The familiar smell of summer is missing when I arrive at the JPN airport in Patna. In all those vacations I spent at my grandparents, April always smelled rural and dusty. I sniff to see if I can smell the drying dung, plastered on the walls.
Homecoming is an emotional affair and I always look forward to revisiting my childhood when I come to Patna. It has an immutable quality. Nothing much changes there.
There is that thrill when I step outside and see the billboard with ‘Welcome to New Bihar’ written on it.
I see a part of that ‘New Bihar’ at the Bihar Museum on Bailey Road. It stands as a symbol of change that the State is trying to achieve. It was opened to the public three years ago. Built on nearly 13 acres, the sprawling premises were envisaged as a campus by Japanese architect firm Maki and Associates and Mumbai’s Opolis Architects. Manicured gardens and well-appointed interiors boast modern facilities such as climate control and security for the valuable artefacts inside. Professional and courteous staff show visitors around, and my eyes automatically look for paan-stained walls, vestiges of my growing years, but I find none. The world-famous single-piece sculpture from the 2nd Century AD, Didarganj Yakshi is on the premises and one can spend a long time admiring her sheer beauty and wondering about the story behind her. She was found in the Ganga, and for many years, the base of the sculpture was used as a washerman’s stone!
The asymmetrical structure made of steel, and large glass walls, allows the play of natural light and shade inside, adding drama to the grand sweep of history in the building. The long corridors of glass look out into the Buddha Courtyard.
There is a plaque with a quote from Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India: “It is no exaggeration to say that for centuries the history of India was but the history of Bihar writ large.”
The galleries cover a vast timeline, with Gallery A having exhibits from 4th Century BC to the 1st Century BC, with human figurines, most of them disfigured.
Then there are the rich records from some of Indian history’s most famous dynasties — the first empire of the Mauryas, Sungas, Guptas and Palas, who made their home in Magadha. The flowering of two world religions — Jainism and Buddhism — comes alive through a galaxy of stunningly beautiful Buddha and Mahavir statues. Related sculptures, script relics, coins, tools take forward the riveting narrative.
Artist Subodh Gupta’s Yantra, a large circular installation, stands out. It is a huge wheel made up of shiny enamelled kitchen utensils and stands open to interpretations. It could be the wheel of life, the wheel of Dharma, the migration and return of the Bihari… A centrepiece by modern artist Sanjay Kumar celebrates the facets of Buddhism. Persian inscriptions and period art of the Sur dynasty fill the Islamic Period gallery.
A moving narrative awaits visitors in the Bihari Diaspora gallery, where the struggles of the girimitiya, the indentured labourers who worked in Mauritius, Surinam, Trinidad, Fiji and Guyana are presented.
- Tickets: ₹100 for adults, ₹50 for students and ₹25 for student groups
- Timings: 10.30 am to 5 pm
- The museum remains closed on Mondays
The beautiful Madhubani art, Sujani embroidery and Tikuli (a vanishing craft) find pride of place.
The museum also has an amphitheatre, a state-of-the-art auditorium, a cafeteria called Pot Belly that serves Bihari cuisine and several souvenir shops. There is also a Children’s Museum with interactive screens that take children on a trip to the wildlife sanctuaries of Bihar and informs them about other interesting nuggets of history from the State.
“The Bihar Museum has been planned as a people’s museum,” says its Assistant Director, JPN Singh. “We are in the process of bringing more artefacts — up to 3,000 pieces. It is the best place for edutainment for children and adults.”