A Museum Re-establishing its Identity in the Process of Urban Development

Author: Priya GohadSavitribai Phule Pune UniversityIndia

The city of Pune is growing by the day in the flow of urbanisation and globalisation. The city which was once known as a ‘Cultural hub’ is now a popular ‘Cyber hub’. The suburbs of the city are rapidly developing, creating various pockets of cultural identities as a result of migration, modernisation and the growing population. Although much has changed for this city, one can catch a glimpse of this old mediaeval town as one walks through its chaotic lanes and feels the essence of its past in the form of ‘heritage’ that still strives to exist and maintain its identity. Located in one such small lane, in the old city of Pune, is the Kelkar Musuem.

Kelkar Museum is probably one of the largest one-man collections of folk art in India, established by Dr. Dinkar Gangadhar Kelkar in 1962. The assimilation of the items displayed took him almost forty years. Dr. Kelkar started collecting exhibits around 1920 and gradually raised the collections to around 15,000 objects of everyday art by 1960. This was the period during the struggle for independence in India. During the phase of transition from a colonial to a post-colonial nation, it is fascinating to understand the passion and conviction with which one man collected these objects by travelling across India, facing the challenges of socio-economic conditions prevalent in India at that time. As one walks through the museum, every object makes you marvel at the herculean effort to gather the best of Indian folk art and craftsmanship that creates a sense of nostalgia for visitors. While interacting with young people to the museum, they express the feeling that the museum creates in memory of their ancestors.

Source: rajakelkarmuseum.org

Currently the museum has a collection of more than 20,000 objects of everyday art. The typical architecture of the building and the mediaeval collection displayed in the museum resemble the cultural face of old Pune. Every corner of the Museum speaks about the art collection that is not remote and detached from reality but an integral part of the day-to-day life of people in India. This makes the museum distinct from other museums in the country. Utensils, ornaments, lamps, musical instruments, door frames, paintings, and carvings represent outstanding examples of their art.

Today the museum is one of the biggest brands of tourism in Pune. It is located in close proximity to some of the prominent heritage sites which proves advantageous from a tourism point of view. During the time of its establishment, the museum was located outside the old city limits. Now the centre of the city itself has moved. The city sees a rapid development and simultaneously certain limitations such as parking issues, a growing pollution, newly constructed buildings, developing market space, and congested lanes have restricted the identity of the museum. The surrounding area is not conducive for the growth of the museum. These things de-motivate or restrict potential visitors to the museum. Despite all such circumstances, during visits to the museum as part of ‘Cultural Heritage and Identities of Europe’s Future (CHIEF)’ Project, it was observed that many enthusiasts visit the museum and connect themselves with the objects of everyday life that were used at some point in time by their ancestors. This makes one think of the need to identify means to overcome the challenges and put in efforts to open up this rich collection of cultural heritage alongside the growth of the city.

The present building displays only about 2,500 exhibits owing to the paucity of space and funds. While more than eighty percent of the collection remains unseen. The museum is in the process of digitising the objects through the ‘Jatan’1 software that will enable virtual access to the entire collection of the museum in the form of ‘digital heritage’. Recently The National Film Archive of India, India’s premier film preservation body, acquired a rare 30 minute short film on Kelkar Museum, estimated to have been made in the early 1950’s. Interestingly the film is made in colour at a time when colour was making its way into the mainstream Indian Cinema, where one sees the museum in the form of ‘cinematic heritage’.

The existing state of affairs has led to plans of establishing a ‘Museum City’ away from the city limits but still in its proximity. The proposal aims at creating a complex of international standard to house the entire Kelkar collection, other exhibits, research and storage facilities as well as the establishment of the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Institute of Museology and Fine Arts2. This somewhere indicates that the role of the museum as guardian of the timeless treasures will be extended to that of an educator. The financial issues, political interests, and the contested issues surrounding cultural heritage withholds the implementation of the plan in reality, and seems to be a great struggle for the museum to gain its new identity. However the present development of initial progress in setting up the Museum city gives a new rise of hope.

Front side elevation of the proposed museum city. Source: rajakelkarmuseum.org

The plan for providing modern space for artists and craftsmen to hold their exhibitions and a complex including a mini amusement park, museum shop, Multimedia Studio, Cultural Village, Student’s Hostel, Guest House, Laboratory under one roof, does not count as a ‘shift of location’ but a vision to grow up with the changing times. This is an effort to overcome the spatial challenges and recreating a new space for safeguarding the cultural heritage.



1. Jatan is a virtual museum builder software which is basically a digital collection management system specially designed for museums in India owned by the Government of India.
2. See: http://rajakelkarmuseum.org/museum_city.html

About the author

Dr. Priya Gohad is working as Research Associate on the CHIEF Project at SPPU-India. She holds a PhD in Archaeology. Her research interests are Heritage Management, ancient Indian history, art, architecture, culture and archaeology.