Set lamps afloat on the digital Ganges and virtually savour Benarasi paan at a new virtual reality museum in the ancient observatory of Man Mahal in Varanasi.
PM Narendra Modi recently came down to his Varanasi constituency to inaugurate a state-of-the-art Virtual Experiential Museum on February 19. The Abhasiya-Anubhuti Sangralaya is situated at the Man Mahal, an iconic observatory conserved by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Visitors to the palace can now have a virtual experience of the tangible and intangible cultures of Varanasi.
Located near the main Dashashwamedh Ghat on the sacred banks of Ganges, Man Mahal is a picturesque architectural wonder with a combination of Mughal and Rajput aesthetic styles. Resplendent with painted ceilings, the stone edifice was built around 1600 AD by Raja Man Singh, a general of the Great Mughal Emperor Akbar, according to ASI records. The ancient astronomical observatory was added to the Mahal in 1737 AD by Sawai Jai Singh II, a Rajput ruler who was the successor of Man Singh and founded the city of Jaipur. He was a learned astronomer. Located on the rooftop of the royal premises, the facility was utilized in bygone times to calculate the time, to make solar and lunar calendars, and to study the positions of stars and planets.
The Union culture ministry’s new museum has been created alongside knowledge partner The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. Officials say that audiences visiting the museum can send digital lamps across the tranquil shores of the Ganges, dip into the virtual waters of the river, experience the making of a savoury Benarasi paan and even enjoy the authentic Hindustani classical music of the Benarasi Gharana.
Full of projectors, curved TV screens and touch-panels, the museum has content spread across 8 sections. These sections talk about the lives of the many seekers who travel to Kashi, discuss how the famous Banarasi Saree is weaved, narrate a the story of Lord Rama’s life through a rick folk play called Ramlila, and explain the core purpose behind why people have been visiting Kashi since generations, i.e. for Moksha or salvation. Varanasi is considered among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and is believed, according to Hindu mythology, to have been founded by lord Shiva.
Conceptualised, developed and designed by the National Council of Science Museum, the Abhasiya-Anubhuti Sangralaya is currently operating under its curator-in-charge Anurag Kumar. Approximately 20 visitors can take this 90-minute-long virtual excursion diving into the city’s historic, demographic, socioeconomic and spiritual qualities. In a Hindustan Times article, Atul Tiwari, the man behind the film scripts and digital experientials of the tour, says, “The museum has endeavoured to encapsulate the civilisation and the ras (flavour) of Varanasi in small space and time.”
The ticket for visiting the museum is Rs 25 for Indian sightseers and Rs 300 for foreigners. Doors remain open from sunrise to sunset and children below the age of 15 are exempt from ticket charges.
In June of this year, the National Museum in Delhi, in collaboration with IIT Bombay, will also launch a virtual area that will allow visitors to virtually experience the ancient Buddhist cave monuments of Ajanta.
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