Museums and libraries
• Victoria Memorial was Lord Curzon’s brainchild as a memorial to the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India, Queen Victoria after her death in 1902, the Victoria Memorial was modelled on the Taj Mahal and was commissioned in 1906. Opened to the public in 1921, it was designed by the architects William Emerson and his protege Vincent Esch at the extraordinary cost of Rupees 10.5 million ($262,500), all of which was collected as voluntary donations, mostly from the British and Indian nobility. The memorial holds numerous paintings of the British royal family, miniature paintings of the Mughal School, oil paintings of the Company School. The memorial is set in extensive and beautiful lawns, and is lit up at night. A laser audio-visual show is held on the lawns every evening. ‘Nike’, the Greek Goddess of victory, on the top of the museum is said to be haunted, and has been prominently featured in many Kolkata stories and novels. It is regarded with pride and joy in Kolkata and colloquially referred to as the “Victoria”.
• The Indian Museum is the largest museum in Asia and the oldest in the Asia – Pacific region (est. 1814 at the location of the Asiatic Society). The Museum shifted to its present sprawling residence in 1875. Situated on Chowringhee Avenue, it houses perhaps the greatest collection of Indian natural history and an Indian Art collection to rival the Smithsonian Institution and the British Museum. Of specific note are the meteorite hall and dinosaur hall in the Natural History and Geology section, the numismatics section and the collections of Gandhara Art, Burmese woodwork, Mughal miniatures and Tibetan banner sections in the Indian Art section. The Anthropological Survey of India headquarters and the Government College of Art and Craft are housed in the same building. The Geological Survey of India headquarters moved from the museum to Bidhan Nagar recently. The Indian Museum has a library of excellent historical value, with a special focus on the Raj and Kolkata.
• The Marble Palace is a privately owned collection of eclectic sculptures, paintings and a small menagerie and aviary off Chittaranjan Avenue in North Kolkata. Built by Raja Rajendra Mullick in 1835, it houses, among other treasures two little-publicized Reubens and aJoshua Reynolds, not to mention over 50 varieties of marble which grace the interiors of this mansion.
• Birla Industrial & Technological Museum on Gurusaday Dutta Road, was inaugurated in 1959 as the first popular science museum inAsia. Modelled on the Deutsches Museum, it has interactive popular science exhibits and a significant collection of historical industrial holdings in India. Its collection of old gramophones, sound recorders, telephones, steam engines, road rollers and other industrial machinery of the period 1880–1950 is very significant. The museum sports a vintage model of the Rolls-Royce Phantom I make. It also actively organizes summer camps, awareness programs and astronomy observations for school children.
• Science City is a complex near the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass featuring a lot of interactive science and live bioscience exhibits, as well as having Kolkata’s first OMNIMAX theatre.
• The Jorasanko Thakur Bari is the ancestral home of the Tagore family and was converted into a museum in 1961. The huge sprawling brick mansion was the cultural hub of Kolkata for close to a century and was a major force in the women’s liberation movement. It hosted the first Brahmo wedding and was an important center in the Independence movement. The museum has three large galleries – one of the life and works of Rabindranath, a second gallery about his close relatives such as father Debendranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore and others, and a third gallery on the Bengal Renaissance in general.
• Gurusaday Museum, on Diamond Harbour Road, is the outcome of a lifetime of collection of traditional Bengal folk arts in undivided Bengal by Sir Gurusaday Dutt. On his death in 1941, the collection was handed over to the Bratachari Society founded by Sir Gurusaday Dutt to preserve and protect Bengal folk arts. It was opened as a museum to the public with the help of the Government of India in 1963. It contains, among other fine handicrafts, terracotta panels, kantha or folk quilt work, and patas (or hand painted scrolls of the late 1900s), notably of the Kalighat School. TheAsutosh Museum of Indian Art, on College Street, is the other museum specializing in Bengal folk arts, but with significant archaeological holdings from sites in West Bengaland Bihar like Chandraketugarh and Tamluk. The first university owned museum in India, it is run by the University of Calcutta and is named after its famous vice chancellor Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee.
• National Library of India located in Alipore is India’s leading library and a public library. It was inaugurated in 1836 by the Governor General Lord Metcalfe by transferring 4675 books from the College of Fort William. Public donations were the main source of books for the library, and by donations of Rupees 300 from proprietors. Dwarakanath Tagorewas the first proprietor of the library. The library was initially only partially public, as poor students could use the library for a limited period of time. The Imperial Library was founded in 1891 by merging several libraries like those of the East India College and East India Board. Governor General Lord Curzon initiated the merger of these two libraries into a single Imperial Library in 1903 at the Metcalfe Hall. The goals of the library were to collect every book written about India at any time. The Assistant Librarian of the British Museum John Macfarlane was the first librarian and was succeeded by the first Indian librarian Harinath De. The library was moved to its present quarters in Belvedere Estate,Alipore and renamed the National Library. It is a fully public library which co-ordinates the activities of all other Indian public libraries. True to its goal, any book published in India today has to send one copy to the National library in the spirit of the Library of Congress, United States.
• The other popular Kolkata libraries include the Ramakrishna Mission Library, maintained by the Ramakrishna Mission, Kolkata which has a special children’s section, as well as the large consulate-based libraries of British Council, Kolkata and of the United States Information Service, Kolkata. The Calcutta Club library has a historically significant collection, including the fully furnished and book-stocked reading room of Nirad C. Chaudhuri. The other historically significant libraries are those of Asiatic Society, Indian Museum, Presidency College, Scottish Church College, and St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta.