Established in 1951, Bishnupur Museum is the only museum in the entire district of Bankura related to art and archaeology. The museum is now under the control of the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Ministry of Information and Culture, Government of West Bengal. The museum has nearly 5000 manuscripts, 100 sculptures of the 10th-12th century CE, British history and several invaluable specimens of textiles, various photographs, and folk arts and crafts.
From microliths of the Mesolithic era to sculptures of the 12th century, the museum has an invaluable collection. This Museum accounts for the coins and artifacts from the very ancient days of rulers in Bishnupur, starting from the Gupta kings to the Pal kingdom. Also, there are contemporary art and paintings, manuscripts and rare photographs. The museum also contains a music gallery and a tribal art gallery which is often overlooked.
Just about 1 km from Jor Bangla Temple and 2 km from Bishnupur bus station stands an extraordinary building - the Bishnupur Museum. The official address is Dalmadal Para, and the museum is officially known as Acharya Jogesh Chandra Purakriti Bhawan, but whichever name you call it by, it is an absolute must visit when you go to Bishnupur, not least because it is the only museum in the district of Bankura on art and archaeology. And it is a ‘living’ museum too, the latest sculpture having been discovered as recently as March 5, adjacent to an old temple in Nalicha village in the Patrasayer police station area, alongside the Dwarakeswar river.
The entrance of the museum
Today, the museum houses nearly 5,000 old manuscripts such as the ‘Chaitanya Charitamrita’, ‘Madanmohan Bandana’, and various ayurvedic texts, more than 100 sculptures dating primarily from the 10th-12th century AD, remnants of British history, and several priceless specimens of textiles, various photographs, and tribal art and craft.
In fact, the Dwarakeswar river , which rises in Purulia and enters Bankura near Chhatna, has been a rich source of many of the sculptures housed in the museum. In 2006, for instance, a statue of the first Jain tirthankara Rishabhnath or Adinath was recovered from the river near Ajodhya village. It has also yielded up Hindu and Buddhist sculptures. As an aside, the Dwarakeswar, having flown through Bankura, East Bardhaman, and Hooghly, eventually joins up with the Silai near Ghatal in West Medinipur to form the Rupnarayan, which in turn flows into the Hooghly at Gadiara in Howrah.
When it was established in 1951, the museum was a private effort, led largely by such local luminaries as former Philanthropist and Industralists of Bishnupur Mr. Krittibas Mukherjee, Mr. Phanibhusan Mukherjee of Kaalitala, Bishnupur High School teacher Maniklal Singha, and a few of his colleagues such as Chittaranjan Dasgupta. These founders sourced artefacts from various sources, including private collections, and the museum’s sizable collection was eventually taken over by the West Bengal government’s Directorate of Archaeology and Museums.
Today, the museum houses nearly 5,000 old manuscripts such as the ‘Chaitanya Charitamrita’, ‘Madanmohan Bandana’, and various ayurvedic texts, more than 100 sculptures dating primarily from the 10th-12th century AD, remnants of British history, and several priceless specimens of textiles, various photographs, and tribal art and craft. That apart, there are microliths from the Mesolithic and Chalcolithic eras, coins and artefacts from various historical eras such as the Pushana, Sunga, Gupta, and Pala, establishing a history of continuous human habitation in Bankura from prehistoric times.
There is also an entire gallery dedicated to the Bishnupur gharana (loosely translated as tradition), the only Indian classical music tradition from Bengal, including the musical instruments used by such stalwarts as Gopeswar Bandyopadhyay and his peers, many of them now extinct.
The other remarkable collection in the museum comes from the Dihar archaeological site, 8 km north of Bishnupur by the banks of the Kana river, a tributary of the Dwarakeswar. The oldest discoveries at Dihar date back roughly 3,200 years, making it one of the earliest sites of human habitation discovered in Bengal, showing successive layers of prehistory, proto-history and history. According to Sarkar, the founding fathers of the Bishnupur Museum initially sourced many of the site’s artefacts, before the Archaeology department of Calcutta University led a series of organised digs in the area. Much of the ‘explored material’ from the site now rests in the Bishnupur Museum, while the ‘excavated material’ was collected by the university’s Archaeology department.
The land of Terracotta temples:
“The museum offers glimpses of the entire history of Bankura district, including the prehistoric artefacts from Susunia Hill,” says Sarkar. “There are also important cultural markers from various ages. For example, when (24th Jain tirthankara) Mahavira visited this region in the 6th century BC, suspicious locals set their dogs on him, but the sheer number of Jain statues that we have discovered shows that this was the beginning of ‘Aryanisation’ in the region.”