Last year, the British Council offered travel grants for non-national museums to travel to India. The purpose of this grant was to encourage museums to develop institutional links with museums in India and so share skills and create joint projects.
As a significant part of the Museum explores our connection with India, I felt this opportunity would allow The Black Watch Castle and Museum to develop new links with other museums based in India and develop our understanding of the part the Regiment played in India’s history. I hoped this would open a dialogue for possible exchanges of information, objects and ideas, and working together in partnership. My plans were to visit both Delhi and Lucknow, two areas in which The Black Watch saw action.
I spent much of my first day within the Red Fort. I could very easily have spent the entire trip within its walls! The Fort is vast and includes a number of buildings and museums. The Indian War Memorial Museum is housed within what used to be military barracks. They have a fantastic selection of objects used these to explore the Indian Mutiny and the roles of the British and the rebels.
I was disappointed to learn that the use of cameras were not allowed in any of the museums I visited whilst in India. However, the museum hosted some interesting and valuable information. Much of this was focused on the Indian Mutiny and the roles of both the British and the rebels. As I entered, I noticed large interpretation panels which provided a brief history of the area I was about to enter. The museum had a wonderful selection of objects, textiles, documents and photographs. However, the interpretation only existed in the large introduction panels. The smaller text panels only provided the most basic information such as title and an accession number. I found it very difficult to place the objects into a contexts. In some areas dioramas were used, which provided much more information on events that happened within the mutiny. This was a fantastic opportunity to see how the ASI actually operated its museums and how objects were displayed and interpreted. Other than the guards, I saw no members of staff such as Visitor Assistants who would be able to assist me with any enquiries I had regarding the objects within the cases. This also gave me the opportunity to really understand how the mutiny was perceived by those in India. In short, it is indeed a rebellion against the British which was brutally put to an end. I found it a bit difficult to look past the damaged text panels, filthy glass and stifling atmosphere to actually focus on the objects. I was also quite horrified to learn that some of the original paintwork within the museum is in the process of being whitewashed. The museum itself was also extremely busy. It was excruciatingly difficult to get close enough to the exhibits to read the text panels or to even see the objects.
Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of people within the Fort, I was unable to visit the Mumtaz-Mahal which houses a number of artefacts. This museum has on display some of the arms used by both sides of the rebellion. This was disappointing but also understandable as I had arrived during one of the school holidays (even my guide had never seen the Fort so busy).
I used the following day to visit several other areas of Delhi to better understand the architecture, culture and history. This allowed me to witness the influence British forces had as well as the changes they made to the areas of Delhi during the mutiny. The Jama Masjid is the largest mosque in India (can accommodate around 25,000 worshippers) and stands by the edge of Old Delhi. Parts of the building were destroyed during the 1857 mutiny however the vast majority of the building survived unscathed. For five years after the Mutiny, the mosque was under military occupation. I was again taken aback by the scale of security in operation. However, once inside the grounds there were no security officials visible.
I then moved on to Chandi Chowk which sits to the bottom of Jama Masjid. This is certainly one of the older areas of Delhi. I was informed that this area was almost decimated during the rebellion by the British forces and the Mutineers. However, many of the oldest buildings were indeed still standing, some of which dated back to the 17th century. Originally designed as large homes for rich owners, these have been split into smaller dwellings with shop fronts. The lanes are narrow and busy and have become almost a labyrinth.
I then continued to Raj Ghat, the memorial for Mahatma Ghandi. Unfortunately, the nearby museum was closed as it was a Monday. However, it was interesting to see that this area attracted a lot of families and that many children seemed to be encouraged to visit the site. There is an eternal flame that burns perpetually at one edge of the memorial. Although this area has been designed to accommodate tourists, there is again little signage and interpretation to explain more about the memorial and the gardens around it. I can only hope that the museum would have provided a lot more information about the surrounding area and the life of Ghandi.
The following day, I visited some of the parliamentary buildings of India. This was quickly followed by a visit to the India Gate. This Gate acts as a memorial to the soldiers of the British Indian Army who died during the First World War. Names of the 13,000 soldiers have been inscribed onto the gate. This now also serves as the tomb for India’s Unknown Soldier. I was enthralled to learn that Delhi has a large memorial to the fallen of The First World War.
Lastly, I visited the National Gallery of Modern Art to meet with one of the assistant curators who had introduced me to some of her contacts in India. Her very informative assistant guided me around the galleries to explore the collections from the 1600s to the present day! The temporary exhibition followed the life of one artist but used her backstory to illustrate how this affected her art practice.