PM Modi inaugurates international museum expo, underlines preservation of heritage

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said his government has prioritised preservation of the country’s heritage and lamented that enough efforts were not made in this direction post Independence.

Addressing a gathering after inaugurating the International Museum Expo 2023 at Pragati Maidan here, he also flagged the issue of “smuggling and appropriation” of ancient Indian artefacts, while asserting that amid India’s growing prestige in the world, various countries have now started returning heritage artefacts belonging to India.

Modi cited examples of the statue of Maa Annapurna that was stolen from Varanasi, which has come back to country, the statue of Mahishasurmardini from Gujarat, the idols of Nataraja built during the Chola Empire, and the sword decorated with the name of Guru Hargobind Singh Ji.

“Before and after Independence, severally artefacts were taken out of India in an unethical manner. We will have to work together to stop such a crime,” he said.

During the event, Modi also unveiled the mascot of the International Museum Expo, a graphic novel titled “A Day at the Museum” produced with Amar Chitra Katha, a directory of Indian museums, a pocket map of Kartavya Path, and a pack of cards themed on various museums of India.

The inaugural function coincided with the International Museum Day which falls on May 18.

In his address, Modi expressed confidence that this Expo will be a “turning point” in the museum culture of India.

He said a lot of the heritage of the land was lost during the period of slavery which lasted for hundreds of years, when ancient manuscripts and libraries were burnt to the ground, adding this was not just a loss to India, but the heritage of the entire world, a loss to the humanity.

He lamented the lack of efforts after Independence towards reviving and preserving the long-lost heritage, and said, lack of awareness among citizens compounded it.

Modi recalled the call of ‘Panch Pran’ or the five resolutions made by him, as the country ushered into the ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Kaal’, one of which is ‘taking pride in our heritage’, and underlined that a new cultural infrastructure of the country is being developed.

“We will conserve our heritage and will also create a new legacy,” he asserted.

He said that the government is running a special campaign to conserve local and rural museums along with the heritage of every state and segment of society.

And 10 special museums are being built to immortalise the contribution of the tribal community to the country’s freedom struggle, he said.

Museum experts from across the country and several foreign countries, senior officials from various ministries and departments, and officials from culture and other departments from various states were among the audience.

Prior to the inaugural event, Modi was given a guided tour of the exhibitions hosted as part of the Expo, in which about 1,200 museums are participating.

During the programme, the prime minister also inaugurated a virtual walkthrough of the upcoming national museum which will be housed at the British-era North Block and South Block.

In his address, Modi urged people to make preserving historical artefacts their nature.

“For example every household must make a family museum in which they preserve things of their ancestors and elders. Schools and institutions should also make their own museums,” he said.

He said when “we enter a museum, we engage with the past, and a museum presents fact and evidence-based reality and it provides inspiration from the past and also gives a sense of duty towards the future”.

The prime minister expressed hope that today’s efforts will make the young generation better acquainted with their heritage.

The mascot of the International Museum Expo is a contemporised version of the dancing girl made of wood in the Chennapatna art style.

The graphic novel portrays a group of children visiting the National Museum where they learn about different career opportunities that are available at a museum.

The pocket map of the Kartavya Path highlights various cultural spaces and institutions and also traces the history of the iconic pathway.

The set of 52 museum cards contain illustrated facades of iconic museums across the country, and is an innovative way to introduce museums to people of all ages, and each card holds brief information about these museums, officials said.

The Expo is being organised as part of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ to celebrate the 47th International Museum Day (IMD).

The IMD theme for this year is “museums, sustainability and well-being”.

The Expo is designed to initiate a holistic conversation on museums with professionals to enable these to evolve as cultural centres that play a pivotal role in India’s cultural diplomacy, according to an official statement.

Modi said around 240 ancient artefacts have been recovered and brought back to India in the last nine years in contrast to less than 20 for several decades after Independence, adding, smuggling of cultural artefacts from India has also reduced considerably in these nine years.

The prime minister urged art connoisseurs around the world, especially those associated with museums, to further increase cooperation in this field.

“There should not be any such artwork in any museum of any country, which has reached there in an unethical way. We should make this a moral commitment for all the museums,” he said.

The prime minister also underlined that when a country starts conserving its heritage, it becomes the “harbinger of world unity”.

He cited examples of holy relics of Lord Buddha which were conserved over the generations, have now united followers of Lord Buddha all over the world. He mentioned sending four holy relics to Mongolia on the last Buddha Purnima, the arrival of the holy relics from Sri Lanka to Kushinagar. Similarly, the legacy of St. Ketevan of Goa is safe with India, he said, and recalled the enthusiasm shown by the people of Georgia when the relics were sent to that country.

In his address, Modi suggested that museums should become “active participants” in conserving resources for the coming generations. Museums can conserve photos and other documents associated with calamities, and also present the changing face of the Earth.