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Nehru Museum and Planetarium (New Delhi, India)

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Address: Teen Murti Road near Chanakyapuri / South Central Delhi / India

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      21.04.2008 19:13
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      Probably a first division attracition but not in the Premier League

      During our trip to India last November, we booked a car and a driver to explore some of the sights of Delhi which we'd not previously managed to visit. After a really interesting hour or so at the Indira Gandhi memorial museum we headed off to 'keep it in the family' and check out the Museum dedicated to her father, Jawaharlal Nehru.

      **I've got a bit of a 'thing' about Nehru**

      If it were acceptable or appropriate to admit to having a bit of a crush on a foreign politician who was dead before I was even born, then Nehru is right up at the top of my list. Mind you, it's not a very long list, but none the less, with his matinee-idol good looks, the first Prime Minister of an independent India was a real head-turner who set ladies' hearts a-flutter all over the world - including Edwina, Countess of Burma, the wife of the last Viceroy with whom it's alleged that he enjoyed a few 'horizontal negotiations'.

      **Who was he?**

      As one of the leaders of the Independence movement, Nehru fitted the 'mould' of many of the great men who changed India. He was from a very privileged background and was the son of a Motilal Nehru, a wealthy lawyer who was twice elected President of the Congress Party. Jawaharlal (which incidentally means 'precious jewel') was educated at Harrow and Cambridge and trained as a barrister in London. Like many wealthy educated Indians of his time, he rejected the anglicised ways he'd learned abroad in order to fight for the freedom of his country. In and out of prison for political offences, he became the 'chosen one' of Mohatma Gandhi who recognised in him the qualities to lead and shape the new country. Whilst the Mohatma was a man of great gestures and enormous symbolic actions and was the type to light the fire under a political movement, he would never have been the man to run an independent nation. For that role he chose Nehru.

      **The Museum**

      The Nehru Museum - or as it's more formally known, the Nehru Museum, Library and Planetarium - is housed in Teen Murti Bhawan. Teen Murti Bhawan means literally Three Soldiers Palace and takes its name from the statue of three soldiers which stands proudly outside the gates of the museum as a memorial to the dead of World War I. Nehru himself was never the kind of man who would have demanded a great palace as his official residence but the new nation couldn't really put its most important citizen in a tatty little bungalow.
      When the Brits went home, they left 'Flagstaff House' - a rather grand building which had been designed by Robert Tor Russel, who is better known as the architect responsible for Delhi's Connaught Place. The House had been the residence of the British Commander in Chief of the British Forces in India and Nehru became its first Indian resident in 1947 and lived in the house until his death in 1964. On his death the house was bequeathed to the nation to be used as a memorial museum to its most famous resident.

      **The Museum **

      Despite the esteem in which Nehru is still held, his museum is much less of a mainstream tourist attraction than his daughter's memorial museum - but then it's quite hard to compete with an attraction that offers the blood-stained sari of an assassinated Prime Minister and the shoes of another Prime Minister blown up by a suicide bomber. Dying peacefully in old age is less of a draw for hordes of tourists it seems. Also, if I'm entirely honest, it's not actually quite such an interesting museum - even for someone like me who thinks the old boy walked on water.

      We were dropped off outside the gates of the museum and found a large, grand house painted in shades of creamy yellow and decorated with arches and balconies, set beyond formal lawns. On the verandah at the front there are old canons that presumably date to the days of the Commander in Chief. Entrance is free and there were no queues to contend with - we just walked straight in, getting barely a glance from the gun-toting security guards.
      Inside there's a interesting mix of public and private rooms on display including Nehru's office and bedroom and state rooms where he would have entertained important guests. There are photographs of Nehru as a young man, dressed up like a proper 'English Gentleman', his time studying in England and his progression through the ranks of Independence activists. Upstairs is mostly given over to displays about the growth and development of the Congress Party with lots of formal photographs of the committees which piqued my interest to go away and find out more about Annie Besant - the white woman who led the Congress party for many years. There are also multiple displays about the Independence movement, tracing the rise of Gandhi and his peaceful resistance philosophy and the long struggle to get the British to leave India. There are posters, letters, photographs, and press clippings.

      One exhibit we found particularly moving - perhaps because we visited with a Sikh friend who's obsessed with this one particular perceived injustice - was the section on Bhagat Singh. Singh was a young Sikh revolutionary (or terrorist depending on who wrote the history) who took a very different approach to Gandhi's non-violence movement and was involved in the 'accidental' shooting of a Deputy Superintendent of Police and in the bombing of parliament. When the British found him and his friends guilty of murder, Gandhi had the chance to negotiate for their death sentences to be commuted but refused to intervene because they contravened his principles of non-violence.
      The upstairs displays also include fascinating glass cases filled with the strange gifts that leaders and governments bestow on one another. If you have ever wondered what to give the national leader who has everything, then these rooms will give you either inspiration or a bit of a giggle. If your auntie ever gave you a really ugly vase that nobody likes but nobody dares throw out, then you'd be able to relate to the odd collection of very valuable but often rather ugly trinkets that pass for official gifts - gold, silver, ivory, bejewelled and carved doodads and wotnots abound. I don't recall any gifts from the British but I remember that the museum at the Golden Temple in Amritsar had a heavy but rather plain lead glass vase from our Queen that looked utterly out of place.

      Another bizarre thing we found upstairs was not actually in the museum. On the rear balcony - which incidentally must have been a lovely place for the Commander in Chief and his pals to sip a few cocktails and take tiffin- we found the largest bees nest that I've ever seen in my life. It must have been about a meter long and half a meter across. We asked one of the security guards why they let such a thing stay on an important building and he told us that it provided lots of good honey so they let it stay. Can you imagine that in the Victoria and Albert? The Health and Safety bods would have a fit.
      The gardens at the back of the museum are lovely - long green lawns with flower beds around the edges. We found several peacocks strolling around and another up a tree pooping at anything that passed near by. We also found three memorial 'Jyotis' - or eternal flames - one each to commemorate the three prime ministers of Nehru's family - one for Nehru, another for his daughter Indira and a final one for his grandson Rajeev.

      **What else can you see?**

      There's a planetarium in the grounds of the museum but it wasn't our reason for visiting and we weren't really interested enough to go in. There's also a snack bar somewhere near the planetarium which we did try to find but failed dismally.

      **Recommended or not?**

      Obviously I found it fascinating but I'm possibly not the typical tourist. After many visits to the city, I've also already 'done' all the obvious sight-seeing in Delhi and in my mental guidebook, I am onto the pages that would be marked 'advanced and slightly more esoteric' things to see and do. If you are interested in the Independence movement then it's a must. If you are a bit doey-eyed and soppy about Nehru, like me, then it's also right up your street. But if you only have one or two days to do the most significant sights in Delhi, or only time for one memorial museum, I'd probably say leave this one until next time and go and join the queues outside his daughter's museum instead. As I said before, how often do you get to see a Prime Minister's blood-soaked sari on display?


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    • Product Details

      The colonial residence of the first Indian prime minister houses the chronicles of the life and work of Teen Murthi Bhawan.

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