Mahesh A. Kalra
Curator, Numismatics & Other Artefacts
The Asiatic Society of Mumbai
The Asiatic Society of Mumbai, established 1804, is one of the oldest institutions established for oriental research in India during the ‘high noon’ of the British Raj. It was then called the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (BBRAS) and it soon became a receptacle for a variety of archaeological artefacts found in the entire Bombay Presidency, a vast administrative area spreading from Sindh (now in Pakistan) till Karnataka in South India. The BBRAS soon acquired a number of coins which were proffered to it by various government agencies and private individuals including the rulers of various princely states. The Society continued to receive these artefacts till early 1920s when the Prince of Wales Museum was established as the new Museum for the Bombay Presidency. Many important artefacts were transferred to the new museum and the Society was left with 10,500 odd coins among various other artefacts at the dawn of India’s independence. These coins and artefacts have been since then well-maintained and kept in the Society’s office in South Mumbai.
In 2015, I was appointed as the Curator for the Society’s holdings. One of the main aims was for helping identify the coins’ provenance scattered in the journal and the proceedings of the Society. In the process, we managed to discuss new acquisitions for the Society which had stopped since the early twentieth century. In 2015, the Indian government mint at Mumbai issued a commemorative coin set in the honour of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, one of the founding fathers of the Indian republic on the occasion of his 125th Birth Anniversary. In my opinion, the coin set was a worthy acquisition in view of Dr. Ambedkar’s role as the legal luminary behind modern India’s Constitution which promised equality to all Indians irrespective of their religion, class or creed making it a socio-legal document binding on all Indians. The acquisition was approved wholeheartedly by the Society’s Managing Committee and we managed to acquire the coin set on 2nd August 2016 from just 40 sets available with the Mint!
After its acquisition, I recommended a temporary exhibition of the coin set on the occasion of the Society’s 213th Annual General Meeting on 20 August 2016. The proposal was again passed by the supportive committee and thus we came to organize the exhibit. The exhibition was planned by me knowing the difficulty of showcasing just one object.
However, using my ITP experience, I created a three-slide presentation which retold the story of the great leader using images of stamps issued in his honour by the Indian government. Fortunately, the government of India had released about 5 stamps in honour of the leader commemorating various achievements and incidents connected with his life. The first slide thus gave a view of his early life, his education at various foreign universities, early agitations by the leader (illustrated by a stamp showing a famous agitation called the Mahad Satyagraha).
The second slide concentrated on his role as the Father of the Indian Constitution using two stamps issued to commemorate the event. In this slide, I even managed to put in an image of his signature.
Finally, the last slide spoke of his death and legacy showcasing a stamp showing his cremation spot in Mumbai called the Chaitya Bhoomi (lit. Buddhist place of worship) which turns into an annual pilgrimage for millions of Dr. Ambedkar’s followers each year on the occasion of his death anniversary on 6 December. The last slide also spoke of his legacy in modern India as an iconic figure whose death has only turned him more potent.
Thus, the coin set came to be exhibited in the Durbar Hall of the Asiatic Society placed at the entry allowing the members to have a quick look before entering or exiting the AGM of the Society. The exhibit was timely and well-appreciated by various members of the Society. Many members of the staff who enthusiastically helped me expressed their keenness in holding more exhibitions in the future and encouraged us to continue to acquire new objects for the Society