Established in 1932 and occupying the current building since 1960, the Odisha State Museum in Bubaneswar houses a fine collection of religious sculptures, coins, copper plates, stone inscriptions, armours, rare bronze age tools, natural history, geological objects, anthropological specimens and traditional musical instruments.
To see everything in the many galleries on offer would easily consume a whole day, but luckily for me the best presented galleries were the one’s I was a little more interested in seeing. It’s fair to say that the galleries conerning natural history are in quite a poor condition, which may be more indicative of how frequently they are visited compared to other perhaps more popular galleries.
What follows is essentially a photo essay of what can be seen within the museum in the areas that particularly interested me. I have tried to include descriptions where possible, although in some rooms many of the items were not labelled at all.
To view a larger version of each photo, just click on the image.
Naturally the first set of rooms I head for ;-). Here there is a very impressive collection on Hindu, Jain and Buddhist sculpture that has been collected from around Odisha.
From the 3rd century B.C. to the 12th century A.D. Odisha nurtured a number of Buddhist centres of art and learning, such as the sites at Udayagiri, Ratnagiri, Lalitagiri, Langudi and Dhauli. Without doubt what influence this florishing is Asoka’s conversion to Buddhism after the Kalinga war in 261 B.C, the final battle took place on the outskirts of Bubaneswar near to Dhauli.
Similarly, Jainism has also flourished in Odisha as can be witnessed in the Jain sculptures and rock-cut caves at Udayagiri and Khandagiri in Bhubaneswar. The Emporer Kharavela patronised Jainism in Orissa during the 1st century B.C.
The Epigraphy gallery houses inscriptions engraved on stone, metal, wood and shell. They are of course invaluable for reconstructing the past of a country or culture. The museum’s collection has artifacts dating from the 3rd century B.C. all the way through to the 18th century.
Never my favourite section to visit in any museum, although you cannot deny the craftsmanship that was involved in creating some of these pieces.
This appears to be a largely forgotten about room, not cleaned, poorly lit, everything falling apart and with some of the display cabinets completely empty. If you want to see an excellent collection of tribal masks I would highly recommend the Tribal Cultural Museum in Pune.
Arts and Crafts
Nothing in this gallery was labelled at all unfortunately.
Paintings and Textiles
The Pattachitra paintings housed here were of particular interest. Apart from some small fragments of paintings that exist at Khandagiri and Udayagiri (circa 6th century A.D.), the earliest indigenous painting from Odisha are the Patta paintings done by the Chitrakaras. These paintings are based on Hindu mythology and especially inspired by Jagannath and Vishnava. You can read a lot more about the process to produce these paintings and their history on Wikipedia.
Similar to the room housing the masks, I didn’t find the musical instrument section very inspiring as the presentation, lighting and information was a little bit lacking. But in any case, here are some drums 🙂
Additional Stone Sculpture
What is likely to be missed by a lot of visitors is an additonal gallery full of stone sculpture. This is tucked away in the museum on a level slightly below and opposite the museum entrance, but it wouldn’t be right to call it a basement. It’s well worth seeking out if time permits.
Some of the sculpture here is behind glass cabinets that look like they haven’t been cleaned in over a decade. Each of the cabinets has a locked door, so it really wouldn’t take much time to resolve this. As is so often the case, the most impressive of the sculptures are behind these glass cases that makes you feel like you’re peering through fog to try and observe the details. Come of State Museum, how about putting this right for your visitors ?
Perhaps one of the most compelling and moving pieces of sculpture in the entire museum is also one of their smallest artifacts. This image of a grieving woman I couldn’t shift out of my mind for days afterwards. Such a simple thing, but executed perfectly.
Achutrajpur Buddhist Bronze Hoard
Achutrajpur is 1.5km from Banapur Police Station in the Khurda district of Odisha, not far from the Balukesvara temple. It is here that the largest hoard of bronzes so far discovered in Odisha was recovered. The bronzes themselves are difficult to date as none of them had any datable inscriptions, but the site itself had been long known to have some archaeological interest on account of exposed ancient bricks and an overgrown mound (I’m guessing some sort of stupa once existed here).
In total the hoard comprised of 92 icons, and attending divine female, two non-iconic figures, 20 bronze stupas and a single bell.
Outside the museum are a few more sculptures much more weathered than their counterparts inside (but including some of my favourite things – Hero Stones), and some quite extensive pretty gardens with a fantastically well maintained lawns and orderly flower beds that are probably almost always in bloom. The State Museum gardens actually are more like a park in themselves.
That concludes your virtual tour of Odisha State Museum in Bhubaneswar. As you can see, there’s an awful lot to take in at this museum and I have probably only visited half the rooms properly.
My only criticism of the museum is some of the poorly presented items, in particular those sculptures behind the grubby glass cabinets. If the State Museum redirected just 0.001% of their resources away from the outside gardens and towards the artifacts and their presentation inside the museum, things would be so much better.
Odisha State Museum is open every day, 10am – 5pm, but closed on Mondays.
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