Removed from the humdrum of city life, off Diamond Harbour Road in Joka, lies a hidden gem – the Gurusaday Museum. Sir Gurusaday Dutt (1882 – 1941) was a versatile genius – a civil servant, folklorist and writer – and he founded the Bratachari Movement in 1930 with the aim of conserving the dying folk art forms and traditions of Bengal. It was his deep admiration, understanding and interest in the rural art forms that led to the foundation of this museum, which was constructed by the Bengal Bratachari Society after the death of Sir Gurusaday Dutt. The Museum was opened to the public on 8th February, 1963.
It is an enchanting experience to enter the gate and walk the narrow pebble pathway along a calming waterbody. The museum is a vintage three-storeyed buiIding surrounded by lush green trees. There are two galleries on the ground floor. The first gallery has a huge collection of Kantha, wood carvings, square paintings, pottery, Dokras, terracotta and scroll paintings. The second gallery is dedicated primarily to stone sculptures. The gallery on the first floor has a wide variety of displays such as moulds, dolls and miscellaneous objects.
The museum is a treasure trove of approximately 3300 exquisite exhibits. The rich cultural heritage of 19th century Bengal is manifested through the diverse artefacts. The exhibits can be categorised under different heads.
Though Kantha as a folk art form has been covered at length in our article on the Ambedkar Museum, we can mention here that this museum has the most authentic and marvellous collection of the Kanthas of Bengal. Kantha work is a folk form of quilting old dhotis and saris and embroidering them with coloured threads drawn from sari borders. Depending on the time, place, religion and social status, different motifs and colours have been used. There are seven different Kantha styles on display, with quite a few from each variety, viz., Nakshi Kantha, Sujni Kantha, Lep Kantha, Bayton Kantha, Arshilata Kantha, Oar Kantha and Rumal Kantha. There are altogether 210 exhibits, mainly from Faridpur, Khulna, Jessore and Dhaka.
Amongst all these varieties, one cannot afford to miss out on two exquisite Sujnis. One is a Kantha work made by three generations of the same family! The most intriguing one is a Sujni made by Manada Sundari Debi. This Kantha is also known as Do-rokha Kantha as it can be viewed from both sides, giving it a similar view. It speaks volumes about the life of rural Bengal during the British regime, as seen through the eyes of a simple village woman.
The museum houses a collection of 906 traditional paintings belonging to the 17th through 20th centuries, 100 Dasavatara playing cards, 270 scrolls, 363 square patas, 73 Kalighat patas, 5 chalachitras and 80 painted terracotta lids, of which very few are on display due to lack of space and proper maintenance facility.
The unique aspect of the paintings is that they are bold and brightly coloured with little ornamentation and shading, so that the subject is rightly highlighted. The subjects are usually mythological characters or rituals from popular festivals representing the ‘Nayika’.
The museum has a rich collection of 44 sculptures, all of which belong to the Pala or the Sena schools of Bengal of the 10th and 12th centuries. Among these, important sculptures are those of the statues of the ten-armed ‘Kritimukha’ Durga, the Buddhist Goddess Marichi having three heads, including a boar head and the crowned Buddha. The statues of Vayu, standing between two plantain trees and the three-faced Bhairava are also quite unusual.
There are 198 wood carvings of the 18th and 19th centuries illustrating popular deities and social themes in a bold and assertive way, clearly depicting the artistic ability and aesthetics of the artists of bygone eras. A Brahmin being shaved by a barber, a European lady and a pregnant woman in labour are some of the interesting pieces of woodwork.
Moulds have been used for a very long time in Bengal to decorate Bengal’s most popular sweetmeat, ‘sandesh’ and dried mango-paste ‘aamsotto’. This is the only museum in all of Bengal to house such a vast collection of moulds. Intricately carved with elaborate designs in clay or stone, the moulds reflect the aesthetic inclination of the rural folk towards objects with a very short shelf-life, which is unthinkable in today’s society.
Needless to say, Bengal has been home to terracotta for ages. Terracotta plaques were used to decorate temple facades. A unique collection of 209 ornamental terracotta plaques of the 16th to 19th centuries from Birbhum, Jessore, Faridpur and Calcutta districts of undivided Bengal can be seen here.
There are 419 dolls in the museum from Kolkata, Midnapur, 24 Parganas, Burdwan, Mymensing, Faridpur and Coomilla of undivided Bengal. These are brightly-coloured lacquer dolls, terracotta dolls and wooden dolls.
There are 77 items of modern pottery, 62 manuscripts, 134 wooden utensils and also some of the personal belongings of Sir Gurusaday Dutt himself.
Unfortunately, such a rich heritage of Bengal is breathing heavy, as the support from the Ministry of Textiles has been withdrawn. ‘The staff payment has been totally stopped and they have received a nominal amount for the maintenance of the museum which will be good for only the next three months,’ shared an anxious Curator of the museum, Dr. Bijan K. Mandal. The West Bengal Government has however promised to look into the matter. Without the support of the government, such a prestigious national treasure is bound to face closure.
Address: P6, Diamond Harbour Rd, Diamond Park, Joka, Kolkata – 700104
Phone No.: 033 2453 5972
Closed on: Mondays / gazetted holidays
Timings: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Entry Fee: Students: Rs 5 / Adults: Rs 10 /Foreigners: Rs 100
Photography: On prior permission
Parking: On adjacent plot