An unusual exhibition in Mumbai takes you from pre-historic past to the relatively recent times to show the invisible connect that Bharat had with other civilisations
An exhibition titled “India and The World: A History In Nine Stories” has been underway at the ‘Chatrapti Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalay’ in Mumbai depicting the comparative picture of the history of India as it evolved over the centuries, along with the other prominent world civilizations.
The exhibition which would remain open till February 18, 2018, talks
about nine stories or the nine
reference points arranged chronologically as—Shared Beginnings (1,700,000 years ago to 200 BCE), First Cities (3000 to 1000 BCE), Empires (600 BCE to CE 200), State and Faith (CE 100-750), Picturing the Divine (CE 200 –1500), Indian Ocean Traders (CE 200–1650), Court Cultures (CE 1500–1800), Quest for Freedom (CE 1800–Present) and Time Unbound.
The first story talks about the common history of mankind and how it evolved, first in Africa and then spread
elsewhere. It displays more or less a common shape of the then simple tools like a hand axe had in Africa or in India or even in the other parts of the world.
The second one touches on the emergence of the first urban
settlements on the riverbanks of Nile, Indus, Tigris and Euphrates and how that brought a sea change in the lives of people everywhere. Although the first cities of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Indus were distant from one another, they were connected, as a part of trade network.
The third one discusses various empires that were set up by various forceful rulers in different parts of the world and how they projected their powers and the strength of their empires, for the knowledge of their subjects and outsiders.
The fourth one goes into the philosophy adopted by the rulers of the empires to ground and sustain their rule, which largely took the shape of associating with a particular faith or religion. Various religious symbols started making an appearance on certain objects like coins, along with the images of the Emperors, as a result.
The fifth one delves into the history of firming up of the said association of a faith with that of an empire, where the rulers started asserting themselves to be a part of the divinity that was
worshipped by their subjects.
The sixth one deals with the subject of trade that was carried out in the ancient times, with special reference to the Indian Ocean, and which provided
a bridge for interaction to various
populations, speaking different languages and following different cultures, giving way to exchange of ideas along with the traded commodities.
The seventh one describes the flourishing of various arts, made
possible by the support it received from various wealthy empires the world over and how it helped add to the prestige and opulence of various courts of such empires.
The eighth one narrates the struggle of freedom launched against the
imperial powers, by the foreign territories ruled by them, all over the world.
The ninth one underlines the
importance of time, which Indian
tradition considers cyclical while most others view as linear, that links up the past with the present, thus highlighting the role of history.
Linking Past with Present
It is basically an idea conceived by CSMVS, aimed at stressing upon the universality of the history of progress made by various populations, belonging to distant territories and different
cultures and thus oneness of humanity. The exhibition is a joint effort of CSMVS, the National Museum, New Delhi and the British Museum, London. Quite a few of the artefacts on display are there courtesy the British Museum, transported especially from there, for the purpose. The exhibition is supported by Tata Trusts and Getty Foundation.
As it is said that God is in the details, the detailed work was done about displaying various artefacts related to each story make-up for a very good effort at giving the desired shape to the said idea. It highlights the strong connections India has shared historically with the rest of the world.
Although the theme is about
underlining the oneness of the world’s humanity, certain uniqueness about the Indian (Hindu) civilisation wouldn’t miss the eye of a discerning observer. In the third section on the empires where three different artefacts are placed
representing three different cultures, one stone inscription is from the Roman Emperor Domitian, another is about a Chinese Emperor and third is from Ashoka. While the first two talk about their own prowess, Ashoka’s inscription talks about the ‘Dharma’, elucidating behaviour towards one’s employees, respect for one’s teachers, generosity and restraint on violence.
Another highlight was that a few things on display had originated in a particular part of the world but were found by the collectors of historical pieces, in some other distant parts of the world, thus underlining the connectedness of the ancient times e.g. a piece of heirloom textile made in Gujarat,India in CE 1500, was found in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Similarly, a Chinese porcelain dish (Made in Jingdezhen, China in CE 1325–1375) was found in Delhi, and a coin of Roman Emperor.Theodosius (reigned CE 379–395) was found at Ajanta (Aurangabad), Maharashtra.
A comment placed in common for a 16th-century statue of Jesus Christ (found in Goa, of Portuguese times) and an 8th century Ganesh idol found in Java, Indonesia is something one
cannot miss. It reads like “symbols of faith too moved, as people moved from place to place”. The history stands
testimony to the fact that while the spread of Christianity in Goa was a result of the rulers’ (Portuguese) brutal imposition of their faith on their subjects, it wasn’t the case with Hindu
civilisational influence over Java, where it was the result of gradual and
frictionless assimilation of ideas.
(The writer is a Mumbai-based columnist)