KARACHI: Culture holds the key to survival for any nation, National Museum of Pakistan Director Muhammad Shah Bukhari tells The Express Tribune while sitting in his office at the museum.
Located in the same vicinity as the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi, the National Museum of Pakistan houses a treasure trove for history buffs. It was established in 1950 and inaugurated by then governor-general of Pakistan Khawaja Nazimuddin.
In its initial days, the museum was located in Pakistan Quarters and was later shifted to Frere Hall, where it stayed for the next 18 years.
“This museum was established after the Victoria Museum in Karachi was closed. Unlike the British era museums of Lahore, Taxila, Peshawar and Swat, this one was created after Partition,” Bukhari shared.
From 1950 to 2011, the federal government was responsible for the museum, but after the 18th Amendment, it was handed over to the Sindh government for management of its portfolio.
“When the Victoria Museum was closing down, the British took away some of the items displayed at the museum but also left some behind. These same items are now placed at the National Museum of Pakistan,” Bukhari said.
“The piece of land where the museum is currently located was acquired by the Pakistan government and an Italian architect designed the building pre-1968,” Bukhari shared, adding that the museum has been situated in the building in Burnes Garden since 1971.
In 1980, there was an extension of the area in the backyard.
Currently, there are nine galleries within the six-storey museum building that house a treasure trove of our glorious past. Some of this includes the Gandhara collection, the Indus Valley Civilisation collection, some of the rarest coins dating back to 600BC, anthropological material consisting of Hala-made utensils and wooden crafts, Kashmiri art and craft and as many as 10,000 rare manuscripts.
There are three curators and seven assistant curators who look after the museum’s galleries. “Special exhibitions are sometimes hosted in the foyer and corridor area within the building,” informed Bukhari.
Relics as old as 2 million years that were unearthed from caves located near Islamabad are also placed at the museum. It also boasts some old pots from Mehrgarh and Nowshera that are 10,000 years old.
From calligraphic work and miniature paintings from the royals dating back to the sultanate period to documents from the Mughal and Tughlaq dynasties and some from the British Raj, the museum houses many valuable items.
A separate gallery showcases the struggle for freedom and the Pakistan movement.
There are also 50,000 rare images of different beautiful sites of Pakistan taken between 1950 and 1960, which have been taken by Hamid Ali.
“We need to know what the people before us did to preserve history and we need to know the values they lived according to. Hence, we should try to come forward and embrace our culture,” Bukhari believed.
All this cannot be done without stepping forward, he added.
“There are [adequate] security arrangements at the museum. There is a guard for every gallery who makes sure people do not touch the glass windows behind which the artefacts are placed,” Bukhari said, adding that police personnel remain on duty at the main gate.
Commenting on whether the museum is well-prepared in the event of a fire, Bukhari said that they have old fire extinguishers, but plan to install new ones soon.
Five years down the road, Bukhari believed that the Sindh government’s culture department will have established a scholar house or writers’ lodge, where 12 foreign scholars will be given space to conduct research at the museum.
An arts and crafts centre is also expected to be established soon, according to Bukhari. Besides this, there are plans to set up four new galleries, he said.
All of these projects are expected to be completed by June, 2018, revealed the director.