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Legacy of a life among tribals

It’s a collection befitting a state museum from a life befitting all epithets showered on him — father of Indian ethnography, India’s first ethnographer and anthropologist.

Sarat Chandra Roy (1871-1942) started out as a lawyer from Bengal and then, moved by tribal plight in courts of law, travelled extensively in the late 19th and early 20th centuries across colonial Chotanagpur to understand Ho, Munda and other tribals, their customs and practices.

Now, Hotwar state museum on Ranchi outskirts will gain from his rich private collection of idols, stupas, weapons, tools, household utensils and so on.

The collection — with around 500 items — was unveiled for the public by Vandana Dadel, secretary of state art and culture department on Wednesday, who had requested Roy’s grandson P.C. Roy to permit its display at the state museum.

“We are grateful to Roy’s family for donating this private collection. It will enrich the knowledge of visitors and research scholars,” Dadel said.

These include pandulipis (scripts on bark or leaves of trees) Buddha stupas, Ganesh and Parvati idols, weapons, household and terracotta items, stone tools and sculptures, and more that he collected during his visit to different places. They date from 10th to 18th centuries.

Brought from Roy’s 100-year-old house on Church Road, Ranchi, which acted as a kind of private museum for the curious and the interested, they now have been displayed on the newly inaugurated 50ftx30ft ground floor gallery of Hotwar state museum.

“It’s a fascinating collection,” said Hotwar museum curator Md Sharfuddin. “Just look at the greying and yellowing pandulipis where writers inscribed words on parchments that are nothing but bark or leaves,” he added.

Born on November 4, 1871 in Manikpur (Khulna, now in Bangladesh), Roy obtained his degrees in English and law from Calcutta, but tribal life and customs were to remain his abiding passion. He was appointed. Roy taught anthropology at Calcutta University and was appointed Patna museum’s first curator in 1918 by then Governor Edward Gait. He also authored a number of definitive books on tribals, including Mundas, Oraons, Birhors, Bhuyians and Kharias. He died in Ranchi.