India’s Unmissable Treasures

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As we celebrate the International Museum day, we take a trip through some of India’s top museums and tell you about the most iconic, unmissable treasures that you have to see. We all know about the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, but do you know where India’s Mona Lisa is? Read on and take a trip through India, its history and its 10 unmissable treasures.

This stone hand axe found is the oldest human artefact found in the Indian subcontinent
This stone hand axe found is the oldest human artefact found in the Indian subcontinent | LHI Team

1. Pallavaram Axe at the Government Museum, Chennai

This is the first Palaeolithic hand axe discovered in India and it was found by the British geologist and archaeologist Robert Bruce Foote in May 1863. Found at Pallavaram near Chennai, this hand axe is significant as it indicated the site of one of India’s earliest settlements dating back to the Lower Palaeolithic Period (apx 1.7 million years ago). The prehistoric antiquities acquired by Foote were consequently designated and identified as the ‘Foote Collection’ and are housed in the Chennai Museum.

Dancing Girl from Mohenjo daro
Dancing Girl from Mohenjo daro | Wikimedia Commons

2. Indus dancing girl at the National Museum, Delhi

The most iconic piece of art, that the world associates with a whole civilization, you can find the Indus dancing girl (c.2500 BCE) at the National Museum, New Delhi. The nude bronze statue was recovered during an excavation in Mohenjo daro. In recent times, historians have questioned whether she is actually a dancing girl. Some say she may have been a priestess or a lady of importance.

Didarganj Yakshi
Didarganj Yakshi | Mini Menon

3. Didarganj Yakshi at the Bihar State Museum, Patna

The Didarganj Yakshi housed at the swanky new Bihar State Museum is the finest example of Mauryan art. The life-size Yakshi is 5 feet 2 inches tall and is the most renowned statue of the Chauri (Fly Whisk) bearer. The statue is carved out of single piece of sandstone (from Chunnar) and has the famous Mauryan mirror polish. It is dated to the late Mauryan period, around 2nd century BCE. The statue was found in 1917, in Didarganj in Old Patna city, buried in the banks of river Ganga.

Relief from Amravati Stupa
Relief from Amravati Stupa | Wikimedia Commons

4. Amravati Stupa Reliefs at the Government Museum, Chennai

The reliefs form the once famous Buddhist Stupa at Amaravati, in Andhra Pradesh are considered masterpieces of Indian art. These exquisitely carved slabs of stone tell the stories from the life of the Buddha. While many have been taken to museums around the world, you can catch a glimpse of this exquisite work at the Government Museum in Chennai and at Indian Museum, Kolkata.

Sacred ashes of Gautama Buddha
Sacred ashes of Gautama Buddha | Flickr Commons

5. The Sacred Ashes of Lord Buddha at the Bihar State Museum, Patna

A casket containing the ashes of Gautama Buddha, are kept at the Patna museum in Bihar. Discovered in the center of the lowest mud layer of the stupa at Vaishali during an extensive excavation carried out by noted archaeologist late AS Altekar from 1958 to 1961, these relics are the biggest draw for tourists and pilgrims alike at the Patna Museum. Along with the ashes the casket contains a stone bead, a glass bead, a copper punch marked coin, a conch and a small leaf of gold.

Akbar’s Armour
Akbar’s Armour | LHI Team

6. Armour of Emperor Akbar at CSMVS, Mumbai

An original armour owned by the great Mughal Emperor Akbar from 16th century can be seen at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS). Donated by the Sir Ratan Tata trust, it is a fine steel and gold armour made of two pieces – a breastplate and a backplate. This breastplate was perhaps moulded to the shape of Akbar’s torso, with a unique inclusion of a high neck collar to protect the throat. This is what first alerted the curators to the fact that this may have been the armour of an important man. Later they found an inscription indicating it belonged to Akbar.

Bronze statue of Nataraja
Bronze statue of Nataraja | Wikimedia Commons

7. The Chola Bronze Nataraja at the Government Museum, Chennai

The Chola bronze sculptures at the Government museum, Chennai never fail to enthrall visitors. Most iconic among these bronzes is that of the dancing Shiva or Nataraja, dating to the 11-12th century CE. The rule of the Chola dynasty was a golden age for bronze sculpture making in India and the famous Nataraja, is perhaps the most famous icon of that period.

Replica of Mastani Mahal
Replica of Mastani Mahal | Flickr Commons

8. Mastani Mahal at Raja Kelkar Museum, Pune

‘The Mastani Mahal’ is a recreated room from the palace of Mastani, the consort of Peshwa Bajirao I. Originally part of her palace in Kothrud, in Pune, it fell into disrepair and was acquired and reinstalled by Dr. Kelkar, the noted art collector. It is one of the finest surviving examples of traditional Maratha architecture.

Ivory chairs of Tipu Sultan
Ivory chairs of Tipu Sultan |

9. Tipu Sultan’s Chairs at Salar Jung Museum

The Ivory chairs of Tipu Sultan, come with an interesting provenance. Desirous of an alliance with Mysore, they were presented to Tipu Sultan by King Louis XVI of France, who lost his head in the French revolution. Carved out of ivory, they have tiger heads carved on them. They were also the last acquisitions of Nawab Salar jung, the founder of the museum and were still in their original packaging, when he died in 1949. He never got to see them!

Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings of the Goddess’s Lakshmi and Saraswati
Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings of the Goddess’s Lakshmi and Saraswati | Wikimedia Commons

10. Raja Ravi Varma’s Lakshmi & Saraswati at the Maharaja Fatehsinhrao Gaekwad Museum, Vadodara

Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings of the Goddess’s Lakshmi and Saraswati are iconic in the annals of Indian art history. Originally commissioned by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda in 1896, these paintings became so popular that Raja Ravi Varma began making their prints and selling them through his printing press. It is to Ravi Varma’s credit that these paintings set the template on how we visualize our gods and goddesses even today!


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