The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Back to the ruins of Babylon
- Museum seizes war mood to display exhibits from Iraq of yore

The battle for Baghdad is ‘live’, on the hour, every hour. But the Calcutta viewer wants more. And responding to the display demand is the 190-year-old Indian Museum, clearing the counters for the ‘Ruins of Babylon’.

Come Tuesday, and the Chowringhee landmark will usher in the Bengali new year by taking visitors back to Babylon. On Friday, the museum authorities were busy checking the priceless exhibits taken out of the vault and putting them in place at the ground-floor exhibition hall. “We thought Iraq being the hottest topic across the globe, it would be appropriate to host an exhibition on the ruins of Babylon from Tuesday. A number of bricks from Babylon will be displayed,” disclosed Shyamal Kanti Chakravarti, director of the Indian Museum.

“The exhibition is significant not only to us, but also to the viewers and scholars, who will be able to witness the ruins of Babylon at a time when the country is at war,” added a senior museum official. The museum acquired some of the bricks from one J. Avdall way back in 1829. In 1877, the museum had received another set of “exquisite bricks” that were initially in the possession of the Asiatic Society. These bricks, 13 inch-by-13 inch and 3.25-inch thick, have been brought to the museum from the Society office on Park Street, Chakravarti added.

Unearthed from various sites of the Mesopotamian civilisation and known as the Cuneform tablets, these bricks are said to be from the era of Emperor Hammurabi, who had ruled Babylonia for about 50 years from 1763 BC. Inscriptions on the bricks are said to record old literary texts, royal proclamations, decrees and official correspondences. Four such bricks will be displayed as the “exhibit of the month” at the museum from Tuesday.

Officials at the museum said “adequate security arrangements” will be in place for the exhibition. “The antique value of the bricks has increased considerably, in view of the war against Iraq, and we have to be careful while displaying the bricks,” admitted a senior official.

The museum authorities have, meanwhile, received a message from M. Bouchenaki, assistant director-general for culture, Unesco, warning that “as a consequence of an… armed conflict in Iraq, museums may be subject to pillage and looting. Museums all over are advised to be vigilant with respect to art objects originating from Iraq offered for sale or reported to be stolen”.

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