The Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, or Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya as it was renamed by the Shiv Sena, ranks among the city’s most distinctive Raj-era constructions. It stands rather grandly in its own gardens off MG Road, crowned by a massive white Mughal-style dome, under which one of India’s finest collections of paintings and sculpture is arrayed on three floors. The building was designed by George Wittet, of Gateway of India fame, and stands as the epitome of the hybrid Indo-Saracenic style – regarded in its day as an “educated” interpretation of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Gujarati architecture, mixing Islamic touches with typically English municipal brickwork.
The foreigners’ ticket price includes an audio tour, which you collect at the admissions kiosk inside, though you’ll probably find it does little to enhance your visit. The heat and humidity inside the building can also be a trial. For a break, the institutional tea-coffee kiosk in the ground-floor garden is a much less congenial option than the Café Samovar outside, but to exit the museum and re-enter (which you’re entitled to do) you’ll have to get your ticket stamped in the admissions lobby first. A number of galleries were closed for renovation at the time of writing, so certain exhibits might have moved around a bit by the time you read this.
The Key Gallery in the central hall of the ground floor provides a snapshot of the collection’s treasures, including the fifth-century AD stucco Buddhist figures unearthed by archeologist Henry Cousens in 1909. The main sculpture room on the ground floor displays other fourth- and fifth-century Buddhist artefacts, mostly from the former Greek colony of Gandhara. Important Hindu sculptures include a seventh-century Chalukyan bas-relief depicting Brahma seated on a lotus, and a sensuously carved torso of Mahisasuramardini, the goddess Durga, with tripod raised ready to skewer the demon buffalo.
The main attraction on the first floor has to be the museum’s famous collection of Indian painting. More fine medieval miniatures are housed in the recently inaugurated Karl & Meherbai Khandalavala Gallery, on the renovated east wing of this floor, along with priceless pieces of Ghandaran sculpture, Chola bronzes and some of the country’s finest surviving examples of medieval Gujarati woodcarving.
Indian coins are the subject of the House of Laxmi Gallery, also in the east wing, while the second floor showcases a vast array of Oriental ceramics and glassware. Finally, among the grizzly weapons and pieces of armour stored in a small side-gallery at the top of the building, look out for the cuirass, helmet and jade dagger which the museum only recently discovered belonged to no less than the Mughal emperor Akbar.