kelkar museum: one man’s collection of 21,000 objets d’art

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Chess: Ivory; Maharashtra; 18th Century

“Aapko andar aadhaa ghanta hi lagega [It will only take you half an hour inside],” the auto rickshaw driver tells me with full conviction. A little voice inside of me shakes its head and mutters, “Naaaa, an hour. I need an hour.”

Neither know me well. I end up spending two hours.

Remember when we were little children and the whole world was one fantasy land filled with fantastical objects, much like an Aladdin’s cave? The Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum is a manifestation of that fantasy.

Tucked inside an obscure lane in Pune’s Old City—2,500 pieces of a whopping 21,000 objet d’art collection—are displayed over three floors and 42 sections of what was once Dr. Dinkar G. Kelkar’s (1896 – 1990) home. Though much of the edifice is now a museum the family continues to live in a portion closed to the public.

The Collector

So who was Dr. Kelkar? Kaka, as he was fondly known, was an optician by profession, a poet at heart, and a collector by nature. Writing under the pseudonym “Adnyatwas,” his love affair with antiquities, art objects, and history started around 1920. A plaque inside explains this soon led to a lifetime of travels “across the country to obscure villages and tribal settlements, to grand temples and humble huts, to forgotten attics and folk fairs—collecting … always collecting.”

He was driven by a dream to give Indian arts and crafts, which he believed excelled at creating motifs in the mundane and blending innovation and tradition, the recognition it deserved. With an uncanny ability to spot the exotic in everyday objects, he single-handedly amassed his exorbitant collection. Eighty-five percent of it, however, never sees the light of day because of a lack of space.


Chaitra Gauri Cradle: Ivory; Karnataka; 19th Century

The Collection

Mainly dated around the Mughal and Maratha periods, the art objects in stone, wood, metal, ivory, fabric, and clay stand as testimony to the richness of India’s creative and cultural spirit. No two vajris of the 150 piece bevy are alike. Each leather shadow puppet in the 3,000 piece compendium is unique.

Pièces de résistance include the original Mastani Mahal, carefully dismantled and reassembled in the Kelkar home, assorted items once used by royalty such as “erotic nut-crackers” and betel boxes, and an 18th Century miniature painting of Bajirao I. Of no less charm are the exotic animal-shaped Indian musical instruments donated by contemporary classical musicians, carved palace doors, dowry boxes, and armoury made of fish scales and crocodile skin. To be further charmed, you can drool on effigies of the Hindu pantheon and jewellery 200 years old.


Pride of the museum: Mastani Mahal was built by Peshwa Bajirao I for his half-Muslim second wife Mastani at Kothrud, near Pune in 1734. In an effort to save the structure from deterioration and destruction, Dr. D.G. Kelkar, the founder of Kelkar Museum dismantled the palace and reconstructed it inside the museum in its full original glory with the help of skilled artisans.

The Museum

Raja Dinkar Kelkar was Dr. Kelkar’s son. He died at the tender age of seven. Established in 1962, the museum is dedicated to Raja Dinkar in remembrance. In 1975, Dr. Kelkar donated the museum in its entirety to the Maharashtra Government.

In addition to the collection, the Museum also houses research facilities and the Institute of Musicology and Fine Arts.

Wandering through the corridors, over the many floors, I often found myself completely alone. Apart from a bunch of schoolgirls working on an assignment, punctuated with vigorous selfie-taking wrapped in muffled giggles, there was no one else. Every cabinet I peeked into gave me goose-bumps. The combination of quality, creativity, and a date typed on a small nondescript label was a heady one to say the least. I felt I was Alice in Wonderland. 🙂 The penchant for fantasy never leaves us, does it? Whether we are children, or full-blown adults.

[Note: Click on any of the below images and it will start a slide show.]

Travel tips:

  • Address: Kamal Kunj, Natu Baug, Off Bajirao Road, 1377-78, Shukrawar Peth, Pune – 411002, Maharashtra; Tel: +91 20 2448 2101/ 2446 1556; Email: sudhanva@rajakelkarmuseum.com.
  • Museum timings: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm everyday.
  • Admission fees: Rs. 50 [Indian], Rs. 200 [Foreigners]; No charge for differently abled visitors.
  • Photography charges [without flash]: Mobile camera: Rs. 100; Still camera: Rs. 200; Video camera: Rs. 500.

art focus – fold/unfold – sonia khurana

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Folding:
Fold, repeat, fold
folding—or doubling—of my thought into yours.
“The inside is nothing more than the fold of the outside”
: announces the fold.

The above lines and a cacophony of text, word, image, and thought spanning nearly 20 years meet me as I walk into the dimmed art gallery in a quiet bylane in Mumbai’s historic Fort district. The halls are shrouded in darkness with jewel-like LCD screens emitting video art of unabashedly personal, intimate, narcissist, and at times erotic conversations of the artist with herself.

I find myself thinking out aloud: this is what it must be like to step into one’s innermost recesses—where demons and angels reside. Where battles are fought between our limitations and desires, and the uncrowned unvetted winners bask in themselves. Continue reading

about me: in a bit more detail

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Compliments of the New Year! 🙂

It is already the 7th of January, and it seems just yesterday that I was contemplating the closure of yet another year and what all it had meant for me even as it paved the way for a sequel. There was a sense of déjà vu in the air.

Except for one thing—a chunk of my holidays was taken up in finalizing my personal site. Tweaking it and polishing it to ensure it was perfect, for me at least. You could call the site my fancy online business card, for a better word. But why a personal site, you may ask? Is a blog not enough? Continue reading

3 reasons why the bdl tops as mumbai’s most lovely museum

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Do you like museums? I do. Not all of them though. Just those that stand out, whether it be in scale or the splendour of its exhibits, recount a tale which draws one within its folds, or is so darned quaint it looks like it stepped straight out from another world, another time.

I spent this past Sunday at one that fit the last bill.

One does not often relate Mumbai to museums. And when one does, it is invariably the grand Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya which comes to mind. The name itself is a mouthful as is its repertoire of treasures. But there is another that is just as inimitable, albeit in an altogether different way—reminiscent of a large Victorian doll house brimming with charm and pretty things. It is the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla.

Three things set the second one apart and place it firmly as Mumbai’s most lovely repository: Its restored stunning Victorian edifice, a bevy of vibrant clay models which transform the place into a magical fantasy, and its exquisite collection of decorative arts which showcase India’s rich heritage. Quite a heady mix!

Read on to know more. 🙂 Continue reading

art focus – after the fall – dhruvi acharya

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Who of us has not felt the pain of losing a loved one—the acute heartache and a shattering of the self into a zillion pieces? Whether it be death, distance, or indifference, loss brings us to a version of reality smeared with the unknown, and a feeling of disconnect with the present. And of all the wounds, the death of someone we love is the cruellest of all. Especially, when it sneaks into our life and takes us by surprise.

Dhruvi Acharya, Mumbai-based artist, lost her husband Manish Acharya, an actor and film-maker, in a freak accident in Matheran in 2010. He fell off his horse and died of brain haemorrhage.

A soft sculpture monochromatic installation featuring a bedroom titled “What once was, still is, but isn’t …” is her statement of her bereavement: a personal and poignant declaration. It is the central exhibit of her solo exhibition “After the Fall,” post a gap of eight years in India, currently running at the Chemould Prescott Road art gallery. Through the installation, Acharya also steps out for the first time from painting and delves into 3-dimentional art. Continue reading

art focus – experiments with pencil, print, paper – nandini bagla chirimar

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“Why do I draw?” Nandini Bagla Chirimar, a New York based mixed media artist, echoes my question with a peal of laughter, her eyes shining behind her neon pink glasses. “My art is a personal diary of my life—as a mother, daughter, home-maker and Indian artist living in New York—a lot of it is autobiographical,” she tells me, sipping her mint lemonade, her head slightly tilted in reflection.

“I would call them a visual form of my daily thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings are not ‘real’, right? They’re just there in our heads and hearts. But once I give them a visual form, they become tangible. I feel like I have created a new reality, a reality of the inner me.” We are in a tea cafe in Lower Parel, having just had a dekko at her piece currently exhibiting in The Loft, Mumbai.

Nandini’s work is unlike any I have seen before. It is acutely personal, layered, and uses a mix of mediums and techniques to create an inimitable form of ethereal beauty. And depth. It takes the viewer deeper and deeper into an unseen world, and as you mentally peel away the gossamer thin layers of Japanese Kozo paper covered with paintings, etchings and drawings stacked upon each other, it unveils a reflected world in ourselves. Through her personal experiences one ends up exploring larger phenomenon which none of us are immune to—migration, identity, relationships, grief, death, and memories. Continue reading