The Archaeological Museum at GPBAASRI exhibits a variety of unique archaeological objects, both excavated and collected. The galleries are arranged in chronological order to better showcase history as a coherent whole. The objects on display include excavated artefacts, items of pre-, early historic and megalithic periods, stone sculptures of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain culture and wood carvings. Bronze and temple ware, miniature paintings of historical schools of art, palm leaf manuscripts and illustrated manuscripts are some of the other artefacts visitors can take in.
The Birla Archaeological & Cultural Research Institute (GPBAASRI) conducted three excavations of significant importance over the years.
Conducted in three different areas of South India, these insignificant towns of Hasmathpet, Veerapuram, and Vaddamanu contained a wealth of information buried under layers and layers of top-soil.
The excavated materials at the Archaeological Museum date back from 40,000 years to the second century A.D. They were collected from three excavations conducted by GPBAASRI. The excavation at Hasmathpet, a suburb of Secunderabad, unearthed a megalithic burial site dating to the second century B.C. Pottery, stone axes and iron implements were some of the artefacts found.
The excavations at Veerapuram in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh by GPBAASRI from 1978 to 1981 revealed a sequence of cultures from the early Neolithic period to the early historic period i.e. 1800 BC to 400 AD. Household and common use items of Neolithic, Chalcolithic, megalithic and early historic periods were found, along with a group of temples with their brick layers intact. Different types of pottery, beads and bangles, mullars, rubbers, querns and earthenware jars are on display. GPBAASRI published a comprehensive report on the excavations of Veerapuram in 1991.
The visible style difference between the Neolithic-Chalcolithic cultures can be seen in the Veerapuram excavations in the types of pottery and extended burial pots. One such burial container with the remnants of a child’s skeleton has been preserved and displayed. The exhibits from the megalithic culture zone include black and red ware pottery, terracotta ear studs, pendants and beads. The early historic culture exhibits comprise different punch-marked coins from the Ikshvaku dynasty through to the Satavahana and Maharatha dynasties.
Vaddamanu in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh is the third early historic site excavated by GPBAASRI. The findings are on display in the museum. The remnants of a Jain stupa – the first of its kind in South India – were found here. They include railing pieces of the stupa, inscribed pottery, terracotta, stucco and stone figures. A portion of the railing has been reconstructed and is on display in the gallery.
The Archaeological Museum’s stone sculptures gallery is segregated into Buddhist, Jain and Hindu sections for easier access. They exhibit works ranging from the second century AD to the 15th century AD. The collection includes stupa sculptures, pillars, figures of the Buddha, Mahavira, 24 Tirthankaras, Ganesa, Mahishamardini, Saptamatrukas, Kumara, Dasavatara Vishnu, Brahma and Bhairava, to name a few. Noteworthy sculptures from the dynasties of Chalukya, Kakatiya and Vijayanagar are also showcased.
These pieces of ancient civilisations and kingdoms still hold relevance today because they give us anthropological data about the people of the past and their lifestyle.
The Archaeological Museum’s wood carvings gallery showcases the unique wooden ratha of South India as well as panels consisting of deity figures like Vishnu, Brahma, Nataraja etc. Exquisitely carved artistic household doors, dhwaja stambha plates, temple doors and panels with ornate carvings and decorations can also be seen.
The bronze collection of the museum features Buddhist and Hindu deities such as Vishnu, Shiva, Siva Nataraja, Kumara with consorts, Bhairava, Kodanda Rama, Yab-yum and Avalokitesvara. Special mention must be given to the Chola bronzes of Siva and Parvati.
Miniature Paintings and Ganjifa
The gallery of miniature paintings and Ganjifa display select material. The miniature paintings belong to different schools of late medieval India such as Rajasthani, Deccani and Pahadi. A good collection of typical Tanjore paintings are also on display. One of the highlights of the gallery is the Dashavatara Ganjifa and Mughal Ganjifa. Believed to have originated in Persia, Ganjifa (playing cards) are wonderful works of art with their circular/rectangular shapes and hand-painted motifs.
The museum showcases illustrated manuscripts of the late medieval period consisting of Hindu and Mughal writings on religious and social themes. Pieces written in Persian, Sanskrit, Urdu and Gurmukhi languages are also exhibited. Chief among them are Aine-Akbari, Ramayana, Bhagavata and a manuscript on the varieties of horses and their qualities. A wide collection of illustrated and unillustrated palm leaf manuscripts in Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada and Tamil highlight diverse subject matters like astrology, Puranas, Bhagavatas, household accounts, astronomy, mathematics, medicine etc.
Ancient locks, weights and measures, and folk art figures add depth to the museum’s many displays. Hindu templeware like bells, panchapatra, vinjamaras, chains, aratis, kavachas, masks and oil cans give a good account of the different materials used on different occasions in the temples.
The arms and armoury collection of the museum is truly fascinating. A wide range of swords, daggers, katars, decorated shields, procession armoury, canon balls, guns and pistols provide a window to the rich past.
Last but not least is a unique katar with a first aid kit containing clasps, forceps and other tools.