Heritage and the Politics of Culture
Several museum collections in Europe such as the Rijksmuseum Leiden, Museum fur Indische Kunst, Berlin, the British Museum, and the Museum for Far Eastern Antiquities, Zurich feature significant collection of artifacts from India. The largest collection from India is perhaps at the British Museum, London which can be explained by the acquisition and personal collections of colonial officers who traveled to India. The history of acquisition of Indian antiquities by the other European museums is less researched.
By taking the example of Nalanda, the site of the famous Buddhist monastery, my paper will explore the trajectories of movement and displacement of religious sculptures from their original architectural and ritual contexts to museums and art markets in Europe in the 19th and the 20th centuries. While tracing the agencies of collection and dispersion, I will also underscore the implications of such transfer of artifacts for our understanding of the heritage and identity of the site today. The attention on the in situ archaeological remains and monuments at Nalanda have failed to take into account the movable antiquities which are now present in museums in Europe detached from their original provenance. For instance the sculptures of Hindu deities from Nalanda at the Berlin museum tells an entirely different story from the current listing of the site by UNESCO as of a “Buddhist scholastic and monastic institution”. The Museum’s collection of architectural fragments can similarly help us to construct a history of architectural style which is no longer prevalent in the region.