Everything got decided last evening with the head priest of the Kasar Devi temple . I had to go to Almora City market to buy fruits, sweets, honey, Rudra beads and other things the next day for the Maha Shiva Ratri- The grand Night of Shiva.
Even though I wanted to make this city trip very short, an intention kept growing in me to visit something old. I started asking whomsoever I could If there is any museum in Almora? Or at least a gallery, any old building dedicated to the region, on rich history and crafts that this blessed state carried. But strangely I met no one who seemed to have any idea about it.
The Taxi guy wanted to extort 3x money from me for the tariff when I took a stern stance like I was one of the locals. He dropped me three Kilometres outside the city. I decided to walk. And while walking kept asking for a lift. One white scooty stopped. The rider introduced himself as a Lawyer. He had come back home after covid made living hard in the mainland cities. He had studied in Delhi University, and went nostalgic about those days within ten minutes of our ride. He was excited to learn when I asked him about the Museum and dropped me right in front of this old building on which Govind Ballabh Pant Public Museum was written.
The Museum of Almora is located on Mall road in Almora City. It was built in 1980 to honour the noteworthy efforts of the great freedom fighter Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant in developing this special, almost unreachable Himalayan region then, Uttarakhand.
The Museum was empty. If I ignore one woman sitting, scrolling through her facebook on phone. There was no one and nothing but the fragrance of hanging dank wood welcomed me. A feeling which comes just before entering a wormhole. Or the back side of a cinema, closed long ago. As I put first few steps walking parallel to the blue wall looking at the old, outdated, never cared for large sized prints of venerable Temples and this city; nostalgia started to evoke silent, irrelevant screams out of those bare prints.
Of course, no one cares to see what this crumbling, outmoded looking museum has to say about the same streets outside which once were.
The museum had six rooms. Small rooms. Three on either side. And each room had a way to another room. As I asked the lady where can I start from, she put her phone down and lead me to the first room. She said, you can photograph this room :
The first room was dedicated to the Goddess, and her various avatars. And other rooms had age old sculptures of Brahma and few of Shiva. But it it was Vishnu which people were praying to, crafting with so much adoration in this region that I was stunned looking at some of them which grabbed me by my eyes, for most were as old as 1st century A.D.
As rooms opened me to the world I had barely ever confronted, a unique collection of antiques belonging to the rulers of Katyuri and Chand dynasty emerged. The museum exhibited an impressive collection of Kumaoni style paintings called Aipan.
One could immerse in the splended and immersive art forms, textiles, crafts, miniature painting, woodworks, terracotta sculptures, coins, bronze items, musical instruments, ivory copper plates, manuscripts and things that i might be forgetting.
I wasn’t allowed to photograph any as the lady kept counting my steps. But the last room opened me to something more. Something which i myself had never cared to learn.
G.B Pant is a busy government hospital in the heart of Delhi. And I had never cared for where this name might have come from. Who was GB Pant? I never asked myself.
But right there as I entered that room. He became my centre or I became his, it could be a matter for later contemplation.
Govind Ballabh Pant was born on 10 September 1887 in Khoont village on the slopes of Shyahi Devi hill near Almora. He was brought up by his maternal grandfather, Badri Dutt Joshi, an important government official locally, who played a significant part in moulding his personality and political views.
Known as an extremely capable lawyer, Pant was appointed by the Congress party to initially represent Ramprasad Bismill, Ashfaqulla Khan and other revolutionaries involved in the Kakori case in the mid 1920s. He participated in the protests against Simon Commission in 1928. Jawaharlal Nehru, in his autobiography, mentions how Pant stood by him during the protests and his large figure made him an easy target for the police. In those protests he sustained severe injuries which prevented him from straightening his back for the rest of his life.
In 1930, he was arrested and imprisoned for several weeks for organising a Salt March inspired by Gandhi’s earlier actions. During the Second World War, Pant acted as the tiebreaker between Gandhi’s faction, which advocated supporting the British Crown in their war effort, and Subhas Chandra Bose’s faction, which advocated taking advantage of the situation to expel the British Raj by all means necessary.
Also read: Knowing Gandhi and Learning from Mahatma and Knowing Gandhi
In 1940, Pant was arrested and imprisoned for helping organise the Satyagraha movement. In 1942 he was arrested again, this time for signing the Quit India resolution, and spent three years in Ahmednagar Fort along with other members of the Congress working committee until March 1945.
In 1945, the British Labour government ordered new elections to the Provincial legislatures. The Congress won a majority in the 1946 elections in the United Provinces and Pant was again the Premier, continuing even after India’s independence in 1947 till 1954.
His judicious reforms and stable governance in the Uttar Pradesh stabilised the economic condition of the most populous State of India.
Pant served as Union Home Minister from 1955 to 1961. Pant was appointed Minister of Home Affairs in the Union Cabinet on 10 January 1955 in New Delhi by Jawaharlal Nehru. As Home Minister, his chief achievement was the re-organisation of States along linguistic lines. He was also responsible for the establishment of Hindi as an official language of the central government and a few states.
During his tenure as the Home Minister, Pant was awarded the Bharat Ratna on 26 January 1957.
He suffered a severe Heart Attack in 1960 but somehow survived. Yet he could never fully recovered from the shock and died a year later at the age of 1973.
There were hundreds of his hand written letters to his friends and colleagues that kept my eyes intact as I found them curiously witty.
Also Read: Past and the Present Of the Tribal Cultures In Central India
He was kind and very affectionate as I could make out from how he was received.
As rush had arrived back in my nerves to go back to Papersilly, I walked out. Saw the review register. And wrote under a small remark the most wonderful dedication I could come out with to any museum for making me quite rich that day.
The day looked bright and inspiring once again. Big clouds hovered above. I remembered the name of the Sweet Shop which was the oldest sweet shop in Almora. And people almost get in a queue is there is one to carry Himalayan favourite ‘Bal Mithai’ from it.
There were some. I hurriedly pressed myself to the shop. Bought it for myself. For the family I was staying with. And for my lord, Mahadev. On my way back sitting by the taxi’s window looking at the sky, at the Oak trees passing like moments do, I sought back recalling so much has to be sacrificed to attain what it is today. To have these mountains with us. They have all had their times and tales filled with sacrifices of men and women. Even numerous trees. I realised the sun had already started to turn old for today as the fourteenth night was waiting to arrive.
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If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcome ~ Namaste
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