Photographs from the Indian Museum, Kolkata

Crowned Buddha, 5c, Sarnath
Crowned Buddha, 5c, Sarnath

The first stop on our pilgrimage to India was in Kolkata, which we had flown into from Kuala Lumpur. For most people the big, noisy, polluted city would only be a stopover on the way elsewhere, but I wanted time to visit the Indian Museum, which houses a number of remarkable collections.

The Indian Museum itself is the oldest museum in Asia, being established in 1814. This was fortunate indeed not only for Indian art and archeology, but also for the country, as many artworks that may otherwise have been taken abroad – as they were from elsewhere – stayed in the country.

One of the most remarkable of the exhibits is the Bharhut Stupa, possibly the oldest stupa in India. Only a section of it remains, and virtually nothing of the stupa itself. But the railings (vedika) and one gateway (torana) were discovered by the British archeologist Cunningham in the mid-19th century, and brought to the Museum shortly thereafter.

They show some of the earliest Buddhist artworks preserved in India, including good examples of the aniconic period of Buddhist art, and help us understand better the development of Buddhist art in this period.

But besides that the Museum also houses the largest collection of sculptures in India from the Gandhara period, when Buddha images first started to appear, as well as fine collections from other, later periods of Indian art.

The trip nearly turned into a disaster. This was my first photoshoot of the trip, and I forgot the most essential thing: back-up batteries for the camera. After taking only around 20 photos the camera started signalling the battery was empty. I couldn’t even return to my hotel room and get the batteries as the key had been passed to Wilhelm, who didn’t want to visit the Museum again, having been there some time before, and we didn’t know where he was.

In the end I borrowed Neal’s camera, but it was by no means as good as my own and I feared the worst. Still, I had no other choice as we were already booked out of the city on the overnight train to Gaya, so I started photographing the collections.

There were so many exhibits it was really tiring work, and we must have spent a good number of hours in the Museum. Neal’s battery also gave out, but at least he had brought a spare one, and while I carried on with the photography he went and recharged the first one.

In the end I took around 500 photographs that day, but when I reviewed them in the evening it was clear the colour was very bad indeed, sometimes yellow, sometimes reddish, and it was going to take a lot of work to make them presentable for publication.

The last few days have been spent on that very job, tweeking the colour, contrast and saturation, as well as realigning, cropping and renaming the files, but I now have two really fine collections to show for it. They can be found at the following addresses:

Both pages contain more information about the stupa and the sculptures and reliefs photographed.


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