All our Grandmothers have that exclusive treasure chest, something where they keep their most prized possessions. A trunk they open only on special occasions, something which holds things most dear and precious to them. The opening of the chest is highly anticipated and met with wonder and joy. The city of Ahmedabad also has one such treasure chest- the Calico Museum. It is not just a treasure of Ahmedabad but in fact of the country.
On a visit to the Calico Museum, one feels the same privilege, anticipation and joy that one did when grandma opened her Pitara. One knew that something extraordinary and incomparable was going to be revealed. But what lay within was beyond even one’s wildest imaginations.
The Calico Museum is nestled in the quiet and peaceful lanes of Shahibaug; a locale that was a few decades back, adorned by houses of Ahmedabad’s Mill Owners. From the outside one cannot tell of the treasures that lie within. It is located in the Retreat – the former home of the Sarabhai’s, the illustrious family of the city.
The museum was founded in 1949 and shifted to its current premises in Shahibaug in 1983. The museum can be said to be the premier museum of textiles in the world. It has an enormous and comprehensive collection of textiles and Indian Art. The Museum was established by Gautam and Gira Sarabhai and the industrial house of Calico. It is currently managed and run by the Sarabhai Foundation.
The beautiful campus charms and enthrals you the minute you enter. Lush green lawns with peacocks and monkeys roaming around; small ponds with lotuses, water lilies and turtles enchant you. It feels like one has entered a Monet painting. And this is even before one has entered the museum proper.
The campus has a large number of buildings within which this treasure is housed. It is an eclectic mix of building with the ancient and the new artfully bought together. One can see a 200 year old wooden house from the Pols of Ahmedabad recreated here.
One is provided with a free guided tour as one enters the premises and the charming guide walks one through centuries of Indian art and crafts. In fact, the museum has textiles from all over the world. There are 2 museums in the campus- One of textiles and the other of religious art. During a 2 hour tour one is provided with a glimpse into this striking world. Each room has been designed to showcase a specific art.
One is introduced to masterpieces of Andhra Kalamkari, royal tents from Rajasthan, embroideries from all over the country, Paithani sarees from Maharashtra, Lampas- 300-400 year old floor spreads from the Mughal era, making of which is now a lost art.
One gets to see Pallava and Chola bronzes, Jain sculptures from Gujarat, Pichwai from Nathdwara, Miniature paintings, the gorgeous Patola sarees of Gujarat, the effervescent Bandhini in all its intricacies, Ashavalli saree- Ahmedabad’s very own art form, Kashmiri shawl, Oriya Patchitra. The list can go on and on.
One is introduced to the different techniques that go into making a textile- the dyeing, printing, embroidering, knitting, appliqué work and many others which give us the beautiful clothes we use.
Writing about the gems inside seems futile as one has to see them to be able to absorb and assimilate the wonders before one’s eyes. One feels that even in the act of blinking one will miss something.
The Sarabhais especially Gira Sarabhai have to be lauded for painstakingly collecting and preserving the collection over the decades.
The museum only allows a limited number of people and at fixed times, so it is better to take an appointment, it doesn’t allow children below the age of 12 and photography is prohibited. To protect the textiles the illumination has been kept a bit low but the eye soon adjusts to it.
It is a must visit for everyone, even if you have the slightest interest in textiles, art, religion or just plain beauty. A visit to the museum and it will impact the way one perceives Indian craft traditions.
Team CY recommends all its patrons to take an appointment and visit the museum soon.
Image Source: www.calicomuseum.org
Illustration: Hasmukh Makwana
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