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Chamba, a treasure house of cultural heritage, has plenty to offer to the art history of the country. Alexander Cunningham visited Chamba and Brahmaur in AD 1839 and he, for the time, drew the attention of art-lovers towards its rich cultural wealth. The eminent Indologist, J. Ph. Vogel made extensive exploration of the area from AD 1902 to 1905 and collected large number of inscriptions engraved on both the metal and stone. These inscriptions have great significance in the history of the region. Therefore, it is imminent to protect and preserve this cultural heritage against the unfavourable climatic conditions and vandalism. Vogel enlightened Raja Bhuri Singh, the ruler of erstwhile Chamba state about the importance of this cultural and art heritage, which was endangered and becoming extinct without of shelter and preservation. Raja Bhuri Singh took keen interest in this epigraphic collection and other relics of the past and transferred them in one of the public buildings suitably located by the side of Chaugan. Raja Bhuri Singh also gifted his inherited art collection to this museum and J. Ph. Vogel imparted his invaluable services for setting up this museum. The dream came true on the 14th September 1908 when the museum was opened to the visitors and named after Raja Bhuri Singh.

The objects displayed in the museum are related to art, craft and culture of the Chamba state. These relics stand as an eloquent testimony to the life of past and have their value for the appreciation of art and culture of this region. At present, the museum possesses more than 5000 objects related to art, archaeology, craft and cultural anthropology, especially those related to Chamba. However, the art objects of the other parts are also displayed. The museum-complex also has a reference library, a seminar hall and an exhibition hall.

Stone sculpture, bronzes, memorial stones, Pahari miniature paintings and Chamba rumals, etc., reflecting on the workmanship, art and tradition of the region. The art style of this area was greatly influenced by the adjoining Kashmir region, which is apparently discernible in the artefacts displayed in the galleries. Theme, style and material provide us with a good perspective of the regional cultural life. The stone sculpture of Surya from Gum dated to 6th century AD and bronzes of a devotee with a lamp and Sidha are among the finest specimens of sculptural art of the area. The memorial stones throw light on the deceased for whom these were erected. The memorial stones of Chamba are unique for the history of Indian Art. These stones are decorated with motifs like lotus roundels, meandering creepers, striding elephants, horse riders, foot soldiers, hamsa, varunas, Shiv-linga, Sheshashayi Vishnu, Ganga, Yamuna and entwined snakes, etc. These slabs form spouts of the natural fountains, locally known as the paniharas (fountains). These stones not only show the artistic skill, but also provide an important historical record. Some of these, particularly of Churah region, are engraved in Takri and Sharda scripts. The inscriptions engraved on these stones provide us with a good perspective of the political history of the state and its relations with the adjoining states. These stones evoke association with the certain stages of social and economic evolution of the society and provide a constant endeavour to search out parallels with the societies in the same or very similar stages of development.

Museum has a significant collection of Miniature painting in particular Pahari School painting. These miniature paintings can be distinguished from the Mughal ones in their simplicity and freshness; and from Rajasthani miniature in their lyrical quality. These schools flourished in the hill states of western Himalaya from the 17th to 19th century AD. The Basohali painting shows unusual brilliance of colour and animated expression. Spacious composition, rhythm and brilliant colour harmonies entitle them to a very high place among the Pahari paintings. In Guler paintings, draftsmanship is linear and naturalistic. The female figures are slim and tall with long slender necks and small well-formed faces. The treatment of trees and landscapes are naturalistic. The beauty of Kangra painting lies mainly in its rhythmic lines, especially in rendering flaming beauty of the female figures and in illustrating the delicate grace of the Indian womanhood. The themes of these paintings are mostly related to the Epics, Puranas, Gita-Govinda, Bihari-satsai, Baramasa, etc. The Paintings on Usha-Anirudha, Rukmini-Mangal, Sudama-charit, Hamir-hattha, Ramayana and Mahabharata series are of great interest.

Some nicely embroidered specimens of the world famous Chamba rumals are also share the part of its rich treasure. The Chamba rumal, also known as the painting on cloth done with the needle, flourished in the princely state of Chamba during 18-19th century AD. Muslin cloth is used to embroider figural and floral motifs inspired from the Pahari miniature paintings. The embroidery was done by the double satin stitch, carried forward and backward simultaneously on the two sides of cloth so that both sides appeared equally effective and similar in content. That style of stitching is known as dorukha (double-sided).

Wood was widely used for the architectural and sculptural art in this area. Because of its plasticity and smooth texture it afforded possibilities to the wood carver to devise various artistic forms and designs, which were from time to time elaborated and refined under the impact of various styles that influenced the art activities of the area. Ornate and beautifully carved doors, window-frames, balconies, carved panels, brackets, pillars testify to the height to which the craft had reached in the early days. A massive and an inscribed door from Swai near Bharmour, which is displayed in the Museum, is of special interest not only because of its antiquity but also because of the splendid display of form and variety of subjects delineated on it. The prominent doorway (Parol-SKT Pratoli) is carved in folk style displaying several divine and human figures. Panel portraying Hindu deity is carved in strict adherence to iconographical tenets for immediate recognition. It is not only the deities and human form, which have provided the subjects of artistic expression but also the birds, animals, flowers and foliate as well have found the fullest expression in the variety of form. These carvings reflect the socio-religious aspect of which the society. The figures are set in the arched enclosure of the local variety. Woodcarvings of Bharmour kothi, which was ruined in the earthquake in 1905 and some specimens of which are now preserved in the Museum clearly show the influence of Mughal art, especially in the use of cusped arch in which the figures are enclosed. The figures are adorned with the Mughal dress. The doorjambs and lintels are decorated with the floral and foliated designs of Mughal style, which is commonly used for the decoration of architectural members during the Mughal period. The figures of deities are carved strictly on the pattern of miniature arts. Some other panels show royal personage wearing Mughal dress and resting against the bolster under a cusped arch this being the peculiar style of Mughal art. Chamba came under the Muslim influence during the period of Prithvi Singh (1642-1664). The folk style, which was gaining popularity, started disintegrating with the extension of Mughal political power. The Mughal style, which entered in the region proved much, superior to the folk styles. Craftsmen from the Mughal courts migrated to this hilly region and enjoyed the patronage of local rulers. The royal palaces, houses and temples built during that periods possess the wooden work executed in Mughal style. Besides the decoration of architectural members and making of images, Exquisite work seems to have been done in items of day to day use like utensils, objects of ritual worship, household objects and furniture etc. which in fact reflects the true folk tradition of the region. The utensils were hewn out of cylindrical wooden logs and were given a proper finishing and shape. Generally, these vessels were used for the storage of grains, churning the curd and kneading the floor, etc storage of butter, milk and also used for making the local wine etc.

One of the most important and significant section of the museum is its epigraphic collection. Inscriptions, engraved on the metal and stones, provide information on several aspects, covering a period of about one thousand years. Most of these inscriptions are on copperplates, representing the information regarding the grant of land and treaties. These inscriptions are inscribed in Sharda and Takri scripts. In addition to these, some important Takri and Persian paper documents from the archives of the Chamba rulers throw considerable light on the relation between the Chamba and the suzerain, the Mughals and Durranis.

Coins are important source of history and contemporary upon the political, economic and social aspects of the era. The earliest coins, i.e., the punch-marked, Kuninda, Indo-Greek, Gupta, Mughal and local rulers, etc; are also on display in the museum. The old photographs of the Chamba town give a glimpse to the grandeur of the state during its heydays.


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