum Kolkata is ahead in maintaining larger number of such repositories. Striping away part of the collection including Yakshi and Chausa Bronze will devoid the museum with the very objects it is famed for,” said, Pushpa Raj, convener of Patna Sanghralay (Museum) Bachao Samiti.

In a piece, published in Hindustan times a year ago, acclaimed author and professor of History at Ashoka University Nayanjot Lahiri wrote, “That a new museum in the same city will be created by preying upon the historical collection of another one is extraordinary. No museum worth its salt would usually allow this to happen. The British Museum, for instance, is unlikely to give away part of its collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. For that matter, it is equally unlikely that the National Museum in New Delhi will part with its modern paintings which the National Gallery of Modern Art may well feel should in its portals. Patna, obviously, is pioneering a new manual of style for museums – where an old city museum’s collection, seen by thousands of daily visitors, is cannibalised for setting up another museum in the same city.”

In the same piece it was further underlined, “the tragedy that confronts the Patna Museum is real one. It need not be so. Patna can be home to more than that one great museum. The Bihar Museum should flourish but not at the expense of its older counterpart.”

On the other hand, archeologists, historians and experts, back in 2015, wrote a letter to the Chief Minister demanding that the decision should be overturned. The letter had pointed out among many things that Patna Museum is fully Government body while Bihar Museum is constituted as a registered society which does not have legislative backing, therefore, it is not valid to transfer valuable and rare sculptures and antiquities that belong to a fully government museum to a non government Museum.

The letter had also suggested the ways newly built museum could be made of ‘world class’ without affecting the collections of Patna Museum. It said, in contemporary times the scope of Museums has broadened, along with display of archeological artifacts and arts, exhibition of other spheres of knowledge and Science. Thus, the letter suggested, those sections which do not exist in Patna Museum should be established in the newly built Museum.

Talking to the The Morning Chronicle, expressing his deep displeasure, former Director Museums, Bihar, Hari Kishore Prasad said, “Relocation of historical artifacts amounts to disintegration of Patna Museum. It took extraordinary efforts and careful nurturing to gain this Museum the grand standing it enjoys today. Now to arbitrarily strike a blow at a time when it is celebrating centenary is totally out of sense. It is in my view most unfortunate thing that is happening. It has potential of nullifying all the good works which, over the years, Patna museum has witnessed.”

Yet, as the state government is swiftly moving ahead with the plan of relocation, Pushpa Raj fumed , “What is the compulsion of utterly disregarding the genuine concerns raised by archeologists and eminent scholars? “Are vested interests involved in pushing the relocation of multi-million sculptures and artifacts,” he enquired.