Located at the junction of Strand Road and Hare street is Kolkata’s one of the heritage buildings The Metcalfe Hall. I got a chance to visit the place in the year 2019. This building now houses a museum which is all about Kolkata and in quite an exclusive way. Although there are quite a few museums in Kolkata like the Indian Museum, the museum at Victoria Memorial and now the very popular Wax Museum, I found the Metcalfe Hall Museum has a different appeal and charm to it. Here in this blog post I have come up with a virtual tour of the museum.
Everything that I saw in the Metcalfe Hall Museum had a relation with the city of Joy. From old paintings, black and white photos of some common Kolkata neighbourhoods, pictures and artefacts of places that can be called the heart and soul of Kolkata. From Tagore to old posters of Ray’s movies, from Coffee House to buying roshogulla in the market, the museum celebrates Kolkata in every way.
There are audio-visual effects inside the museum and not just that you can see beautiful Alpona done (Painting done on the floor which is basically white in colour and considered sacred at every Bengali household) at the entrance which is so specific to the Bengali culture and tradition.
No Bengali puja or celebration be it a wedding or Durga Puja is complete without an Alpona done by our maa, mashi, pishi or didis. That’s what I found absolutely striking about the Metcalfe Hall Museum. It’s everything about Kolkata and so I think the name of the museum I am Calcutta or Ami Calcutta Museum goes well with the theme.
A brief history behind Metcalfe Hall, Kolkata
Situated on Strand Road, BBD Bagh, Kolkata and overlooking the Hoogly river the Metcalfe Hall is a restored building that dates back to the Colonial era in India. Earlier it housed the Calcutta Public Library and then the Imperial Library.
The construction is a perfect example of neoclassical architecture which was quite common during the Colonial rule in India. The building was named after Sir Charles T Metcalfe, the governor-general of India (1835-1836), for his contribution and efforts towards ensuring greater freedom of the press.
It is said that the building resembles the Temple of Winds in Greece. With 30 Corinthian columns and colonnades, the building has a gothic feel to it. The pillars are around 36ft in height.
The main entrance has a series of steps is beautifully decorated in red and white Alpona and is one of the favourite places for photography lovers.
The Metcalfe Hall Museum is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm daily. It remains closed on Mondays and all National Holidays. The best part Photography is allowed. But I am not sure about videography.
How to reach the museum
The nearest metro to the Metcalfe Hall museum is Chandni chowk, from there it’s 20 minutes walk. Nearby popular places are St John’s Church. BBD Bagh is also well connected with buses from any part of Kolkata.
Virtual Tour of the Metcalfe Hall Museum
Let’s begin with the virtual tour of the museum, almost the entire space in the building is dedicated to the life, culture and heritage of Kolkata. As I entered there was Alpona decorated on the floor which resembled the Victoria Memorial, boys playing football so symbolic of the city.
Then in one room is a rickshaw, the one pulled with hand and it had so many letters with comments. It’s written there Love Notes to Kolkata Kolkata Bhalobashi. You can take a sticker and write it down how you feel about Kolkata and stick it on the rickshaw. I somehow missed it as I was so excited to explore the museum. It is one of a kind I tell you.
In another room on the ground floor is a gallery of black and white photos of important buildings and also of the Metcalfe Hall before restoration and certain popular neighbourhoods of Kolkata. There are sections named City of Surprises, City of Memories, City of Confluence, City of Influence.
A flight of stairs will take you to the first floor dedicated to the City’s long history and love for cinema. The walls decorated with frames of popular old cinema posters and photos are sure to give you a feeling of nostalgia. The name given to this gallery is the City of Memories. I clicked a lot of photos in this particular place and it looks spectacular.
There is another room dedicated to the art and culture of Bengal. It focuses on drama, Tagore and other eminent personalities. Then the City of Confluence shows the multi-cultural aspect of Kolkata and focuses on the various communities like the Jews, Chinese who came and settled in Kolkata. Then there are galleries with frames related to art, drama, music, visual culture.
Everything symbolic of the Bengali culture and tradition finds a place in the Metcalfe Hall Museum. The huge Topor (headgear worn by Bengali Hindu grooms at the wedding) too finds a place and looks marvellous.
I posed for a few clicks with my husband just to make the moment memorable and feel proud of being part of such a grand culture. From vintage ad posters, classic book covers, typewriters everything about the place will make you realise that element that is so unique about Kolkata.
There is another marvellous installation of Goddess Durga which is again an integral part of every Bengali ever born. Durga Puja is synonymous with Kolkata, the city decks up in grandeur and light during the five-day festival that takes place generally in the month of October (Bengali- Ashwin).
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There are paintings and posters depicting scenes from day to day life in Kolkata. Like people fish in the fish market, then scenes from the Coffee House, people buying Misti, music lovers singing, art, theatre, cinema and other such popular culture which is characteristic of every nook and corner in Kolkata.
It also shows popular buildings and monuments, the Howrah Bridge in Kolkata, the yellow taxi, tram and other such vehicles that are related to communication and are the backbone of the city.
It took me two long hours to go through the entire museum. Generally, I have seen people find it very boring to visit a museum. But the Ami Kolkata Museum in the Metcalfe Hall is absolutely different.
It will make you nostalgic, tell you how the city evolved and also will show you the culture and tradition of Kolkata and in a bigger frame of Bengalis. It is a melting pot of food, culture, history, heritage and tradition in Kolkata.
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