Bangladesh National Museum

Bangladesh National Museum is a national institute, focused on collection, preservation, research and interpretative display of historical documents, archaeological artifacts, decorative arts, ethnological materials and specimens of natural heritage of Bangladesh. Bangladesh National Museum (BNM), officially known as Bangladesh Jatiya Jadughar, owes its origin and growth to the Dhaka museum. The museum is located at Shahbag in Dhaka city occupying 8.63 acres land, with a magnificent building, containing 44 galleries, a large library, three auditoriums and two exhibition halls. There are four other branch museums under the control of Bangladesh National Museum- these are ahsan manzil Museum (Dhaka), Osmani Museum (Sylhet), Zia Smriti Museum (Chittagong) and Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala (Mymensingh).

Bangladesh National Museum

On 1st November 1856, The dhaka news reported news regarding the raising public demand of a museum in Dhaka. But in the nineteenth century nothing came about in response to the demand until Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of British India, made a scope to establish a museum at Dhaka after the partition of Bengal in 1905. Subsequently the historic city of Dhaka became the capital of the new province of East Bengal and Assam. Since the coins of the Shillong cabinet was going to transfer at Dhaka, the new capital, HE Stapleton, the Honorary Government Numismatist, proposed a letter to the Director of Public Instruction to set up a museum at Dhaka. The proposal was brought to the attention of Sir Lancelot Hare, the Governor of the new province and passed an order for the selection of a site for a museum. But in 1911, the partition of Bengal was revoked and Dhaka had lost its position as a capital. As a result, the decision of setting up of a museum at Dhaka was fallen backside. Then the elite of Dhaka came forward and demanded for a museum with active interest.

On 25 July 1912, Lord Carmichael, the governor of the presidency of Bengal, attended at a conversation that held in the Northbrook Hall at Dhaka. On this occasion, the local elite presented to him an address of welcome emphasising on establishment of a museum. At the same time, they organised an exhibition of antiquities in order to impress the governor for a museum. Lord Carmichael considered the demand making a grant of Rs. 2000 for setting up a museum at Dhaka. A room of the Old Secretariat Building was selected for the museum. Finally on 7 August in 1913, opened Lord Carmichael the Dacca Museum formally. A 30-member executive committee was formed to run the museum. FC French ICS, then the commissioner of Dhaka division, was selected as the president of the committee and HE Stapleton was the secretary. In 1914 Babu nalini kanta bhattasali was appointed Curator by the Executive Committee. Dr. N Gupta was appointed Superintendent of the Natural History Section of the museum.

HE Stapleton, the secretary of the Executive Committee, was interested to increase the collection of the museum, which was enriching day by day. More space was needed for displaying the new collections. Later on two more rooms were allotted in the same premises. In 1915, the Dacca Museum was shifted to the Baroduari (twelve doors) Building of Naib Nazims of Dhaka at Nimtali. Built in 1765, it was the Audience Hall and the Gatehouse of the Nimtali Kothi. But it took a long time to have the Bangladesh National Museum (BNM) complex at Shahabagh Avenue. BNM was opened to the public here on 17 November in 1983.

HE Stapleton, Satyendranath Bhadra, Sayed Awlad Hasan, BK Das, Kwaja Muhammad Eusuf, hakim habibur rahman, NK Bhattasali, JT Rankin, AH Clayton, Professir RB Ramsbotham and syed muhammed taifoor include Elites of Dhaka those who played the lead role for establishing the Dhaka Museum. However the contribution of NK Bhattasali, the first curator of the Museum was outstanding. He physically supervised the archaeological excavation throughout the country for exploring and collecting exhibits to enrich the museum. He organised exhibitions, prepared labels, designed showcase, classified and documented the exhibits accurately and preserved them properly. He was an outstanding research scholar who upheld the museum in the international arena through publishing original research works. He devoted his life for the development of the museum.

After the death of Bhattasali in 1947, the Dhaka Museum had no curator for about 4 years. Meanwhile a press agency occupied the museum building and the collection got least priority and attention. Then from 1951-1952, it was put under a part-time honorary curator one after another, - mostly teachers of the Dhaka University. Among them, the most prominent was ahmed hasan dani who personally task interest to develop the museum and enriched its collection. In 1962, Enamul Haque was appointed as a full time Assistant Curator who was promoted to the Curator in 1965. This post was subsequently re-designated as the Director.'

An exhibition gallery of National Museum

By this time a large number of historical exhibits were shifted to the Dhaka museum from the Royal palace of Dinajpur and the Baldha Museum, established by Narendra Narayana Roy Chowdhury, a landlord. He set up the museum by collecting important ancient and mediaeval artifacts personally. After his death the exhibits of this museum were shifted to the Dhaka museum collections. It may be mentioned that Syed Muhammed Taifoor and Hakim Habibur Rahman presented a large number of objects to the Dhaka museum from their personal collection.

In 1970, the Dhaka Museum Board of Trustees was formed to run the museum as an autonomous body. In 1972, the Board of Trustees submitted a scheme to setup national museum. In 1974, the government constituted an eleven member National Museum Commission to formulate a project at this end. The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) approved the project in December 1975 and selected Shabag for its new site. Architect Robert C. Boghe designed the museum building while the then Dirctor Dr. Enamul Haque was upgraded as Director General of the Museum. He also played active role to develop the National Museum.

Organising Structure Bangladesh National Museum, an autonomous institution under the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, runs by a Board of Trustees, appointed by the Government. It is financed by the state though the museum earns an amount from entry ticket and rental of auditoriums.

The Director General, executive chief of the BNM is appointed by the government. The BNM has four curatorial and three others departments. These are (1) Natural History (2) History and Classical Art (3) Ethnography and Decorative Art (4) Contemporary Art and World Civilisation (5) Conservation Laboratory (6) Public Education and (7) Administration.

Each of the department is run by professionally qualified curator, designated as Keeper. There are professional curatorial staffs under the Keeper such as Deputy Keepers, Assistant Keepers etc. There are also adequate clerical, caretaking and cleaning staffs those who play significant role to run the museum. Besides these, there is an administrative department comprised of security, account, engineering and administrative sections. The administrative department is headed by a Deputy Secretary appointed by the government.

Objects and Galleries Bangladesh National Museum is a multidisciplinary museum. Collections from several disciplines such as archaeology, history, ethnography and natural history are displayed here. The number of exhibits, from different disciplines collected upto 2009, was 86,000.

Natural History The first 10 galleries are dedicated to the natural heritage of Bangladesh. The collections consist of flora and fauna, such as cereals, pulses, herbal medicines, economically important plants, insects, birds, sea life of the Bay of Bengal, Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest, its spotted dears and the Royal Bengal tiger. Geographical specimens included rocks and minerals, etc. The galleries contain semi-dioramas, dioramas on birds and mammals with their natural habitats. A large skeleton of a giant whale saw fish, beehive, different types of butterflies and reptiles are the other notable objects of these galleries. Natural history specimens preserved in the departmental store serve as a reference library of the biodiversity of Bangladesh.

History and Classical Art This is a very rich department in the museum which deals with the archaeological and historical artifacts. About 68,000 historical objects including 53,000 ancient and medieval coins so far have been collected and put on display in 11 galleries to portray the historical evolution and cultural heritage of the nation. The collections consist of different types of terracotta widely used for wall decoration in the ancient and mediaeval architectures and hand axes, potteries, magnificent stone and bronze sculptures, fascinating ancient architectural specimens, ancient inscriptions and coins, manuscripts, historical documents, medals and miniature paintings. The world famous, classical, decorated and well-executed Hindu and Buddhist Bengal sculptures gallery are main attraction for the visitors from home and abroad. These archaeological artifacts bear the testimony of an anciently well-ordered civilised and rich cultural heritage of a nation. There are also two specific galleries to portray the nation's historic language movement and the war of independence. Exhibits relating to freedom fighting activities, genocides, photographs of refugee camps, posters of liberation war and a copy of the constitution mentioned which indicate the glorious and brave historical emergence of a nation.

Ethnography and Decorative Art This department is well-known for its extensive and variety of ethnographic collections related to daily life and household objects of different ethnic groups living in Bangladesh. The collections consist of customs and ceremonies, rituals of different ethnic groups, their transports and housing tools, equipment and weapon, wood, porcelain, ivory and metal works, textiles and jewelries, musical instruments, arts and crafts etc. There are a number of attractive dioramas here depicting the lifestyle of farmers, fishermen, potters, blacksmiths and the environment of traditional rural market and tribal culture. The department's 16 galleries also contain some notable decorative objects like the well-deigned and highly decorated bedsteads and palanquin, husking pedals and embroidered quilts. The exhibits also include some historical weapons, swords and cannons of Tipu Sultan and sirajuddaulla , cannons of sher shah and isa khan, war drums and shields of Emperor akbar's era, carpet of Sirajuddaulla, silver ornaments, filigree works and the house hold objects of the Nawabs of Dhaka.

Contemporary Art and World Civilisation The department has 7 galleries and 4 corners illustrating the collections of contemporary reputed art works of Bangladesh as well as the famous original or replica art works of the world art galleries of high aesthetic values. The first exhibit of the number one art gallery begins is a famous sketch on famine of 1943 by zainul abedin pioneer artist of Bangladesh. His well-known sketches bear the testimony of miserable condition of the hungry people during the famine. The next two galleries present contemporary famous paintings of Bangladesh including the art works of Potua Quamrul Hassan and SM Sultan. Other art galleries contain famous European art works from renaissance to modern period. A large number of portraits of the national heroes and famous persons of the world have also been put on display. Besides there are four corners dedicated to display arts and crafts, house hold objects, sculptures, musical instruments, dolls and other cultural properties of which Switzerland, Iran, Korea and China.

Conservation Laboratory Bangladesh National Museum has a conservation laboratory. Built in 1975 with a grant of the Ford Foundation, the laboratory is run by trained conservation chemists. It has been further equipped with a Japanese grant and now it is well equipped with modern instruments and chemicals for carrying out all sorts of conservation works. The laboratory was established for scientific preservation and restoration treatment to the collected antiquities of the BNM and its four branches. The department also under takes programmes of controlling humidity, light, temperature and insect pest of the galleries and stores and protect those from insects and pests. It also organise training, workshops, seminar, specialised lectures on preservation and restoration of antiquities for museum personnel.

Public Education Bangladesh National Museum has a public education department which has a organised library and photography, audio-visual, publication, display and the auditorium sections. The department plays a vital role in education to meet the needs and demands of the public.

Earlier it had a school bus to bring children regularly to the museum from the schools of the city. However school students now-a-days regularly come to the museum and visit the museum under the guidance of guide lecturers. Five guide lecturers show them round the galleries and explain the exhibition to them. The education department publishes well-illustrated booklets, folders and other materials for free distribution among the children. The museum had a mobile exhibition bus, which was fitted with twenty-eight show-cases. This mobile exhibition bus used to visit to the rural areas and made scope for the poor people introducing them with the cultural heritage of the nation. This programme has also been stopped now. Drawing and good handwriting competition among the children, documentary film show, special talks, seminar, symposium are generally arranged in the museum premises on the occasion of the national days such as Victory Day, Independence Day, International Mother Language Day and birth and death anniversaries of the great persons of this soil. Bengali folk song performance and pitha (cake) exhibition are also organised celebrate pahela baishakh, the Bengali New Year. Its also observes International Museum Day through different programmes to create public awareness about museum. The department generally makes photographic and audio-visual documentation of museum objects and on important national programmes and preserves those for the future generation. The museum also provides support to the researchers of home and abroad giving photographs and information on the objects. At the same time the museum publishes books, journals and bulletin based on original research works related to objects upholding the cultural heritage of the nation.

The cultural heritage of Bangladesh is very rich. BNM holds the glorious past of our predecessors displaying and preserving rich historical collections. Most of the objects are being preserved in the scientific climate control storage. Its mission is to establish a bridge between the past and present of the nation. Though a multi-disciplinary museum cannot maintain historical chronology, it is interesting to the public as they can observe exhibits of different disciplines by a ticket under one roof. [Md. Shariful Islam]