NEW DELHI: The darkness of the room gently begins to fade away when the light of the artefacts displayed in the moderately sized glass enclosures shines their glory on our great past. Each proves its value in the larger context of where we’ve all come from and what our lives says about our ancient civilizations—the very start of things. India and The World: A History in Nine Stories displays antiquity that serves as crucial linkages to our common challenges that are biggest commonality.The exhibition includes the 1.7-1.07 million years oldest hand-axe from Attirampakkam, Tamil Nadu, a replica of the Dancing Girl of Mohenjodaro from 2500 BC, a gold-horned Harappan humped bull from 1800 BC.
Divided into several small rooms, each with a art few displays, they come with crisp captions to delineate their context. The British Museum, London has offered 124 objects for this exhibition, becoming the biggest lender for the show. Additionally, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghahalaya (CSMVS), Mumbai, and 20 private galleries have collaborated. “It invites the visitor to explore different aspects of history such as religious, social, economic and artistic.
All have stories to tell about their makers and the society that made them,” says Jeremy David Hill from the British Museum. He states an example here. “Look at the world’s first—South Asia, Iraq, Syria and Egypt. With these came planning, bureaucracy and writing. These societies developed because they faced similar challenges of how to organise larger societies. Yet, they developed their own distinct culture, political systems and writing, despite international trade connecting them,” he says.
The nine stories through which they make themselves pertinent represent different historic periods. It begins with Shared Beginnings (1,700,000 years ago to 2,000 BC) and ends with Quest for Freedom (1,800–Present). It is interesting to note here that the objects don’t highlight the story of India’s struggle for Independence, a thing that has been spoken off abundantly. It puts the spotlight on the quest for freedom in the context of other quests for freedom in the last 100 years.
As you pass through different moments in history recreated within the serpentine exhibition space, the Head in the Style of Alexander in marble from AD 100–200 Roman, bewilders you with its realism.
The Astrolabe in brass, silver and copper from AD 1236 Cairo, Egypt is another one. The Crucifix from AD 1190 Limoges, France is one of the contributions from The British Museum. The Humped Bull with Gold Horns in banded agate and gold from the Harappan period in about 1800 BC.
The Indian pieces are surrounded by those from the world over from the same period to give a comparative perspective of how sensibilities in different parts emerged. “This history you will not find in textbooks and schools, in that it provides a better understanding of how one culture has been in communication and exchange with another. It marks a new dimension in cooperation between global museums,” says Dr. Hartwig Fischer, Director, British Museum.
The Delhi exhibition was preceded by one in Mumbai where the works arrived by air. It commemorates 70 years of India’s Independence. India and The World: A History in Nine Stories is not just an artistic trail time-travelling to another period. It’s a mirror to how societies developed, how the human psyche grew and how civilisations evolved. This time is no different than any other. It’s in continuation of a legacy that’s being made as we speak.