It is a treasure trove of antiquity buried in obscurity. The Odisha Rural Museum is home to 6,000 rare coins and currency notes of around 200 countries, 7,000 postage stamps, 3,425 foreign and Indian paintings, 2,000 rare metals and stones, 3,000 books and magazines, old clocks, watches and much more.
Located in Maitapur village in Balasore district, 200 km from Bhubaneswar, it is the only museum of its kind in the state with a collection of nearly 30,580 rare artefacts that draw innumerable visitors, including students and research fellows.
However, it is not run by any government agency or corporate body. It is the labour of one man’s love and untiring effort. Kailash Chandra Mohanty, a retired employee of Indian Post and Telegraph Department, was determined to retain the historical significance of his native village which led to the creation of the museum.
During his tenure, Mohanty travelled across the country and collected artefacts over 50 years. He spent his own money and established the museum in 1985. Since Mohanty’s demise at the age of 74 earlier this year, his wife Janakilata Mohanty (67) has been managing the place.
There is no entry fee here and the museum is open from 10am to 4pm every day. Exhibiting ancient coins, foreign currency, century-old postal stamps, palm leaf manuscripts, musical instruments, ancient weapons and armoury, the three-room museum is a confluence of world culture.
But due to lack of space, many artefacts cannot be displayed. Several rare artefacts (the palm leaf manuscripts, paintings and postal stamps) are on the verge of decay in the absence of proper preservation measures.
“We need government aid to expand the museum so that all artefacts can be displayed and preserved properly. It can become a major centre of attraction in eastern India,” says Mohanty’s son Rajat, the museum secretary.
Among its many treasures is the gallery of ancient coins, showcasing the Sri Ram Avishek coin, the most sought-after Hanuman coin of 1818, besides the old gold and silver coins of Mughal dynasty, East India Company, British emperors and from the pre- and post-Independence era. The culture sections—Mera Bharat Mahan and World Culture also draw visitors. The museum also has a rare collection of letters by Indian leaders and world famous statesmen, including Hitler and Napoleon.
Janakilata, who is now the museum’s curator and superintendent, says her husband wanted his village to retain its historical significance. During World War II, the British had set up military camps, war aerodromes and wireless towers in Maitapur village. “On the 50th anniversary of World War II, my husband established the museum here as a symbol of world peace.” she says.
A diploma holder in fine arts from Shantiniketan of Kolkata, Mohanty was honoured by former Indian President S Radhakrishnan in 1966 for his art works. His biography compiled by professor Benudhar Rout has been published by the Odisha Lalit Kala Academy.
Though Mohanty had aspired to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for his coin collection, his dream is yet to be materialised as none from his family has put in an application.
So far over 10,000 visitors, including foreign tourists, have visited the museum.
A comment by one Herbert George Norris of England in the visitor’s book puts it in perspective, “India really lives in its villages. Mohanty’s dedication and efforts to set up the museum prove that the thirst for doing something unique has no limit.”