Rajasthan is one of India’s most visited states–by international as well as domestic tourists. This is not only because of the state’s colourful traditions and places, but also its rich cultural heritage. One of the hidden gems of Jaipur is the not very well-known (unfortunately) and recently opened Museum of Legacies or Virasat Museum. I discovered this vast space on a recent visit to the city.
With nearly 64 big and small rooms with two large halls and is four-storied on the sides (mezzanines on both floors included), a carpet area of approximately 10,000 square meters, the Museum of Legacies is situated in the heart of the walled city of Jaipur at Kishanpole Bazar. With five primary galleries, each one of which is allotted to an individual or collective that has been instrumental in the art and culture scene of India – and Rajasthan, it exclusively displays the rich cultural heritage of Rajasthan with a diverse collection that includes textiles, jewellery, stoneware and inlay work, painting, pottery.
The mesmerising museum presents, apart from other things, a visual journey of the history of jewellery making in Rajasthan, curated by Sudhir Kasliwal, Brij Bhasin’s collection of Everyday Embroideries that showcase the stunning array of textiles that are found across Rajasthan. Similarly, Mitch Crites displays semi-precious stone and marble works that have been created in his oeuvre and paintings that were lovingly collected by him and his wife, Nilou, during their stay in India. The incredible collection of Pichvai paintings by Pooja Singhal highlights the beauty and cultural diversity of the region within the form. Ojas Art brings a vibrant collection of indigenous paintings made by highly skilled Bhil artists. Apart from these galleries, there is a space dedicated to two larger than life puppets, made by a well-known puppeteer Vicky Bhatt, that represent the much-loved traditional art form of Rajasthani puppetry. The museum hopes to be a microcosm of the best of the artistic heritage of Rajasthan.
Steeped in History
Another aspect of the museum that piques a traveller’s interest is its fascinating history. The building in which the Virasat Museum is housed was originally the residence of Pandit Shivdeen, minister of the erstwhile Jaipur State during the reign of Sawai Raja Ram Singh II, from 1825 to 1830. In 1857, a “Madarsa-e-Hunari” or the Institute of Arts, under the patronage of Sawai Raja Ram Singh II, was opened here. The curriculum included Indian painting, drawing, design and nature study, architectural drawing, engraving on metal, brass work, carpentry, wood carving, koft work, Damascene work, metal polishing, pottery, etc. Known as the oldest institution in the State to promote art and culture, the Madarsa was also one of the pioneers in the tourist craft industry of Jaipur. The name was changed to Maharaja School of Arts and Crafts in 1886 which later succeeded by Rajasthan School of Arts, which was set up in the building in 1988. A couple of years ago, the school was shifted to a new campus. Last year, the state government of Rajasthan decided to convert the building into a museum space. The restoration work has been done using only traditional materials. These include things like lime plaster, kharanjha (a layer of wedge-shaped stone pieces put over stone slabs to ease load distribution and aid in insulation), lime-dhar (lime-mortar reinforced with jute fibres), khameera (a mixture of yellow sand called ramrajj and yellow stone gum called pevar with kesula flowers), etc.
The museum was inaugurated in December last year and is a very inclusive space that caters to locals and tourists alike. The Department of Archaeology and Museums plans to showcase indigenous art from different parts of India in future. Apart from this, a fine-dining restaurant, a cafe and a gift shop would also be a part of the museum. There are also plans to start art workshops, special summer programs for students, live performances and cultural events.
If you needed a new reason to visit the oft-travelled city of Jaipur, the Museum of Legacies is it!
Text and images by Aarti Kapur Singh