Museums preserve heritage, promote learning, spread human values, and provide equal access to culture. North East India is a real treat for museum lovers. Every year on this day, International Museum Day is observed across the globe. The theme for International Museum Day 2021 is “The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine.” Currently, the COVID-19 crisis has forced museums to shut their doors, but as and when they reopen after the pandemic-induced restrictions are lifted, we can marvel at their treasures once again.
While there are many to choose from, we’ve curated a list, covering all the eight states, of some popular and lesser known museums we feel are worth visiting. Check out our picks—and prepare to be immersed.
Jawaharlal Nehru Museum, Itanagar
The Jawaharlal Nehru State Museum, also referred to as Jawaharlal Nehru Museum, located in Itanagar is the state museum of Arunachal Pradesh. Established in the 1980s, it displays varied aspects of the state’s tribal life; these include clothing, headdress, weapons, handicraft, music instruments, jewellery and artifacts of daily use and culture, besides archaeological finds.
The ground floor of the museum houses an extensive ethnographic collection, while the first floor has archaeological objects found in Ita Fort, Noksparbat and Malinithan in West Siang district. Apart from its collection, the museum runs a workshop for traditional cane products at its Handicrafts Centre. In 2011, Tapi Mra, the first person from the state to scale Mount Everest, donated his entire expedition gear to the museum.
Treasured Wheels Vintage Car Museum, Sonapur
A short half an hour drive from Guwahati will reach you to the Treasured Wheels Vintage Car Museum. An initiative by Piklu Deka, a vintage car enthusiast, you’re greeted at the entrance by a collection of helmets used by soldiers during World War II. From vintage Russian army trucks to American motorbikes to Chinese paratrooper cycles, you’re bound to be amazed!
This is the only museum of cars and motorbikes in the Northeast India region featuring 60 cars, 54 motor bikes, and 10 bicycles. The other collections are 20 wall clocks, 32 watches, 5 gramophones, 5 radio sets, 5 fans, one piano and a voice recorder. All these were manufactured in early part of 20th century. And the most fascinating part: all the motorcars are in perfect running condition. Deka’s love for environment reflects in the surroundings; he has planted more than 30,000 trees – include litchi, guava, mango, neem, bay leaf among others.
INA Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Museum, Moirang
This town in Bishnupur District of Moirang has a special place in the history of India’s Freedom Struggle. It was at Moirang that the flag of the Indian National Army (INA) was first unfurled on April 14, 1944. The INA War Museum is the only official museum dedicated to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the rise of the INA, World War II, and Netaji’s contribution to the Indian independence movement. Inaugurated on September 23, 1969, the museum showcases relics from WWII that were found in the fields of Manipur such as bullets, bombshells, soldiers’ helmets, etc. It also displays over a hundred photos of Netaji and the INA, maps, insignia, currency notes, Netaji’s letters, INA badges and Japanese amulets.
The museum has a gallery of the historical personalities of Manipur as well as one of Manipuri soldiers who were in the INA. Many WWII artefacts are not a part of any private collection but were accumulated by the government during various excavations, or were just found lying around. There is a library and an auditorium on the premises as well.
Air Force Museum, Shillong
An attraction for both adults and children alike, Air Force Museum in Shillong is a great place to learn about the country’s defence forces, specially the Indian Air Force, warriors, and defence history. Located in the Upper Shillong area, this museum has pictures of Indo-China War and Indo-Pakistan War on display. The museum also has uniforms worn by the air force pilots, missiles, rockets, miniature models of air-crafts, and technology demonstrations of the Indian Air Force- Eastern Command, among others as exhibits. If you wish to get your hands on some great souvenirs, there is a gift shop in the complex.
Mizoram State Museum, Aizawl
The Mizoram State Museum, in Aizawl, is an ethnographic museum with multipurpose collections on display. There are five galleries: Textile Gallery, Ethnology, History, Anthropology, Natural History, and an Archaeology Terrace; and the collection occupies four floors.
The museum has an eclectic collection of wildlife specimens and tribal weapons and accommodates several items that unravel the cultural heritage of the state. Established in 1977, this museum spells out record of 2500 items, each of which confirms the multifarious past and traditional background of Mizoram. Items stored in the museum comprise photographs, musical instruments, costumes, archaeological objects and natural history specimens. It is positioned close to the chief minister’s bungalow.
Kohima Museum, Kohima
“When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today”. These are the quotes engraved in the stone kept in the Kohima Museum. The Japanese 15th army attacks came to a halt at Kohima which had taken place from 4th of April to 22nd June 1944. The battle of Kohima was a historic battle in the Northeast, which was close to the border of Burma. While the Japanese army was trying hard to advance in India, it faced strong defence and was defeated.
Kohima Museum, situated at Upper Bayavu Hill, is a famous tourist attraction exhibiting the tradition as well as the history of Nagas. They have the rarest collection of articles and invaluable treasures since the time of the Nagas. The items on display include statues, jewellery, costumes, pillars, gateposts, and in a separated shed is a ceremonial drum which resembles dug out vessel of a war. Endemic regional birds and animals are based at the basement of the museum.
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangtok
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology (NIT), named after the 11th Chogyal of Sikkim, Sir Tashi Namgyal, houses a Tibet museum, which is a popular destination amongst the tourists. The museum, located on the ground floor of the institute, contains a rare collection of statues, ritual objects, traditional art objects, thangkas (painted, woven and embroidered scrolls) and ancient manuscripts in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese and Lepcha. The exhibition is dominated by a majestic silver image of Manjushri – the Bodisattva of knowledge – that was brought from Tibet.
Among the manuscripts are: the Prajna Paramita and Astasahastra written in Tibetan golden script; an 11th century palm leaf manuscript of the Saratama Prajnaparamita by Ratnakara Shanti; and a 12th century Chinese manuscript of the Prajana Paramita Sutra that was brought from South Korea. A casket containing the relics of two great Asokan missionaries, Madhyama and Kasyapagotra is one of the precious assets of the museum. Five sandalwood images representing Padmasambhava, the three founding lamas of Sikkim and the first King Phuntsok Namgyal constitute an example of Sikkimese art.
Ujjayanta Palace Museum, Agartala
The gleaming white Ujjayanta Palace or Ujjoyonto Prashad, built by Maharaja Radhakishore Manikya, stands on the banks of a small lake surrounded by the lush greenery of Mughal gardens in Agartala. The Tripura Government Museum or the Tripura State Museum is housed in the palace. It is Northeast India’s largest museum with a “national perspective while remaining focused on Tripura and northeast India”.
The museum has 1406 collections on display, which include 79 stone sculptures, 141 terracotta plaques, 774 coins of gold, silver and copper, 10 copper plate inscriptions, 9 stone inscriptions, 39 images of bronze, 102 textile items, 58 oil paintings, 63 sketches and drawings, and 197 ornaments. The sculpture collections are mostly from Udaipur, Pilak, Jolaibari, and other locations in Tripura. The most distinctive exhibits are from Pilak, which consist of sculptures of different cultures of Hinduism and Buddhism from the period of 9th to 13th centuries. The bronze sculptures are of Mukhalinga, Avalokitesvara, Tara, and Vishnu. The terracotta exhibits are from the Pilak and Amarpur sites, and also from Bengal school; represents folk arts of Pilak and subjects related to mythology, flowers and animals. There are beautiful frames of the Dasavatara carved in stone of the 18th century obtained from Radhanagar near Agartala.