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Negligence blues for state museums

- Staff shortage spells doom

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 1: The state’s tryst with history has run into infrastructure and manpower problems.

Run by the Odisha State Museum management, many of the district-level institutions are lying in utter neglect for the want of required personnel and facilities.

The state museum, which was established in 1938 as the Provincial Museum of Odisha in Cuttack and later shifted to Bhubaneswar in 1947-48, represents the best of the art and cultural traditions of ancient Kalinga, there are similar older facilities in the districts that continue to suffer neglect.

Khiching Museum in Mayurbhanj district is one such institution. Established in 1922 by Ram Prasad Chanda, the then superintendent of Indian Museum in Calcutta, the museum was once patronised by the Mayurbhanj royals, who boasted of an independent department of archaeology. Now, it has only two Class-IV employees guarding the artefacts in the two-room building on the premises of Kichakeswari Temple at Khiching.

Many artefacts of the museum are lying in the open because of the lack of space. Ironically, the museum is being managed by the district culture officer of Keonjhar.

Officials said the “special arrangement” was made because of the proximity of Khiching Museum to Keonjhar rather than Baripada, the district headquarters town of Mayurbhanj.

The other museum of Mayurbhanj in Baripada town, which was relocated from the Jubilee Library to the district culture centre, has no signage on the path leading to it. Residents of Baripada town are not even aware of the new location of the state’s oldest museum that was established in 1904.

“Pre-historic stone tools in Baripada Museum found from sites such as Kuchai should be highlighted properly through literature, brochures and publications. Pre-historic tools dating back to second millennium BC were excavated for the first time in the country near Kuchai and Kuliana,” said Prof Sadasiba Pradhan of Utkal University, Bhubaneswar.

The district museum in Balasore has several rare objects including a Portuguese anchor and antiquities related to Buddhist, Jain, Sakta and Vaishnava pantheons. But not many people know about it.

Museums in Puri, Berhampur and Dhenkanal, despite their importance, continue to be housed in rented buildings. On the other hand, museums at Jeypore, Balangir and Bargarh have turned into storehouses of artefacts under the control of the district collectors, who appear to have little interest in promoting them.

Sources said till 1994, assistant curators recruited through the Odisha State Museum were appointed as curators or district culture officers in the district museums to take care of the artefacts. However, with the government putting a cap on recruitments, at least 13 district museums remain without curators.

Professor Pradhan, a well-known scholar in archaeology, says: “History and archaeology students can be given contractual appointment so that while they learn, the state government can use their services to discover new objects and even sites and educate visitors with the required knowledge of local history. The students can also help in spreading awareness for our own cultural heritage and traditions.”

Former superintendent of state archaeology B.K. Rath said: “Apart from providing staff with knowledge in history, archaeology and culture, there should be adequate publicity for the district-level museums. Even the small museums should have brochures and other publicity materials.”

The Odisha state archaeology has three museums of its own. They are Madhusmruti, Swaraja Ashram and Jain Heritage Museums, all in Cuttack.

Besides, the department has eight “sculpture sheds” in different parts of the states. “The curator of the Netaji Birthplace Museum in Cuttack also looks after Madhusmruti and Swaraja Ashram Museums. The management of the Jain Heritage Museum has been handed over to members of the local Jain community. For Madhusmruti, Swaraja Ashram Museum and the sculpture sheds elsewhere in the state, we have only watch and ward staff,’’ said Ashwini Satapathy, superintending archaeologist (in-charge) of the state archaeology department.