A museum of treasures and trinkets
After seeing the parks and beaches, temples and churches of Mangaluru, head to the Sreemanthibai Museum. Although located in the heart of the city, this elegant building is easy to miss, as it is away from the main road. Standing serenely on top of a hill, the museum offers panoramic views of the city. Photography is prohibited, but photos of the artifacts may be taken outdoors.
The exhibits, which are housed in spacious halls over two floors, once belonged to Colonel VR Mirajkar. This distinguished doctor, who served in Lahore during World War II, eventually returned to Mangaluru (then Mangalore). He had previously built a house inspired by the buildings he admired in Italy.
While locals call the museum ‘Mirajkar Bungalow’, the Colonel named it after his mother, whose portrait and other paintings adorn the hall near the entrance. In 1955, ten years after Sreemanthibai’s death, Colonel Mirajkar donated his house to the government.
He handed it over with treasures from different parts of India and the world that he had amassed over the years. They include an ornately carved Kashmiri wooden chest, which the Colonel used on his travels.
The Colonel’s Collection
It is just one of many exquisite pieces – screens, panels and larger furniture – in wood, glass, porcelain, metal, stone and silver, sourced from around the world. Denmark, England, China, Japan and Czechoslovakia are just a few of the countries represented here, across a bewildering variety of artwork. Admittedly, some of the items might not be popular with animal rights activists – including a camel leather vase, a giraffe bone cane, a rhinoceros foot ashtray and a deer horn holder, not to mention several ivory trinkets.
Many of the exhibits on the upper floor are impressive, especially the vintage clocks, inlaid boxes, lighters, musical instruments, and a miniature set of Shakespeare plays. The real antiquities, however, are on the ground floor — 16th-century candlesticks, incense burners, temple bells, and countless carvings of deities are on display.
The same goes for armor and weapons of war. There are even tools and utensils that date back further, to the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. Also of interest are replica seals, unearthed from the excavated ruins of the Indus Valley Civilization.
A remarkable aspect of the Sreemanthibai Museum is a gallery dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. There are rare photographs of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as a boy with his father and as a teenager with his wife. The Mahatma is seen in the company of eminent personalities such as Rabindranath Tagore, Sardar Patel Jawaharlal Nehru and Louis Mountbatten.
Within easy reach is a delightful toy section. One wonders, though, if the colorful assortment of dolls, puppets, animal figures, and model ships and planes would appeal to today’s sophisticated kids. Still, there is undoubtedly plenty to entice young and old alike to Mangaluru’s Sreemanthibai Museum.