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17 May, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Our Museums

Sheikh Iraj
Our Museums

Museums are places that conserve our history and culture. Today, museums entertain and educate us at the same time. Museums around the world will celebrate International Museum Day on May 18, with this year’s theme ‘Hyperconnected museums: New approaches, new publics’, according to network.icom.museum. This week, Y&I takes a look at some new public and private museums in our country, while revisiting some old favourites.

Bangladesh Police Liberation War Museum at Rajarbagh Police Lines in the capital was established in 2013 to pay homage to Bengali police officers who gallantly fought against the Pakistani Army. “This museum is dedicated to the Bengali police force of 1971,” Sadia Afrin, assistant director of the museum, told this reporter. “Many police officers met a fatal end as the Pakistani Army launched a cowardly attack. Those who survived the attack at Rajarbagh Police Lines (March 25, 1971) participated in our Liberation War. We have a range of collections of different police equipment from that time. In the main gallery, we have different weapons and equipment used during the war. For example, there is the radio transmitter used to alert the rest of the Bengali police force about the attack. Some personal items, like uniforms, chairs, letters, photographs of policemen, are also on display.”

“We also have some items from the police dating back to the British period. There is a Bangabandhu Gallery. On the walls of the gallery, there are some rare pictures of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman taken during different periods of his life,” Afrin added.

The police museum has a giant screen where an impressive 24-minute documentary on our police force is shown throughout the day. Rakib Hossain, 28, recently joined Bangladesh Police after graduating from Dhaka College. “I have visited this museum several times in the past. The last time I came here, I saw a documentary about our police force. I think that documentary somehow inspired me to become a police officer,” he said.

“Every day, more than 70 visitors come to the museum and on weekly holidays the number of visitors doubles. Nearly on all the national holidays, we arrange different cultural programmes. Very soon, we are going to organise a big event where we will pay tribute to women freedom fighters for their outstanding contribution to our Liberation War,” assistant director Afrin said. “We have people who work as guides for the visitors. On March 26 and December 16, the museum is open for all. For youths, we arrange a number of programmes, like essay writing competitions where different schools participate. Besides, we have several promotional programmes to attract young visitors. We regularly invite different schools in Dhaka to visit the museum for free and learn a little bit about our police force and its legacy.” Entry ticket for the museum is Taka 10 per person, and it remains closed on Wednesdays.

Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) Museum at Agargaon is an open-air museum dedicated to the glorious history of BAF, which was formed during our Liberation War in 1971 with meagre resources. The museum located on Rokeya Avenue (Sarani) has on display different phased-out military aircraft and equipment, including those that were used in the Liberation War and the first aircraft of independent Bangladesh. For a small fee, visitors can climb inside some of the planes on display for a hands-on experience. There is also a children’s park and a lake with boats inside the sprawling museum grounds. “BAF Museum gives importance to provide knowledge on the field of aviation to all our visitors,” according to its website bafmuseum.mil.bd. The museum is open from 2pm to 8pm on weekdays and from 10am to 8pm on Friday-Saturday; it is closed on Sundays.

Lalbagh Fort is one of the crown jewels of Mughal architecture in our country. Located at Lalbagh on the bank of Buriganga River in southwest Dhaka, it is an unfinished 17th Century Mughal fort. Halima Afroj, custodian of Lalbagh Fort Museum, told Y&I: “We regularly invite students and guests. Many university students who are studying tourism and hotel management visit this museum and many foreigners come as well. We have so many things for youths to get excited about. I would say the underground tunnels (which are gated off) are the main attraction for young visitors. We have a position for a guide who can give tours. But at the moment, that position is vacant. My coworkers and I act as guides whenever any visitor requests a tour. We do not have a library, but we have some publications. Through those, one can get interesting information about this museum, its collection, and the Mughals.”

M Abdul Hamid, 26, who recently graduated from Northern University, was visiting the museum with two of his friends. “I lived in Lalbagh for about three years. I remember frequently visiting this place. It was my friends’ idea to come here today. Apparently, they have not visited this museum before. I love the atmosphere here. Every time I visit this particular museum, I get to learn something new. There are a number of Mughal antiquities on display. Looking at the collection of the museum one cannot help but imagine how people used to live back then during the Mughal period,” he told this reporter. Besides its heritage buildings, the museum has a collection of Mughal-era coins, weapons, books, clothes, furniture and other household items.     

One of the best things about the Lalbagh museum is the huge open spaces inside the fort complex. Since there are not that many open spaces in Dhaka anymore, many people who live nearby like to visit and exercise within its grounds. Students up to class 10 can enter the museum for free, while general visitors have to pay Taka 5 per person. The museum also hosts an impressive light and sound show that recalls the history of Dhaka and the fort, but the show is on a break during the monsoon and will resume in October. The museum is closed on Sundays.

There have been no major changes to the Postal Museum in Dhaka since Y&I last reported on it in a cover story published on April 20, 2017. The museum, located on the third floor of GPO (General Post Office) on Bangabandhu Avenue, was supposed to move to the ground floor for easy access to visitors, but that has not happened yet.

Sheikh Russel Children Museum is located inside Bangladesh Shishu Academy in Dhaka. The museum started its journey in 1991. It has three hallrooms. Several pictures of Sheikh Russel, the youngest son of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, are on display on the ground floor. The other floors display dioramas and items depicting our culture and history. Some parts of the museum are currently under renovation.

Dhaka City Museum was established on July 20, 1996 on the fifth of Nagar Bhaban at Fulbaria. The idea behind the museum is to conserve the history and heritage of the 400-year-old city. Dhaka Museum of Toys created quite a buzz when it opened at Banglamotor in 2013. However, the private museum, the first of its kind in Bangladesh, is currently closed due to renovation work, the owners informed Y&I.       

Mainamati Museum is located beside the ancient Buddhist ruins of Shalban Vihara in Comilla. The museum has a number of items from the period between 6th to 13th centuries. The antiquities on display include Buddhist sculptures, artifacts, terracotta plaques, coins and manuscripts. Ahamed Abdullah, custodian of Mainamati Museum, told the reporter: “The museum is one of the richest archeological sites of our country. We do not have any guides, and that is why I myself give tours to students, foreign delegates or any special guests who visit the museum. Many foreign tourists and visitors who come on official tours to our country visit this museum. We tend to receive the most foreign visitors from Buddhist countries.” It costs Taka 20 to see the museum, but students up to HSC-level can visit for Taka 5 only.

The Bagerhat Museum is situated in front of the famous Shait Gumbad (Sixty Dome) Mosque. The museum has three exhibition galleries which were constructed in collaboration with UNESCO, according to its official website. Most of the exhibits come from the historic ‘Mosque City of Bagerhat’, a World Cultural Heritage site. The artifacts include inscriptions, pottery, ornamental bricks and terracotta plaques. M Golam Ferdaus, custodian of Bagerhat Museum, informed Y&I over the telephone: “We have several programmes which aim to inform the youth about our rich heritage. Right now, we are working with local schools. We visit different schools and invite the students to visit our museum. Half our visitors are youths who come from different educational institutions. We do not have guides, we show visitors around the museum ourselves.” Students up to class 10 only have to pay Taka 5, while it is Taka 20 for other visitors.

The first Rocks Museum of Bangladesh was established at Panchagarh in 1997.  Nazmul Haque, a professor, came up with the idea of the museum and was its custodian for more than 11 years. “Today, the authorities of Panchagarh Women’s College supervise the museum, but sadly, they are not doing a good job. Every year when students get admitted, a certain portion of their admission fee is kept aside for museum expenses. Now that money is not put to good use. I have asked them to hire a person who can look after the museum, but they have not appointed anyone yet. In the last six months, there have been no new additions to the museum’s collection,” Haque told this reporter over the phone. “We had two ancient wooden boats. We wanted to send those to experts at the National Museum in Dhaka. However, we have learned from them that it’s too late now for radiocarbon tests to determine their age; it should have been done when the boats were found,” he added.

Now, the question may arise as to how many museums there are in our country. The answer is we do not know for sure. Hashem Khan, an eminent artist who is also chairperson of the board of trustees of Bangladesh National Museum, informed Y&I over the phone: “There are six museums under the National Museum. I wanted to make a list of museums we have in the country, but that never happened. Museums are places where the young generation can visit and learn a lot of things they cannot learn from textbooks. Today, we are having some problems within the Bangladesh National Museums itself. For example, we are unable to organise regular meetings. Many things are bought without the consent of the trustee board. So, when we are so worried about our main museum, I am not sure how much thought we can spare for the other museums out there. Till now, I have no idea if we are going to arrange a programme on International Museum Day or not.”

The director general of Bangladesh National Museum could not be reached for comments, despite repeated attempts.

Photos: Courtesy, file. 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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