India – History comes full circle

A circular building located within the State department of Archaeology and Museums beckons one with a rustic looking threshold similar to what you see at temples. Almost nondescript on the outside, the building belies its real purpose and the treasure to be found on the inside. Encircling artifacts both old and recent, the reopened State Archaeological Museum is a jewel in the rough.

After being shut for over three years, the museum was reopened on April 30 to coincide with the centenary celebrations of the Department of Archeology, Andhra Pradesh that was founded in the year 1914, much to the delight of history and heritage lovers in the city.

Spread over three floors, archeological findings across various districts in Andhra Pradesh make for a very interesting tour of the reorganised premises.

As you enter, you are greeted by a ‘dwaram’ that was salvaged from the Pragatur village in Srisailam; it was submerged after the construction of the dam, and this sets the mood for the rest of the trip down the annals of history.

The ground floor takes visitors on a brief visit back to the Harappa and Mohenjodaro period with exhibits made of stucco, terracotta, stone, metal and wood. Though mostly damaged sculptures of women and men, the showcase also include jewellery adorned during that era. Called Art through Ages, the exhibits have actually been sourced from the Museum of Calcutta.

“They had a lot of it (excavated artifacts), so they thought why not share it and we agreed,” informs Prem Sagar, museum in-charge and an archeology major.

Once you’ve taken in the visual sculptures ranging in facial representations of women and men of Harappa and Mohenjodaro (now partly in Pakistan), the rest of the tour takes you through excavations from around Andhra Pradesh.

“These sculptures of men and women refers to the non-existence of photographs back then,” explains Prem Sagar.

All these sculptures date back 2,000 years ago, precisely, between 200 BC and 200 AD and the sites are spread from Karimnagar in AP to Raichur in Karnataka.

Teracotta creations vary from human figurines to versions of deities – from a torso of Lord Vishnu to all the Jain Thirthankaras in a single sculpture (who were possibly worshipped) to the accessories they wore in that period.

The Stucco figures also date back to the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries also depicting human figurines mostly. The most interesting aspects of these human figurines is that all of them have distinct facial expressions and features. These give us a glimpse into the lives of our ancestors who lived back then.

As you move beyond the age-old, the Nizams take up a large part of the ground floor, changing the tone from early man methods to extravagant lifestyles.

The Nizam’s period has on display bidriware that includes kitchen ware and dining ware. The well-worn look on these conjure up mental images of a household setting and almost makes us wonder what cooking in those days must have been like. Random fact: soil from the Bidar Fort in Karnataka was used in making these utensils.

Progressing with time, the sculptures that were made in the later periods were of stone. Like the evolution in materials that were used, the depictions, especially of mother goddesses also show distinct changes. If the terracotta figurines were limited to the basic anatomy of a woman, and in most cases just the torso, stone carvings were much finer with definitive features and were also more complete in terms of the whole body and details like jewellery etc.

As you move up the storeys in the building, you’ll notice that the exhibits do not follow any particular trajectory and the timeline constantly shifts back and forth.

Post the lingering images of mother goddess, the first floor takes you through the Early Man era. Depicting the technological change of this time, you’ll find an evolution in the tools used – from simple rocks to finely chiselled weapons.

“While early man used heavy and unwieldy tools, they moved on to use sharper and finer objects to hunt and dig. The way technology progressed is clearly visible,” points out Prem Sagar.

This is followed by the Megalithic era where people believed strongly in life after death. An elaborated display of things that people of that age thought would be needed by the departed could leave you fascinated as well as surprised. From earthern vessels to pots to weapons, they seemed to make sure that their after-life was just as provided for.

Details like coffins being made from terracotta, wood and stone and jewellery mostly made from beads and fashioned as head ornaments, waist and neck pieces make for a rather intriguing viewing.

The final stop in the museum is that of rock paintings that date back to 6,000 – 5,000 BC. Photographs of these paintings are displayed where some of them date back to the Kakatiya period. There are also eye copies made by artists that are displayed providing a much needed insight to visitors.

Apart from this, the museum also hosts reconstructed temples that were submerged after the construction of Srisailam and Nagarjuna Sagar dams.

An overall insightful tour that makes for just as good a school field trip as a day out, the museum is open to all and has free entry.

Part of our News series