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Past preserved

The Madras Museum recently celebrated 150 years of its existence by organising seminars and exhibitions, which aimed at educating the public on the need to preserve the relics of a bygone era.

SETHA COLLEGE" (dead college) as the Government Museum in Chennai was referred to in local parlance, was one of the major attractions of the Kaanum Pongal outings till the Seventies. But it gradually lost out to an ever growing number of amusement parks.

In 1846, on the desire of the Madras Literary Society to start a Museum of Economic Geology, the Government Museum's zoological collection formed the nucleus of the new museum. Even as the collection increased to include artefacts, ethnographic culture, physical anthropology etc., the name "satha college" stuck on. And the road leading to it was named College Road. The erstwhile premises of the Collector's courts on Pantheon Road were acquired by the Government to set up the museum. In 1850, surgeon Edward Balfour took charge and the museum was thrown open to the public in 1851.

Madras Museum, the second oldest in India, celebrated its 150 years with an international seminar, a special exhibition and the launch of a website. The focus of the celebrations was conservation of stone objects as the museum houses the rare remains of Andhra art, especially the Amravati Stupa (second and third Century A.D.), a few of which are displayed at the London museum.

While the experts attending the exhibition discussed the advances made in the restoration techniques like laser beam, the aim of the exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery was to educate the public about the need to conserve ancient art, culture and lifestyle. Types of rocks and stones — igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic as well as things that affect monuments — vegetal growth, deposits of algae, gypsum and lichen, oil and dust were explained with pictures and illustrations. The photographs of the famous Dola Manadapam at Mamallapuram brought out the striking effects of restoration. But the time-tested paper pulp and immersion method used to remove soluble salts was not displayed.

The civil engineering department of IIT, Chennai and Gem Granites collaborated in the project. The museum plans to reorganise the Amravati collection and safeguard the precious sculptural pieces from pollution.

RAMAA NARAYANAN

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