The Bajirao Road in Pune is abuzz with traffic, and shops on either side are attending to their customers.
However, in the routine race to escape from the busy narrow streets, a treasure house of priceless artefacts goes unnoticed.
Standing alongside the modern sweet shops and pooja material shops is a museum, nearly 100 years old. It was established by a hobbyist who spent over 60 years of his life travelling across big cities and remote villages in India, collecting rare, ancient relics.
Dr Dinkar G Kelkar or ‘Kaka’ as he was fondly known, was an optician by profession. Ever since he was a child, his deep interest in poetry was evident. Alongside his profession, he also indulged in historical poetry—a hobby that got him interested in antiquities.
Dr Kelkar’s poetry and in-depth knowledge of history would direct him to remote villages and far away cities where he would be on the lookout for a rare artefact.
“A connoisseur who had an uncanny vision to spot the exotic in the everyday….. To uncover diamonds under the dust” is how the museum’s website describes its founder. It goes on to say, “He was a family man, wedded to customary commitments and responsibilities. Yet, he chose to be nomadic, travelling across the country to singularly amass a priceless collection in a span of 60 years.”
In 1920, Dr Kelkar began his journey to visit families in remote villages, asking them about family heirlooms, antiquities and artefacts.
Of course, not everyone was ready to hand over their prized possessions to this optician. But Kelkar would convince them that the relics would be safe and well maintained.
Sudhanva Ranade, Kelkar’s grandson and the current museum director, told The Hindu that it was a Mayur veena, “a wooden veena in the form of a peacock and embellished with silver” that launched Kelkar’s journey as a collector.
Over the period of 60 years, Kelkar would collect about 500 rare instruments.
One of them is a Taus—a peacock-shaped string instrument that is played with a bow. This (approximately) 250-year-old instrument was once popular in Punjab and was played during kirtans.
Taus, interestingly, is the Persian word for peacock.
Kelkar also invested his time and energy to collect instruments belonging to legendary musicians like Pandit Bal Gandharva, Ustad Alla Rakha, Pandit Ramshakardas Pagaldes and PL Deshpande—a legendary writer, musician and comic from Pune.
“The founder had a passion for music and wanted the museum to include instruments played by common Indians as well as noted artists,” said Ranade to Pune Mirror, adding that “At the museum, we have instruments of 22 famous artists on display.”
But instruments are just one fraction of this incredible three-floor bungalow-turned-museum.
In fact, right next to the music section is the replica of the Mastani Mahal—the palace of Peshwa Bajirao I’s queen, Mastani. Beautiful Mughal era coins, a letter written by Peshwa Bajirao I in the Modi script, dowry chests and a mirror with Meena artwork, belonging to Anandibai, Peshwa Raghobadada’s wife, are perfectly preserved in this house of over 22,000 artefacts. A visit to this room will undoubtedly take you back in time, to the Peshwai era.
Kelkar’s passion was not limited to a time period nor to one form of an artefact. By 1960, he had collected more than 21,000 items—ranging from pots to instruments and paintings to daggers.
The three-storeyed waada (house) in Shukrawar Peth, although magnificent, isn’t large enough to display every collected object. Currently, it has only 2500 items on display—a small fraction of what Dr Kelkar had to offer.
He had initially named the museum as “Raja Sangraha” after his son, Raja, who suffered an untimely death.
The name changed to “Raja Kelkar Historical Collections” before museums and antiques became common knowledge, and the collection was finally christened as the “Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum.”
Technological advancement has prompted Ranade to update his grandfather’s collection and make it more tech-savvy.
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Speaking to Pune Mirror, he said, “What matters most for me is the fact that I have been able to carry forward the 100-year-old legacy that would have remained traceless, had it not been my grandfather’s determined archiving and preservation… Since a major chunk of our visitors are young, it has become imperative to take help from the social media- with voice-overs in English and Marathi for audio tours, blogs and mobile apps.”
Ranade also plans to shift the museum to a six-acre plot in Bavdhan, Mulshi Taluka, where he can display more artefacts and digitise the museum.
“Not only have I streamlined office automation and digitised library management, [but] I have also created a first-of-its-kind graphic and multimedia studio at the museum for academic work, making presentations for visitors as well as for designing and printing of the museum’s exclusive range of merchandise,” he informed the publication.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)