Dr. Priyatosh Banerjee (Indian and Central Asian Scholar)

Dr. Priyatosh Banerjee (An Exponent on Indian and Central Asian Art)


Birth of Buddha and its Vedic Parallel


Dr. Grace Morley is the first Director of the National Museum, New Delhi. She joined the Museum on the 8th of August, 1960 and continued to hold its charge for six more years. Her regime was a glorious one and saw an all round development of the Museum. Under her loving care and able leadership the Museum acquired international recognition as one of the most important institutions of its kind not only in India but also in Asia. Because of her persistent efforts and forethought the Museum Movement in India gained in strength and fillip and the museums in India came to be recognised not only as the abodes of the cultural objects and research but also as disseminators of knowledge. I received much insight and experience in regard to the museum display and administration under her guidance and supervision.

When Dr. Morley joined the National Museum I was the Assistant Superintendent (Headquarters), Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, and in the compound of the Archaeological Survey were then exhibited in the open a large number of sculptures purchased from the late Shri S.T. Srinivasa Gopalachari (as the present National Museum building was still not completed to provide a storage space for them). Dr. Morely came to India a few days earlier than she joined the Museum. She utilised these days to study these sculptures convinced me of her great interest in and connoisseurship of art. I did not know her at that time but could easily understand that she was not an ordinary visitor.

As it happened, I also joined the National Museum as Keeper (Publications) a month later and had the good fortune of working under her direct supervision for almost six long years. When she joined the National Museum, she was about sixty years of age, but she was full of energy and vigour. She worked almost every day ten to twelve hours without showing any sign of fatigue. Inspired by her example I also practised the habit of working over a longer duration even after the office hours. I was then, however, only forty years of age, about twenty years younger than she was. The main causes of her success are her great academic distinctions, rich and varied technical expertise and, above all, her dedication to the cause of museum developments. In keeping with the modern museum concepts she shaped the National Museum as a centre of education. On her arrival in India she understood that the learning here was mostly bookish and the museums should make all efforts to provide the visual education to help all round development of the personality.

No aspect of Museum work escaped her notice. During the first one or two months of her career here she devoted also a lot of time to acquaint herself with the working of the office and she went through all the old files to help her device the necessary means of improvement in administration so that the technical staff could get quick help from the office to carry out their plans successfully. In short, she ensured the smooth functioning of the two wings of the Museum, viz., the technical and the administrative.

When she joined the National Museum most of the objects were in the Durbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and there were hardly any galleries installed in its new building at Janpath. But she gave the Indian government an assurance that the Museum would be opened to the public during the month of December, i.e., within four months after her joining the Museum. It appeared almost an impossible task. But with her hard work and with the co-operation and enthusiasm of the staff of the Museum she accomplished it with a wonderful success. The Museum was opened on the 18th of December, 1960 with most of the art and archaeological galleries beautifully set up. The exhibition was a model of precision, combining historical considerations and aesthetic taste. Of the triple functions of the museum, namely the collection, the preservation and the display she rightly emphasised the importance of the exhibition as it provided the best link between the museum and the public. Her exhibitions provided a beautiful harmony between the contents and their style. Further, all the exhibits were provided with brief but suitable captions and also big descriptive labels, charts and diagrams to help the visitors to understand the significance of the objects exhibited. She believed that a hospital and a museum should look like a mirror as they are important public institutions. Her attention was equally bestowed on public amenities. A museum is to attract the visitors. If it is not neat and clean, it is not only bad for the objects, but the visitors would also not feel attracted to come to it.

 She placed the publication department under the Directorate so that it could function smoothly. The publications are a mouthpiece of a museum, a reminder of the people's visit to a museum. So she insisted on that the printing of the National Museum publications should compare favourably with that of the publications of the American and European museums. This standard was achieved as is evident from a series of publications brought during her regime. It is gratifying to note that the successive Directors of the Museum were also attentive to the high standard of the Museum publications. In regard to the publication work I received her help all the time. I recall with pride that she was prepared to go through the proofs of the publications at any time they were submitted to her. I myself used to take a good deal of care in editing and proofreading. Still her final touches improved the quality of the publications tremendously. She was very patient in going through the proofs and always insisted that the final proof of a book should be shown to her as far as possible. I remembered that on several occasions I took the final proof of our professional publications to her residence at about 3 O' Clock at night, and she was glad to go through them at that unearthly hour (some of our publications were printed at night and I was deputed to supervise the printing at the press. But before I gave a final print order, I showed the proof to her). I still vividly remember the log hours we spent in working on our publications.

Dr. Morley was always alert and vigilant. She adopted all the security measures for the safety of the museum objects. She used to inspect the galleries several times a day and I had very often the privilege of accompanying her to the galleries during her daily rounds. She told me that a museum officer should have a photographic memory. He should be able to notice quickly if anything wrong had happened to the gallery and if so, the matter should be set right as early as possible. She used to very often say that there is no perfection in Museum working and one should go on perfecting it (one should not rest content with one's past achievement, but should go on trying one's methods and improving upon them).

When she left office (very often quite late in the evening ) she checked if the doors of the exhibition galleries were properly locked and she asked me to follow this practice. One night at bout nine O'clock, while we were leaving the office, we went to check the locks of some of the doors and heard the sound of a human voice inside the gallery. On opening the gallery we found a person locked inside. On interrogation he divulged that he was a CPWD worker and he felt asleep in the room containing the switch box. While the doors were closed nobody noticed him and when he awoke he found himself locked inside. Whatever it may be, our inspection saved him and he could come out and go home.

The conservation of the Museum objects received her highest attention. She emphasised that it has a two fold significance : firstly it slows down their deteriorating processes and helps them to remain in good condition for a long time, secondly it assures that before an object is set up in a gallery, it is free from any disease or infection and its presence in the gallery will not affect other objects.

She arranged for a visit of two very distinguished UNESCO experts, namely Dr. Plenderleith and the late Dr. Paul Coremans to India who submitted important recommendations for the improvement of the National Museum conservation laboratory. They suggested that this laborartory should be converted into a Central Conservation Laboratory to look after the conservation needs not only of the National Museum but also of the other museums in the country. This was an important step as mot of the museums in our country then had no conservation facilities. Through the initiative of Dr. Morley the Museum could secure a number sophisticated instruments under the UNDP and UNESCO programmes. In order to provide necessary expertise for the work she sent many of our museum scientists to receive higher training in the main conservation Centres of Europe, such as Rome, Belgium, etc. As a result of such efforts and far-sighted policies the national Museum laboratory became the finest institution of its kind in India.

Dr. Morley was well aware of the need of developing the talent and expertise of the Museum staff. With that end in view she arranged the Weekly Lectures and discussion groups on various subjects, including security. So that the Museum can develop as a Centre of education she paid a great attention to the development educational activities. She encouraged film programmes on archaeological sites and monuments and other subjects of museum interest, school visit with proper preparation and follow ups afterwards in the classroom, lecturers, discussions with teachers on museum's use to spread the knowledge of Indian art and culture among the students and school teachers.

She was instrumental in arranging an international UNESCO Museums Seminar in the National Museum in which distinguished Indian and foreign experts took part. They discussed various educational and other museum programmes and problems as prevalent in India. It was through Dr. Morley's special efforts that a number of young members of the National Museum staff could visit abroad for training in Museology. Her attention was not confined only to the needs and problems of the National Museum, but she took a keen interest in the development of other museums also. She arranged for the foreign visits also of the Directors and Curators of many other museums so that regional leaderships in museum field also could grow. The Museum Camps arranged in various parts of our country, under her leadership, gave ample opportunities to our young officers to develop comradeship in museum profession and learn from each other. The In-service training in Museology arranged in the Nation Museum gave training by turns to a lot of Museum officers from the other centres to learn modern museum methods for the efficient running of the museums.

Dr. Morley even now has the best interest of museums at heart. She was an indefatigable worker. She did not rest contented in issuing orders, but personally persued every problem. She worked along with the Curators and the Technical Assistants in the galleries to teach them how to handle the objects how to look after them and how to explain them to the public for educational purpose.

Running a Museum is just like house keeping. Everything should be well accounted for, and kept neat and clean and in order, so that the prosperity of the family can grow. Similarly the museum objects should be properly conserved accessioned, displayed and interpreted so that the scholars and the general public can gain knowledge from museum visits. With this end in view she did not remain satisfied with arranging the public exhibitions only but took care to devise means and methods for the safe storage of the reserve collections also for their proper use by the Museum staff and outside scholars. To avoid confusion and clear up backlogs in work she took timely steps for the physical verification of the objects and was insistent on careful movement of objects for display, cleaning and other purposes. Hard and intelligent work in an orderly fashion was what she did and wanted others to do.

Her achievements are many. I could recount only a few of them. She never talked of her achievements, but we who worked with her know what they are. The National Museum in its working still reflects her image. Her successors took delight in pursuing her policies and measures for the welfare of our museums.


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Resume of   Dr. R. Banerjee