Men, Mountains and Museums

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 4 Nov 2015

Munsyari. As is natural after any major congregation of men and institutions, as has been the case with the Fourth Sustainable Mountain Summit at Itanagar, in Arunachal Pradesh ( 7 – 9 October, 2015 ), the next immediate cycle is consumed by its follow-up. As this writer reflected on the personal take-aways, as distinct from institutional, he realized that this visit remained extremely deficient in terms of his personal understanding of the state that he visited recently. The last time he had visited Itanagar it was nearly a deacde ago, in 2006, when even as Chief Information Commissioner, he had been invited to share his experiences of building of a new state, Uttarakhand, by its Planning Secretary, an official belonging to the Indian Forest Service. It was almost a touch-and-go affair as his stay was just a Sunday, with inward and outward journeys done through its chopper -service. There was no rail-connection to Itanagar via Naharlgunj, the rail-head a twin-city to Itanagar, the capital. This time over it was a three days' affair, but a packed one, allowing just half a day, after the valedictory, on the 9th October. Temptation to know  at least a bit of Itanagar this time persuaded him to request Dr Phuntsok, soon after an early morning meeting, to show him around the capital city. Other than the lay of the city, and of course the Ita Fort, after which the city is named, it took the two of us to the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum, invariably a standard vicarious familiarization substitute, for states and places which are fortunate enough to have them.

Men, Institutions and Nature

This writer has had the unique fortune of having been involved in a number of institutions and happens to be a great believer that it is inavriably the greatness of their institutions that make nations great. Accordingly, small of big, old or new he has always been fascinated in the crafting and shaping up of institutions, institutions of various hues and sizes. Indeed, it was nothing but shaping and moulding of one such new institution for the Indian mountain regions, in an enlightened company of so many like-minded people, that his visit to Itanagar had been feasible. One of the most famous anecdotes relating to how enduring institutions should be initiated and steered relates to the founding of the mother of all modern societies in modern India, the Asiatic Society of Bengal, way back in 1784. Originally established through the energetic initiatives of a Pusne Judge of the Supreme Court of Bengal, Sir William Jones, as the Asiatic Society, it is reported when asked what should be the limits of objectives of the enquiries of the proposed literary society, Sir Jones is said to have remarked,  MAN and NATURE; " Whatever is performed by the one, or produced by the other ! ".  These words were later paraphrased, for the proposed Asiatic Society of Bengal's objectives, as: " The bounds of its investigatiosn will be the geographical limits of Asia , and within these limits the enquiries  will be extended to whatever is performed by man , or produced by nature." As regards the Rules, he laid yet another golden rule, when he postulated: " It may be advisable at first, in order to perevent any difference of sentiment on particular points not immediately before us, to establish but one rule, – namely, to have no rules at all ! " Institutions, since  1784 have traversed more than 230 years, and the emphasis is now on de-regulation, in governance, and in business, facilitate "ease in doing business!". Newspapers tell us, India has notched 12 places upwards recently !  First, create the problem as any canny bureaucrat would advise, and then try to solve it.

The burden of this brief introduction was, how does one cover this space between Man and Nature, in just half a day, in context of knowing what all has happened in Arunachal Pradesh, between Man and Nature ? Here, comes the Museum. Is it yet another institution, which tries to narrate what Man has done and Nature produced in Arunachal, as centuries have rolled by ? This writer believes, Museums indeed are one human architecture, which however inadequately, makes an attempt to do so. For him, the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum, has been one major take-away from Itanagar and Arunachal Pradesh, among many others. This has salience fro Uttarakhand, his home state, as it should have been for many others. 

Museums and Museums

" A Museum", is stated to be, " an institution dedicated to preserving and interpreting the primary tangible evidence of humankind and the environment. It its preserving of this primary evidence, the museum differs markedly from the library, with which it has often been compared, for the items housed in the museum are mainly unique and constitute the raw material of study and research. In the museum the object, in many cases removed in time, place and circumstance from its original context, communicates itself directly to the viewer in a way not possible through other media. Museum have been founded for a variety of purposes : to serve as recreational facilities, scholarly venues, or educational resources; to contribute to the quality of life of the areas where they are situated, to attract tourism to a region; to promote civic pride or nationalistic endeavour; or even to transmit overly ideological concepts. Given such a variety ofpurposes, museums reveal remarkable diversity in form, content and even function. Yet despite such diversity, they are bound by a common goal; the preservation and interpretation of some material aspect of society's cultural consciousness." ( Geoffrey D. Lewis)  

Jwaharlal Nehru Museum, Itanagar

My personal take-away, a personal one, is that Arunachal Pradesh is years and way ahead of Uttarakhand when it comes to what Geoffrey Lewis has represented as Museums major goal, namely "preservation and interpretation of Arunachal Pradesh society's cultural consciousness", as it has not only its Central Museum, named Jawaharlal Nehru Museum, inaugurated in January 1990, but also five other frontier divisional Museums respectively at, Ziro ( Sunabansiri Frontier Division ),  Along ( Siang Frontier Division ), Tezu ( Lohit Frontier Division ), Khosa ( Tirap Frontier Division ) and Bomdila ( Kameng Frontier Division ). From the original five mentioed above Arunachal Pradesh has now 11 ( eleven )  ethnographic museums and 2 ( two ) archaelogical museums. Housed in a central place in Itanagar in a beautiful two storeyed building, it has two exhibition floors and an auditorium for various activities. The entire ground floor has been used for depicting and portrayin various aspects of tribal life with the help of dioramas, maps etc ( see the accompanying visuals). Help of Indian Museum, Kolkata has already been taken and now with the suport of Victoria Memorial Hall Kolkata modernizaton is being effected, using all aspects of modern scientifi concepts of the best museum practices. The offer floor has eight galleries, covering textile, archaeology, painting, war and chase, basketry, wood carving, ornaments and house-hold articles. These collections belong to different communities of the state and speak volumes of their creativity, ingenuity and artistry, in various aspects of life. All told the Central Museum has altogether 2.421  specimens of which only 80 are on display. lately, a Mountaineering Division has been added, contributed by  Arunachali Everester Tapi Mira ( 2009 ). If Uttarakhand has its Bachendri Pal, the first Indian Woman Everester, Arunachal has its  Mrs Anshu Jamsenpa, first Woman Summiter, recording climbing Everest twice in a single season, on 12 the 21st May in 2011 ! Far ahead of Uttarakhand even a brief visit to Jawaharlal Nehru Museum introduces a visitor to the great cultural and natural richness to which Arunachal is host and as was evident during the visit it is one of the major tourist attractions of the city and of course, the state. This writer returned from the Museum with a great sense of determination to visit the far corners of this beutiful state and learn more from its culture and people. Thank you Dr Phuntsok, for sparing your precious half Sunday in introducing Arunachal !

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Museum Movement in Uttarakhand

When it comes to meetig the various objectives that museums are known to serve, as per Geoffrey Lewis, of educational and scientific museums, Dehradun city and the state cannot be considered deficient. One has museums of the Survey of India, covering a history of Indian Surveys and Cartography ( EC Road ), Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology ( GM Road), Museum of Wood, Forest Research Institute ( Chakrata Road ), Tribal ( Regional office of Anthropological Survey of India, behind ONGC Auditorium ), Watershed ( Central Soil & Water Conservation Research & Training), Naval Cartography ( Mussoorie Road ) and for those interested in Mountaineering, there is one at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, in NIM Campus at Joshyara. These serve educational purposes an all, except are Central Government Government undertaking, only the NIM is a joint ( GoI & GoUK ) enterprise. The only archaoelogical one, almost an apology of a museum, is what one sees next to the Almora Bus stand, Govind Ballbh Pant Museum, both starved by resources and man-power !

Private museums has had a great tradition in hilly districts of UP, with Dr Yashodhar Mathwal, making a valinat attempt at Bhim Tal, till personal tragedies and government apathy made him resort to premature "vanarprasth", with the museum languishing due to sheer state apathy. The Sumeru museum of Dr Madan Chand Bhatt has only historical claims to museum discipline, and not much sought after, either by the common public or the scholatic enquirer. This writer reaclls having been called to the Dehradun Raj Bhawan once, when the then Lady Governor, showe a very keen interest in timely completion of the Uttarakhand Cultural centre, athe Nimboowala Hotel Management Institute Campus. This writer even ventured to do a two-piece write up, in Garhwal Post only, anticipating what participants like Poet-philosopher Leeladhar Jugudi, would have said, had they been given a longer-rope, in terms of time and freedom to express ! Of late, a Tribal resaerch Institute ( TRI ) has been sanctoned by the Tribal Affairs Ministry, which includes construction of a Tribal Museum in the state, an one hopes that the long felt gap of a stste of the art Tribal Museum might be realized, at long last.

Pride of Museums : The Tribal Heritage Museum 

This writer has had the rare privilege of having visited some of the most renowned museums of the world, including the Louvre Museum, which covers as many as four sides of the Louvre Palace, one of the world's largest palaces, housing trasures like Victory of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo and of course, the Mona Lisa ( collections span, hold your breath at least 26 centuries ! ), in Paris; Florentine Piazza dell Signoria ( statue of David: Michelengelo, 1501-04 ) in Italy, in company of Indu Pande ; Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand ( Siam Society ) etc and have occsion to compare them with those in some hill states like Himachal Pradesh, near Hidimba Temple, in Manali, and the Roerich Museum of Kulu ( see accompanying visuals ). Each of these, some which this writer considers quite unique in their own way but wonders whether, except educating and enthralling the visitors and improving the attractiveness of these places from the tourism promotion point of view, what other value these add to the socio-cultural consciouness of the host-place ?    

In recent years if any private museum has come up closest to address this major need of the host-place it is one which is constantly emerging in Munsyari, mainly as a one man endeavour. This unique visionary is none other than Dr Sher Singh Pangtey who commenced his long and ardous journey many years ago. Dr Sher Singh Pangtey, born in 1937 is now nearly two years short from becoming an octogenerian,entering 79th years of his highly productive life ! No doubt the Louvre or the Florentine Museums receive  a very large number of tourists and art -lovers, from all over the world, and compared to that the Tribal Heritage Museum, the private museum that has been single-handedly raised by a simple teacher, while teaching in a remote college of Uttarakhand borderlands, which has collections procured either using his personal and family resources or by a conscentious owner ( but a very few ), caused wonderment. The Tribal Heritage Museum is a testimony of what an ideal museum ought to be, seving several purposes in one go. Dr Sher Singh Pangtey is not only the conceptualizer, funder, builder of this wonderful museum but also continues to be its principal Guide, as well. The other day this writer took his family-friends from Varanasi for a brief Visit and it was a treat for all of us to be taken on a very impassioned guided tour of this unique cultural museum, which in a matter of few hours tells far more than years of serious research could be uncovered by any serious research scholar, delving into the past of the Johari Shauka community.  It is so because it is Dr Sher Singh Pangtey who has over a period of 30 long yeras has been instrumental in digging-out, by way of socio-cultural history of his own folks, the Johari Shakas to whom this Tribal Heritage museum is dedicated. What this writer found unique in the Tribal Heritage Museums of Munsyari, which no other museum in the world has, including the fabled Louvre, is a Guide to tell you about the artifacts and the historical facts about the region, which he himself has been the original discoverer or documentor. True, it may not be its enduring feature, as Dr Pangtey is already 79 years old, but today it certainly is its most remarkable and unique feature. Tribal Heritage Museum has verily become the Interpretation Centre of Munsyar-Johar region, for all visitors to Munsyari, a must visit destination, the first thing, the next day.

Using the words of Sir William Jones, if the Tribal Heritage Museum, was to be explained to a visitor, as an institition what does it do, it could well be: The Tribal Heritage Museum exhibits what Johari Shaukas performs and what is produced by the region called, Johar-Munsyar. 

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Tail-piece: Very often one is heard asking what will happen after Dr Sher Singh Pangtey can not continue any more, the answer is Dr Sher Singh Pangtey has demonstrated what even a single man can do to conserve and present a rich socio-cultural heritage and it is a challenge for the rest to demonstrate what they can collectively do and take this forward. Its a good challenge before this new state to draw appropriate lessons from the Tribal heritage Museum and cull out the essnetials of a good-practice, that is on show. First two row pics from Munsyari museum and last two rows pics from Itanagar museum.

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