National Museum Delhi - Vishnu

Indian Culture On Display at National Museum Delhi

Battling a world-class case of jetlag, I wasn’t in the mood to tackle anything too ambitious on our first day in India. A late morning brunch at The Leela Palace Hotel, followed by a leisurely stroll through the National Museum in New Delhi fit the bill. Even better, the art exhibits provided much-needed context for understanding Indian culture before we set off to explore the country.

Not being experts on Indian art and history, the audiotour (provided free with cost of admission) was invaluable. From this, we learned about ongoing archeology projects to unearth some of India’s oldest residents – the Harappan Civilization.

Harappan Civilization Exhibit at the National Museum Delhi

The collection of Harappan artifacts is fairly extensive, and a great insight into an ancient culture. But I don’t think any of it hit home until we stopped at one showcase housing a very well-preserved Harappan burial of a middle-aged female. She is found with pots around her head, which, according to the sinage, suggests a belief  in the afterlife. More poignant are the still intact shell bangles on her left arm, indicating that she was a married woman.

National Museum Delhi - Harappan Burial exhibit

We followed the audiotour chronologically through Indian history, and as we did so, discovered the many ways in which Buddha is represented in Indian art. Scholars may debate why Buddhism declined in the land of its origin, but Buddha’s importance in Indian culture is evident in the museum’s collection. And one of the exhibits, that of sacred corporeal relics discovered from two Steatite caskets (dated to the 5th to 4th century B.C.) draws devoted pilgrims regularly. In fact, there is a sign explicitly stating that “offerings and donations of any kind are strictly prohibited.”

National Museum Delhi - Buddha relics

Moving on, my kids and I greatly enjoyed hearing the stories of a few Hindi gods, from the venerable Vishnu…

National Museum Delhi - Vishnu

…to a personal favorite, Ganesha, the one who removes obstacles and impediments. (I could use some of that!)

National Museum Delhi - Ganesha

One collection in particular drew us in, that of a series of elaborate paintings in the Mughal Art Wing – some with Buddha. Detailed and vivid, each painting tells a story. But for my purposes, I was delighted to discover a painting depicting a Mughal wedding procession.

National Museum Delhi - Mughal art wing

This seemed like an excellent introduction to visiting the Taj Majal next.

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