International Museum Day: 10 of India's quirkiest collections

We have all heard of the Indian Museum and the National Museum. But have you heard of the museum exclusively dedicated to black magic and witchcraft? Or brains?

NIMHANS Human Brain Museum (left) and Mayong Central Museum and Emporium of Black Magic and Witchcraft
NIMHANS Human Brain Museum (left) and Mayong Central Museum and Emporium of Black Magic and Witchcraft

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

International Museum Day is celebrated on May 18 every year. Museums play a significant role in displaying and preserving the histories of a nation, community, or culture. Museums can shelter remarkable souvenirs—which then remain in our collective memories for posterity.

Initiated by the International Council of Museums in 1977, this day is aimed at creating awareness among people about the massive contribution that museums have in society, particularly for knowledge and education.

There are nearly 1,000 museums in India, preserving the rich socio-cultural diversity and heritage of this multicultural nation. While we have all heard of and admired the most famous museums—such as the centuries-old Indian Museum in Kolkata, which continues to be the largest and the most expansive museum in the nation, or the National Museum in Delhi, which houses over 200,000 artefacts ranging from the pre-historic to the modern age—here are some of the hidden gems which display more obscure and offbeat artefacts.

These museums break away from the normative understanding of a museum gatekeeping India's past, and display mystical, quirky and rare artefacts emerging out of cultures and communities around the nation with lesser visibility in the mainstream.

Museum of Possibilities (Chennai, Tamil Nadu)

A Tamil Nadu government initiative, this museum is dedicated to accommodations for disabilities. A first in India, this museum-cum-cafe displays inclusive and accessible environments, assistive devices and technological support systems. It also employs differently abled people, including at the cafeteria.

"To provide those with disabilities with limitless opportunities and help realise their infinite potential in family and community life," reads the mission statement of the museum, which features kitchen appliances, furniture, musical instruments, board games, books, clothes, and other everyday elements adapted for persons with disabilities.

NIMHANS Human Brain Museum (Bengaluru, Karnataka)

The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS)-establish Human Brain Museum displays human brains of all sizes and conditions from over 40 years. Exhibits of over 400 brain specimens collected by NIMHANS also have markers of various diseases. Smokers' lungs, pancreases, kidneys, hearts, voice boxes, livers, intestines and human skeletons are also up for display. This out-of-the-box museum has an eerie Edgar Allan Poe vibe—visitors are allowed to touch the brains as well.

(Photo courtesy the Human Brain Museum)
(Photo courtesy the Human Brain Museum)

Mayong Central Museum and Emporium of Black Magic and Witchcraft (Guwahati, Assam)

Mayong, a tiny village in Assam, has long been synonymous with magic and witchcraft. Located on the banks of the Brahmaputra in Morigaon district, this village has a storied history of black magic, necromancy and sorcery. These tales inspired a museum exclusively dedicated to the history of the Mayong community.

The Central Museum and Emporium of Black Magic and Witchcraft is a sought-after destination for curious tourists, history buffs and fans of the supernatural. Ancient coins, skulls, voodoo dolls, coven paraphernalia, jewellery made of bones and shells, manuscripts on black magic and Ayurveda are displayed in the museum.

Local black magic practitioners demonstrate ancient rituals to visitors, keeping the tradition alive—clearly the magic is more than a museum piece here!

(Photo Courtesy: @unusualcollections/WordPress)
(Photo Courtesy: @unusualcollections/WordPress)

Sulabh International Museum of Toilets (New Delhi)

Established in 2019, Delhi's "toilet museum" is dedicated to the global history of sanitation and toilets from 2,500 BC to present day. It displays pre-historic to medieval toilets from around the world—ranging from privies, chamber pots, toilet furniture, bidets and water closets in use from 1145 AD to the modern times, including the gold toilets of Rome and the Harappan sewage system.

This peculiar and quirky museum featured on Time magazine's '10 Museums Around the World That Are Anything But Mundane' list.

(Photo courtesy Sulabh International Museum of Toilets)
(Photo courtesy Sulabh International Museum of Toilets)

Joint Replacement Museum (Ahmedabad, Gujarat)

The non-profit Indian Society of Hip and Knee Surgeons established India’s first arthroplasty museum last year. Some 200 exhibits of joint implants, dating back to the 1970s, are displayed here. With a curation of retrieved implants ranging from the earliest to the most recent, the museum aims to showcase the evolution of the field in India.

(Photo courtesy Indian Society of Hip & Knee Surgeons)
(Photo courtesy Indian Society of Hip & Knee Surgeons)

Dharohar National Museum of Customs and GST (Panaji, Goa)

Established by the government last year as part of the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav week before Independence Day, this is India’s only museum dedicated to custom duties and trade taxation, and chronicles the two-decade journey of GST.

It features a 'Battle of Wits' gallery which maps how gold, guns, drugs, antiquities and wildlife were seized from smugglers over the decades.

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman inaugurating Dharohar National Museum of Customs and GST on 11 June 2022 (Photo courtesy PIB)
Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman inaugurating Dharohar National Museum of Customs and GST on 11 June 2022 (Photo courtesy PIB)

Paldi Kite Museum (Ahmedabad, Gujarat)

The Paldi Kite Museum houses a coveted collection of over 125 ancient kites of varying sizes, textures and patterns; also displaying Japanese kites over 20 feet tall. Ahmedabad-based Bhanubhai Shah, a kite aficionado, gave his nearly 50-year-old collection to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation for the museum.

Sudha Cars Museum (Hyderabad, Telangana)

Designed and established by Kanyaboyina Sudhakar, this museum displays cars of all shapes, sizes and eccentricities—resembling everyday objects such as burgers, handbags, heels, pens, erasers, and even condoms to commemorate World AIDS Day, a virus-shaped car to raise awareness around COVID-19 and various other object-shaped cars that are often designed with a message.

The museum features the smallest double-decker bus in the world which can accommodate 10 people. Twelve different mini motor cycles, of which the smallest is 33 centimetres in height and can be driven at the speed of 30 kilometres per hour.

Vechaar Utensils Museum (Ahmedabad, Gujarat)

Also known as 'Vishalla', this museum displays a precious collection of utensils in a boutique 'village' in Ahmedabad. Built by anthropologist and historian Jyotindra Jain in 1981, this hut-like preserves over 4,500 ancient Indian-origin utensils made of mud, bamboo, raw dung, straw—showcasing the Indian craftsmanship and design through centuries.

(Photo courtesy Gujarat Tourism)
(Photo courtesy Gujarat Tourism)

Ghalib Ki Haveli (New Delhi)

The home of the great Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib was declared a heritage site by the Archaeological Survey of India and a permanent memorial museum by the Delhi Government in 2000.

Made out of lakhori bricks, sandstone and lime mortar, this larger-than-life mansion archives Ghalib's entire body of work and also offers an inside look into his elusive lifestyle as well as the architecture of the Mughal Era.

(Photo courtesy Delhi Tourism)
(Photo courtesy Delhi Tourism)

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