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.

pune heritage walk: lal mahal and shaniwar wada

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Aah, those wondrous figures who live on in the dusty worn out pages of time—the larger than life legends who changed the course of history! I am talking about Chhattrapati [Sovereign] Shivaji Maharaj [top left image] and Peshwa Bajirao I [top right image] of the Maratha Empire.

Though India’s Mughal-centric history has pushed the Maratha Empire to its periphery, it lives on, passionately and firmly embedded in Maharashtra, its founder’s state, and in Pune, the empire’s political seat. Continue reading

secrets of south bombay’s parel queensway

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The stories and secrets Bombay holds in its folds behind its crumbling Victorian edifices and chaotic traffic spans centuries. Of all the streets which cover the city in a tangled web, Queensway, a road that leads through Parel in South Bombay, is perhaps the richest in terms of history and also the least to have divulged its mysteries.

A two and a half kilometre stretch, the wide boulevard lined with towering trees contains 19th Century temple courtyards, odes to the Indian Independence Movement, stories of magnanimous philanthropy, and an open air museum of Indian sculpture traversing 1,600 years. And if you did not know, you would not even come close to guessing they exist. 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

a self-guided walk through mumbai’s iconic business district: ballard estate

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Though an avid proponent for guided walks, I love self-guided walks just that tad bit more. They are like a treasure hunt filled with the thrill of discovery! Don’t you agree? As one decodes a route and identifies details, a place takes on an added meaning. From then on, it is never just another precinct, another site, discovered and rapidly forgotten. You start to recognise its finer nuances, unveil layers, and imbibe a bit of its soul. Such was how I explored Ballard Estate a few days ago.

To many in Bombay aka Mumbai, Ballard Estate is just another business district, the chief differentiator being “London-like.” London-like? Yes, that’s the catch word!

Whilst the rest of the city, and in particular, the adjoining Fort area is Victorian-Gothic in style, with its associated chaos, Ballard Estate is serene and uniform. A meticulously planned, purpose-built district by Bombay Port Trust, Ballard Estate is the coming together of two urbanisation concepts in the period between 1914 to 1918. These are: 1) Twenty-two acres of reclaimed land using excavated rock and soil from the creation of Alexandra Dock, and 2) the aesthetic design sense of architect George Wittet. Continue reading

the heritage precinct of gamdevi in mumbai: modern india’s birthplace

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Whoever said Mumbai is all steel and glass often-times grotesque, or miles of slums topped with blue tarpaulin needs to revisit it. Seriously, and, no, this is not some biased Mumbaikar’s rambling.

The city spills over with heritage. It is perhaps not in a blatant form as in other Indian cities which are decorated with grand tombs and forts. Mumbai’s heritage is sepia-toned, like a beautiful memory living on in the modern everyday life we live out on a daily basis, and are unaware of where it stems from. It is a heritage not of brick and mortar but of ideologies and modernism, the latter both political and cultural. It is the sapling that grew up to become “Modern India.”

A few months ago, this became evident to me when I joined a heritage walk through a precinct in South Bombay called Gamdevi or Gaondevi, meaning Village Goddess. The neighbourhood is named after its 200-year-old temple dedicated to Durga, also referred to by its devotees as Lilavati “a graceful woman.”

Spanning less than 500 metres across in width and length each, Gamdevi is where Bollywood talkies originated and Indian feminism shaped itself. Its lanes have triggered the imaginations of painters and authors alike, and its edifices given concrete form to convictions. It is also where Mahatma Gandhi lived and launched the Quit India Movement in 1942. Gamdevi is a pot pourri of the makers of Modern India, and their stories, and by default, our stories, I like to believe. Continue reading