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Documentary tracing Presidency University’s rich in-house museum

21 February, 2020 05:29:40
Documentary tracing Presidency University’s rich in-house museum

The Hindu College was established on January 20, 1817, exactly 203 years ago and was renamed the ‘Presidency College’ in 1885. Among its celebrated founders and contributors were Raja Ram Mohan Roy, David Hare, Sir. Edward Hyde East (the then Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Fort William), Raja Radhakanto Deb, Rani Rashmoni, Baidyanath Mukhopadhyay and Rasamay Datta. One of the oldest institutions in the country, the Presidency University stands erect with its proud head held high above the din of Kolkata’s busy, over-crowded College Street area even today. The elegant and pristine white majestic building with its Corinthian columns is a shrine devoted to the enlightenment, awakening and glory of Bengal, spanning the last two centuries. 

The 200+ years old institution is a rich treasure-trove of historical documents and rare artifacts that, until recently, was not accessible for viewing to the public. In an effort to include people across age groups and make them aware of its rich heritage and history, in January 2018, the university authorities decided to renovate the museum and open its gate to the masses.

Pioneering research and great historical events associated with the erstwhile Presidency College comes to life in this 2,000 sqft museum, set in the Derozio Hall, on the ground floor of the main building. The museum has two big halls with two giant flexes of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, the first two graduates of Calcutta University and alumni of this college. There are two more flexes of renowned scientists, Jagadish Chandra Bose and Radhanath Sikdar, a gifted mathematician, who was part of the team that measured the height of Mt. Everest, hanging high up the ceiling.

Curated by Swapan Chakraborty, former director general of the National Library and a distinguished Professor of Presidency University, the  museum displays important documents such as extracts from the writings and speeches of Bipin Chandra Pal, an excerpt of Rabindra Nath Tagore’s speech on ‘English Language,’ reproduced from the college magazine and a very beautiful poem by Manmohan Ghose, brother of Aurobindo Ghose and erstwhile teacher of English. Jagadish Chandra Bose’s experiments on ‘Life in plants’ and ‘Wireless communication’ started in a very modest way on the premises of the college. Likewise, Prafulla Chandra Roy, whose chemical wizardry paved the way for setting up the country’s first indigenous company, Bengal Chemicals, carried out his experiments with instruments in the unassuming laboratories of this college. These instruments are a major draw among the exhibits of the museum

Specimens of the extraordinary work of the college’s alumni and faculty such as Bhabatosh Datta, Sukhamoy Chakraborty, the renowned film maker Satyajit Ray and the Nobel Laureate Amartya Kumar Sen are also on display. But what stands out from everything are the musical exhibits! Music enthusiasts will be pleasantly surprised to find a rare article written by G.N. Dhar on ‘Music classes at Presidency College,’ extracted from the college magazine. A rare collection of a megaphone used to amplify sound, an acoustic instrument and a tanpura that inspire both awe and admiration, have been exhibited.

Professor Sreemati Mukherjee of the Department of Performing Arts at the University recently shot and released a documentary on the Museum at Presidency University. Her film traces the incredibly rich institutional history of the university. The historical sweep of the documentary is from the time of Orientalists like E.B. Cowell who had engaged in translations of ancient Indian texts (Fort William College era) to the times of Amartya Sen, P.C. Mahalanobis, up to contemporary times. There are exhibits relating to the herbarium which was the pride of the Botany Department of this University at one point and the interesting fact is that it was largely gifted to Presidency by a professor from Bangabasi College.  

This documentary is a must-watch not only for academics but for all Kolkata lovers who pride themselves on the rich heritage we have inherited. And do not miss the museum itself!

Presidency University Museum, 
86/1, College Street, Kolkata, 700073 
Open: 10 am to 5 pm
Closed: Saturday & Sunday  

Tel: 033 4052 9999  

Image courtesy : Kolkata on Wheels

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