National Museum of Pakistan

by Mr. Hashid Sarfraz

HeritageForAll Heritage Intern (Call 2018) from Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan

Fig. 1: Main Entrance of National Museum of Paksitan, Karachi

Museums are spaces that help to create informal learning spaces for communities and individuals. Museums provide an experience to the user and let them explore the dynamics of the state art and history of a particular time or era. The past historical facts and their associated narratives are further re-interpreted as a journey through time with specific pauses and continuation. Museums are and should be utilized as a source of knowledge for the society. In this case, this role is not recognized to its full potential. The museum collections are valuable and significant but most people are unaware of these cultural assets and thus, the collections remain unacknowledged for most part. For researchers and historians as well as cultural experts to conduct their study and research. Therefore, the maximum potential and purpose of a museum can be fully met by accommodating the user experience and his journey in accordance to the collection displayed. The cultural heritage and the existence of human race; these traces are carried from one generation to another by means of visual aids and other artifacts obtained directly from such civilizations and its people. This data is stored and curated in a meaningful way in museums to educate the viewers using different methods. These collections present the conditions and the standards that were available to that particular people at a certain period of time. Thus, they are not only static display of civilizations and their records but formulate the creation of hubs for further study and research.

Fig 2: Signage of the Museum at the main building

The national museum of Pakistan was initially placed at Pakistan Quarters and then moved in 1950 in Frere Hall, Karachi. The hall was used to accommodate the Victoria Museum before this intervention but it was dysfunctional at the time of this establishment. It was inaugurated at that time by governor general Khawaja Nazimuddin. But then, this new intervention was further moved to its current location in Burns Garden in 1970. The museum collection displays and exhibits the records of cultural history of Pakistan and has played a vital role in keeping the legacy and historicity of the city Karachi. The museum was under the federal government from the day of establishment at the Frere Hall until 2011 but then its management was handled over to Sindh government after the 18th amendment was passed.

At the time of closing of Victoria Museum at Frere Hall, its items were mostly carried away by the British but some of them were left behind. These items are now placed in the current location of national museum of Pakistan, Karachi. The current land, where the museum is located, was acquired by Pakistan government and the building was designed by an Italian architect which now accommodates the museum collections.

The building underwent an extension in the backyard in 1980. The museum is a four-storey building with eleven galleries which were initially four that house the collections of various significant periods in the history of Pakistan. The building covers around 3888 sq yard and the museum display is restricted to ground and first floor. Outside the building, there is a lush green garden that covers around 54,000 sq. yard. The frequent users of the museum include students, general public, foreigners, researchers, and government dignitaries.

Fig. 3: Garden right in front of the museum building

Other than the regular display of the museum, it also displays certain notable exhibits. Various national and religious events are covered under this segment of the museum that helps to promote and publicize the resources to the general audience.

The museum also inhabits a library to provide vast array of information to the user be it students, researchers or any scholar. The collection includes variety of books on cultures like Persian, Sindhi and Arabic and accounts on the freedom movement of Pakistan. The lack of management and upkeep of this segment is the fundamental lacking in providing a meaningful data to the visitors. The books needs to be preserved for their long life and better use.

A laboratory was installed in the museum building by the Federal government in 1983. It is placed on the ground floor and is the first laboratory to provide paper conservation. It also deals with the conservation of objects in the museum other than the usual books painting and manuscripts preservation.

Fig. 4: Wall mural at the entrance of the museum complex

Galleries

Presently, the museum has a total of eleven galleries, two of which are smaller and also termed as mini galleries by local staff. These galleries display artifacts from two different major old civilizations; the Gandhara and the Harrapan civilization, other than that there are galleries for the Holy Quran, ancient coins and manuscripts dating to Pakistan’s political history.

Fig. 5: Signage representing the various galleries and their location

Civilizations:

LATE HARRAPEN GALLERY

The objects and statues in this gallery belong to the late Harappen period. But it also exhibits the statue Priest King of Moen Jo Daro. The civilization dates back to 2500 BC and is located in the Sindh region of Pakistan.

Fig. 6: Representing the Priest King of Moen Jo Dero (Photo Credits: Naila Naz

Similarly, findings from the Loebnar II period are also kept in this part of the gallery. The gallery wall outside also displays some portraits belonging to this period.

GANDHARA GALLERY

Gandhara Civilization was present at the crossroads of India, Central Asia and Middle East promoting commerce through this route. Some of the early interpretations of the statue of Budha were made that were distinct from the other imagery of Budha. Art works from this period have also been displayed in the gallery. Statues of Budha and Stupas have also been placed in the gallery that create an environment of a sacred place such as a temple.

Fig. 7: Representing Gandhara Art Statue (Photo Credits: Naila Naz)
Fig. 8: Aretefacts from the Indus Valley Civilisation. PHOTO: Courtesy Sindh culture department <https://tribune.com.pk/story/1448145/take-trip-memory-lane-national-museum-pakistan/&gt;

Excavation at the sites of Taxila has revealed that it was conquered and inhabited by troops other than those of Asoka which includes mainly the Greeks, Central Asians, Parthians, Scythians and Kushans at the time of Alexander the Great. The religion adopted at the time was Buddhism resulting in the discovery of these statues and stupas of Buddhists in the region. So, the region surrounding Taxila, Swat and Charsaddah were the cultural hub that carried out trade and commerce and also lots of monasteries and stupas were also built in the vicinity. This cultural hub resulted in the formation of arts and crafts that came to be known as Gandhara arts famous all over the world. Some of the sculptures of Gandhara arts have a special place in the museums of England, France, Germany, U.S.A, Japan, Korea, China, India and Afghanistan including the collection based in the national museum of Pakistan, Karachi.

Quranic Gallery

The holy book of Muslims i.e. The Holy Quran has a specific gallery in the museum with unique and antique collection. This gallery was established and inaugurated on 24 May, 2010 by the federal minister of culture Aftab Jillani.

The walls of the gallery has been adorned with Quranic Verses by famous artists. The style of these adornments has been adopted in Arabic, Persian, Nastaliq, Kufi, Turkish and Urdu. The Holy Quran belonging to the time period of Abbasid Caliph, Mustasim Billah that was written by Jalal al Din Yaqut al Mustasimi in Nuskh Script is the focal point of this gallery. The pages on the Holy Quran are embellished with different gems, gold, silver, copper as borders. Currently, the gallery exhibits more than 50 copies of Holy Quran and also displays hundreds of copies which have been excavated from different areas.

Fig. 9: Display of the Gallery containing Holy Quran
Fig. 10: Quranic Gallery reorganization

PRE-HISTORIC GALLERY

Pre-history period is termed for the Stone Age. The Stone Age comprised of symbols and figures to convey and communicate a message, sort of a medium of communication at that time. This gallery contains objects like tools and statues belonging to the same period.

Moen Jo Daro, centuries old civilization whose ruins were located in the Sindh region of Pakistan as mentioned earlier has also been given a special place in the gallery exhibit. The lifestyles and the people of this civilization have been depicted in this gallery through life scale models. This gallery thus provides a quick view of the culture and traditions of this community that use to live in the Larkana region, Sindh, Pakistan.

Fig. 11: Encasement life in Moen Jo Daro

PROTO-HISTORY GALLERY

This gallery covers the period from 2600 BC to 1700 BC. This period is accompanied by the preservation of text in the form of writing in Greek. The civilization of Moen Jo Dero belongs to this time period in the history of mankind and possess a strong and important place in the old records of civilizations; existence and destruction both. These ruins were first noted by Charles Massin who made various visits to the site and its neighboring region as part of his research and development. Based on his findings, the proper excavation of the site was started in 1922 that resulted in successive discoveries of the mentioned civilization and its traditions. The area of Baluchistan as based on his study has been divided into Moen Jo Dero, Harappa and Cholistan region. The gallery in this museum displays the famous statue of the ‘dancing girl of Moen Jo Dero’ that attracts majority of the visitors attention.

POSTAL STAMP

The museum holds a collection of postal stamps which are unfortunately not on the display in any gallery but they are exhibited at the time of certain occasions like important national days for example Independence Day, Pakistan Day, Defence day, Quaid-e-Azam day and Iqbal day etc.

ISLAMIC ART GALLERY

This gallery exhibits the rich collection from Muhammad Bin Qasim 712 A.D time to the last Mughal Emperor named Bahadur Shah dating to 1836 A.D. This gallery helps in building a visual imagery of the prominent Muslim leaders who reigned over the sub-continent for more than one thousand years. Artworks belonging to these periods for example calligraphy, painting, handicrafts, utilities and architectural works have also been displayed in this gallery, depicting the customs, norms and cultures of these various time periods. The renovation of this gallery has been undertaken by the ministry.

ETHNOLOGY GALLERY

This gallery contains the different ethnic groups and the tribesmen that belonged to the region of Pakistan. Their customs, lifestyles, dresses, cultural and social items have been put to display each according to its relevance to a certain province or region of Pakistan.

COIN GALLERY

Whenever we are discussion the collection or remains of the past, coins are always kept intact as an entity top define the trade and commerce of the region. They help us define the socio-political as well as economic activity and stand of a certain civilization in the timeline of history. The gallery exhibits around ninety thousand ancient coins and the history of these coins is estimated to have belonged to sixth century B.C.

FREEDOM MOVEMENT GALLERY

Freedom movement involves all the eminent leaders who took part in the independence of the Muslims living in India as part of their two-state theory that resulted in the formation of Pakistan in 1947 leaving Pakistan as an independent state for Muslims of India mainly keeping the integrity of the minorities intact and securing their rights in its very true essence and agenda. The gallery exhibits portraits of these leaders and some belongings of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of the nation. The belongings of the first prime minister of Pakistan, Liaqat Ali Khan have also been kept in the gallery on display. The gallery also contains some texts and books on the movement itself.

Fig. 12: Manuscript by one of the leaders of the freedom movement

The display of each and every gallery in the museum has been carefully identified and put into consideration while displaying the objects in a meaningful manner to provide the visitor with a profound experience.

The resources of the museum are limited but it is still managing its dealings in a considerate manner. The museum displays the rich historical objects in a great way. The museum has not been able to set up a proper website to provide information about the museum timings, events, publications related to its objects and material to the users or general public. Similarly the availability of visitor information at the help desk at the museum in the form of brochures and other hard copy is also missing due to the lack of availability of funds for its upkeep. Even the officials related to the museum have stated in their conversations that lack of marketing has been undermining the importance of the museum and its display. Therefore, measures should be taken to promote the museum artifacts accordingly.

Bibliography:

Photo Credits: Ms. Naila Naz

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