The State Museum of Madhya Pradesh was earlier known as Bhopal Museum. It was during the reign of Nawab Shah Jehan Begum (1868-1901) that a serious effort was made to collect rare objects for the Museum. Articles were acquired from remote corners of the world. The assortment included artistic creations from China, Tibet, Japan and Europe, besides all regions of India. Her daughter Nawab Sultan Jehan Begum (1901-1926) established King Edward Museum in 1909, in an exquisite building with colonial features, which is now known as Central Library and is located in the busy area of old Bhopal.
Later the Museum was shifted to Banganga region and was known as the Bhopal Museum. It existed there for several years, till the time the new Museum building came up on Shyamla Hills and all the antiquities were shifted there.The building was designed by the Environmental Planning and Co-ordination Organization (EPCO) and constructed by Capital Project Administration (C.P.A.).
The State Museum of Madhya Pradesh through careful selection of artifacts showcases the multifaceted rich cultural heritage of Madhya Pradesh. It has seventeen galleries, categorized item wise which includes pre-historic articles and fossils, excavated objects, sculptures, epigraphs, manuscripts, paintings, royal collection, textiles, documentary heritage of princely states of Madhya Pradesh, especially regarding freedom movement, miniatures, coins, rare musical instruments, arms and weapons depicting the unique heritage of Madhya Pradesh, the heartland of incredible India.
A large number of fossil remains from the pre-historic sites are displayed in the Fossils gallery. The paintings in the Bagh gallery which are contemporary of the Ajanta caves, replicated by Nandlal Bose in 1923 are a delight to watch. The evolution of different religions such as Buddhism, Jainism, Vaishnavism, Shaivism as well as the practice of worshipping Shakti and Tantricism, in Madhya Pradesh reflect the religious diversity over the ages which found its expressions in the stone and bronze sculptures displayed in the museum. The extraordinary masterpieces bear testimony to the fact that there were many master sculptors in the bygone era who were well acquainted with the principles of Iconography.
The famous Dwilingi Lakulisha with stylized locks of hair and attractive features from 4th century A.D. of the Gupta period, found from Gajendraghat in Mandsaur is displayed here. The beauty of the famous ‘Shaalbhanjika’ from Gyaraspur (Vidisha) is remarkable. Skhalitavasana nayika sculpture from Tewar region in Jabalpur is one of the rare examples of the highest art form achieved during 13th century of kalchuri art. Yakshi in a lotus medallion from 2nd century B.C. is the best specimen of Shunga art which was exhibited at London in the Festival of India in 1982. Ravananugraha and Chamunda were exhibited at the Festival of India in Washington D.C. and Paris in 1984 and 1985 respectively. Some of the sculpture exhibits are a blend of the sacred and the physical while others simply enchant the spectator as they are chiseled to perfection.
Madhya Pradesh is a unique amalgamation of diverse cultural, political and religious influences over the ages. The musical instruments, literature, paintings, weapons, coins and textiles kept at the museum span many centuries.The inscriptions provide information about social, political, cultural and religious activities of those times. The palm leaf manuscripts contain mythological stories and epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata, religious practices as well as medical sciences. The manuscripts are mostly in Sanskrit and belong to the 18th and 19th century.
The musical instruments gallery has made efforts to preserve some of the rare instruments. The intricate colorful illustration in the miniature paintings have evolved over the centuries and are a part of our country’s rich cultural heritage. The rare coins displayed in numismatics gallery reflect the stability and prosperity of the rulers. The earliest coins are the silver and copper punch marked coins form 2nd century B.C.
Various dynasties such as the Maurya, Shunga, Satavahana, Kushana, Gupta, Pratihara, Paramara, Chandela, Kachchhapghata, Kalchuri, Mughal and later on Bundelas, Baghelas, Gonds, Maratha dynasties of Holkar and Scindia ruled over the State. The artifacts, textiles, weapons, seals and stamps from Madhya Pradesh have been protected and preserved for the posterity. Tales of valour during the freedom movement and the rising against the British have been portrayed in various documents. Also preserved are the famous autographs, letters, manuscripts as well as rare books. An interesting collection of documents of Princely States provides valuable insights to researchers and historians.
The textiles and fine embroidery such as jardozi and dabka work patronized by the Nawabas of Bhopal, acquired the status of the fine art form in Bhopal. The royal art gallery displays artifacts which were part of the personal collection of the Nawabs of Bhopal.
A large number of Indian visitors and foreigners visit the State Museum every year and there is steady increase in their number. The preservation and display of antiquities in the Museum promotes cultural awareness about our heritage amongst students and researchers. It enhances the tourism potential of the State leading to economic development and cultural empowerment.