The National Museum lies within an impressive building that sits elegantly on the edge of Maulana Azad Road and Janpath. It lies very close to India Gate and can be easily approachable via local transport and from Kendriya Terminal Metro Station. This Museum as the name implies, is considered as one of the most significant Museums amongst the rest seen in Delhi. After a gamut of Indian Art and Artefacts selected from the different museums of India were being displayed in Burlington House in London during the winter season between 1947-1948, which was then sponsored by the Royal Academy with assistance from India and Britain, the Indian Government also felt the need to have a similar centre in Delhi itself wherein these collection of rich Indian Artefacts could be displayed under one roof before they were sent back to their respective museums.
The concept was realised and the State Room within the Rashtrapati Bhavan or Presidential Palace was selected as the venue to exhibit these collections in 1949. After the immediate success of this exhibition, it was realised that a National Museum was required in New Delhi too and an official announcement declared that the State Room would remain as a temporary National Museum as construction for a permanent place was underway. This Temporary National Museum was officially inaugurated on 15th August 1949 (Independence Day of India) by Shri R.C. Rajagopalachari, the former Governor General of India.
In order to retain this unique collection, the Indian Government sent their proposal to all the museums in India who had participated in the London exhibition and in the interim, the ancient artefacts were kept under the expert care of the Directory General of Archaeology. The proposal was accepted after the painstaking procedure and gifts were presented along with acquisition from the Art Purchase Committee to be exhibited in the museum.
The foundation stone of the National Museum was laid by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru on 12th May 1955 and after its completion, the artefacts were moved on June 1960 to the new permanent building seen today near India Gate. This Museum was opened to public viewing on 18th December 1960 under the supervision and financial support of the Ministry of Culture and Human Resource Development Departments of the Indian Government.
At the entrance of the National Museum, visitors are welcomed with an octagonal shaped Temple Chariot weighing 2,200 kilograms and made from Saal and Sagvan wood. It is constructed with 5 tiers consisting of 6 wheels, brackets, beams, angles, 425 beautifully carved panels and other designs. The Chariot dated 18th and 19th Century AD was made in Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu as a dedication to Lord Vishnu. This Chariot depicts various themes like 'Lakshmi Narayan' or Lord Vishnu with his Consort, 'Narsimha' who is a Lion and Human incarnation of Lord Vishnu, 'Rama' who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, 'Vengopal' or Krishna with a Flute and 'Varaha' or the Boar incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
The National Museum is seen divided into different Galleries showcasing an impressive chronological display of over 200,000 collection of artefacts comprising of both, Indian and International exquisite art works dating over 5,000 years old depicting the rich cultural heritage of the country. Other than these pre-historic collections, the museum also displays stunning Paintings, Jewellery, Manuscripts, Decorative Art work, Central Asian Antiquities, Weapons and Armours and many more.
The Harappan Civilisation Gallery is one of the most impressive Galleries set up by the National Museum along with the Archaeological Survey of India that exhibits a wide collection of 4,825 Harappan Civilisation artefacts like Seals, Jewellery, Pottery, Terracotta figures, tablets, measurement instruments, axes, knives, chisels and other tools made of copper out of which 1,025 artefacts were excavated from ancient sites by ASI and hence belongs to them whereas the rest of 3,800 are showcased within the Modern gallery of Harappan culture that belongs to the National Museum. The Archaeology Gallery set up on the ground, first and second floors of the National Museum displays a collection of 800 exquisite sculptures dating since the 3rd Century BC up till the 19th Century AD made of bronze, stone and terracotta.
The Buddhist Art Gallery is seen with an array of Buddhist relics dating back to the 5th and 4th Century BC that were excavated from Piprehwa which is a part of the Basti District. 84 specimens of the Buddhist Art are also displayed ranging from painted scrolls of Buddha known as 'Thangka' from Tibet, Nepal, Central Asia, Combodia, Java and Myanmar representing Buddha in three principal forms of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana; sculptures made of wood, stone, terracotta and bronze; Footprints of Buddha known as 'Pada' from a district of Guntur named Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh, Kapardin Buddha images brought from Ahichchhatra and Life Scenes of Lord Buddha from Uttar Pradesh are all seen displayed here that adds to the peaceful ambience of the Museum.
The National Museum also exhibits a range of 352 beautifully and intricately completed miniature paintings and painted manuscripts of India seen on palm leafs, leather, wood, hard-boards and Thankus seen on canvas depicting different styles and themes belonging to the Mughal era, Rajasthan, Pahari, Central India, Deccan and others forms dating between 1000 AD and 1900 AD.
The Central Asian Antiquity Gallery displays an array of 600 Central Asian Art forms including painted silk banners, stunning wall paintings; wooden, stucco and terracotta sculptures; leather, fibre, grass, porcelain and pottery, Gold and Silver precious items and secular religious documents which were all excavated by Sir Aurel Stein who was a renowned early 20th Century Archaeological Explorer during three main expeditions explored by him from 1900 to 1901, 1906 to 1908 and 1913 to 1916. The Pre-Columbian and Western Art Gallery displays a wide collection of 252 International Arts from the North-western coast of America, Peru, Inca, Maya, Panama, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Egypt, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq and France. Most of them were gifted by Mr. and Mrs. Nasli Heeramaneck from the United States dating before 1492 AD during the era of Christopher Columbus.
Another prominent Gallery lit up with 26 massive transparent glasses showcases the gradual Evolution and transition of Indian Brahmi Scripts and Indian Coins while the Coins gallery displays 1672 rare, unique, antique and modern coins dating since the 6th Century BC up till the 21st Century AD. The Indian Textile Gallery exhibits an exquisite collection of traditional Indian textiles made of Silk and Cotton seen in printed, dyed, woven and embroidery styles belonging to the 17th Century.
The National Museum exhibits over 120 wood carvings depicting windows, dwellings and intricately carved Mandap dating back to the 16th and 17th Century from a Temple in Gujarat. The Late Medieval Gallery on the ground floor of the museum showcases 46 exquisite carvings. The main highlights are a few 13th Century doors and pillars that were brought in from a Sun Temple located in Katarmal within the Almora District of Uttaranchal.
The National Museum exhibits a wide collection of 125 Folk and Classical Musical Instruments gifted in 1980 and 1987 by Mrs. Saran Rani Backliwal dating back between the 17th and 19th Century. Another interesting Gallery displays over 327 different kinds of traditional attires, ornaments, wood carvings and many other Tribal objects belonging to the seven states of the North Eastern part of India. The Arms and Armour Gallery displays a wide array of 500 of the finest weapons, fire arms, ritual weapons, sacrificial weapons, armours, war accessories and many other types of weapons and projectiles belonging to the Mughal, Rajput, Sikh, Hindu and Maratha era.
The National Museum is seen today with a publication house, Educational division, Hindi section, Public Relations Section, Library, Display and Exhibition section, Modelling and Photography area and a Security and Administration cell. The Conservation Laboratory seen here is well equipped with tools required for restoration of art works and objects along with a facility to train students and professionals on the procedures and process involved in restoring oil paintings in India while 'The National Museum Institute' established in 1983 specialises in various courses on the cultural Heritage Art of India and is deemed as a University in itself.
The National Museum remains opened from 1000 hours to 1700 hours on all days except on all Mondays and National Holidays and charges an entry fee of INR 10.00 per head for Indian Citizens, INR 1.00 per head for Indian Students and INR 150.00 per head for Foreign Nationalities. Photography charges per still camera are INR 20.00 for Indian citizens and INR 300.00 for Foreigners.
The Museum also conducts Audio Tours in French, German, Japanese, English and Hindi Languages. If any Indian citizen wish to avail this facility, they will need to pay an extra amount of INR 150.00 per head for English Audio Tour or INR 100.00 per head for Hindi Audio Tour while any foreign visitors, who wish to avail this facility, will need to pay INR 300.00 per head (inclusive of Entry fee and Audio Tour).