10 must-visit museums in India

These museums, both old and new, offer up a fascinating kaleidoscope of the India story.

Museum. A word that for most Indians comes with a groan if it means going to one, or a shrug if it doesn’t. No, for all its riches and traditions and heritage and diversity, India is among the most ‘under-museumed’ of the world’s major countries. As repositories of a nation’s heritage and knowledge, most countries have prioritised museums as the best way to remember and pay tribute to a shared, collective past. The emerging news about the destruction of the National Museum of India in New Delhi – the largest of India’s museums both in area and collection size – and the absence of information on when a ‘replacement’ museum is to come up, has left a concerned few bewildered.

In these unprecedented times, here’s a look at some must-visit museums for those who seek to know the land and its stories better. Yes, in keeping with the best of global trends, many are integrating interactivity, building in more comprehensive scope and sustainable design, building with advanced technology, including apt temperature and humidity controls and encouraging visitors of all ages to engage with their content. The private sector is stepping in, and a number of niche, subject-specific museums have emerged in recent years to boost the country’s museum credentials.

A mix of the old and new, here’s our look at some of India’s must-see museums.

Salar Jung Museum

The sprawling Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad has a diverse collection of objet’s d’art from across the globe.

Notable as much for having more than a million objects in its exhibits (which makes it one of the largest such collections in the world), as well as for belonging to a single family, the Salar Jung is one of India’s oldest and most impressive. Originally a private art collection of the Salar Jung family, the collection today is notable for its sculptures, paintings, carvings, textiles, manuscripts, ceramics, metallic artifacts, carpets, clocks, and furniture.
Location: Hyderabad | Type: Regional general | Opened: 1951

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya

Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghrahalaya, CSMVS, Mumbai, Museum
The collection at the stately CSMVS is as impressive as its Indo-Saracenic architecture.

Mumbai’s primary museum, formerly the Prince of Wales Museum, CSMVS was constructed to commemorate the visit of King George V, the then Prince of Wales, to India. The building itself is a landmark – a fusion of architectural styles amalgamating influences from Hyderabad’s Golconda Fort, Bijapur’s Gol Gumbaz, Mughal and Maratha structures, and Indo-Saracenic styles of architecture, and is listed as a Grade I Heritage Building. With about 50,000 exhibits, it has since grown to be the primary repository of art, architecture, and natural history of the region.
Location: Mumbai | Type: Regional general | Opened: 1922

Indian Museum

The Indian Museum in Kolakata is one of the oldest and largest museums in the country.

Founded as the Imperial Museum by the Asiatic Society of Bengal more than two centuries ago, it is not just India’s oldest museum but also one of the oldest globally. Some of the many landmark events associated with it include the founding of the Geological Survey of India, the Zoological Survey of India, and the Anthropological Survey of India, which are still housed here. With over 100,000 artefacts of Indian art, archaeology, anthropology, geology, zoology, and economic botany, the Indian Museum is also one of the largest museums in the country, and till the founding of the National Museum in Delhi in 1960, was referred to as the nation’s ‘national museum’.
Location: Kolkata | Type: Regional general | Opened: 1814

Bihar Museum

Bihar Museum, contemporary, Patna, museum, India
Patna’s high-concept Bihar Museum is as contemporary as they come.

A state-built museum is a major landmark anywhere, and the still-new Bihar Museum in Patna is drawing admirers for its design and content as it seeks to represent one of India’s oldest civilisational centres. Ambitiously imagined, the 25,000-square metres galleries and marketplace concept – designed by Japanese architects Maki and Associates – is a low-rise space. The ₹500-crore museum is designed to provide a sense of time for visitors walking through different spaces to contextualise history with the present moment. Acknowledged widely as one of India’s best new museums.
Location: Patna | Type: Regional general | Opened: 2015

Gyan Museum

Gyan Museum, Jaipur, collector, museum, India
One man’s lifetime of collecting is showcased in one place in the Gyan Museum in Jaipur.

In Jaipur’s plethora of tourist stops, Sitapura is unlikely to find a mention. Yet, this rather industrial southern suburb of the city is where the Gyan Museum, which houses about 2,500 artefacts highlighting about 3,000 years of human cultural heritage, is located. Textiles, paintings, metal art, antique jewellery, and inscriptions that were sourced over decades by gemologist Gyan Chand Dhaddha, are featured in the Paul Mathieu-designed structure which was started in his memory by his sons.
Location: Jaipur | Type: Artefacts | Opened: 2015

Partition Museum

Partition Museum, Amritsar, India, history, museum
The Partition Museum in Amritsar is high on content as well as emotion.

The partition of India in 1947 remains one of the most tragic episodes in the nation’s history. The Partition Museum comprehensively charts the Partition with an evocative narrative arc that moves from pre-Independence, proceeds to the freedom struggle, the early demands for separate countries, and ultimately the Partition and its consequences. This is one of the most moving museums for Indians of any age.
Location: Amritsar | Type: History | Opened: 2015

Calico Museum of Textiles

Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahmedabad, textile, museum, India
The richness of India’s textile traditions is showcased superbly at the Calico Museum of Textiles in Ahmedabad.

Once called the Manchester of India for its abundance of textile mills, it is fitting that Ahmedabad was home to India’s first textile museum. The Calico Museum of Textiles, which covers technical studies of Indian handicraft and industrial textiles and houses a historic collection of Indian fabrics, is today considered to be India’s premier textile museum.
Location: Ahmedabad | Type: Textile | Opened: 1949

Amrapali Museum

Amrapali Museum, Jaipur, India, ornaments, museum
The Amrapali Museum holds you in thrall with its array of traditional Indian jewellery and ornamental objects.

Spend hours oohing over pendants, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, even ear covers, borla (head ornament), mukut (bridegroom’s crown), araipatta (waist bands), bichhwa (toe rings) and other forms of personal adornment, their beauty a testament to the skills of Indian craftsmen. Discover more unusual objects – sceptres, paandaans (a box containing all the paraphernalia for making a betel-leaf paan), khaasdaan (a serving dish for paan), kamandalu (water pot), hookah, anklets, inkpots, rose-water sprinklers and much more in this, most unique of museums.
Location: Jaipur | Type: Jewellery | Opened: 2015

Heritage Transport Museum

Heritage transport museum, manesar, india, automobile, museum, car, vehicle
Manesar’s Heritage Transport Museum has everything automobile to satisfy the autophile in you.

If cars, buses, trucks, even trams, rickshaws, and all other forms of objects related to transportation in India interest you, this is the perfect museum for you. The Heritage Transport Museum showcases the evolution of transportation in India and sets a benchmark in interpretation, exhibition, and communication. As the first private museum of its scale in India, it is built to enthrall the automobile enthusiast.
Location: Manesar | Type: Transport | Opened: 2013

Goa Chitra Museum

Goa Chitra, museum, Benaulim, Goa, India
The Goa Chitra Museum in Benaulim is a visual interpretation of Goa down the ages.

For those interested in Goa beyond its beaches, Goa Chitra would be a perfect place to start. With about 4,000 objects on display, the collections of artefacts represent the culture of ancient Goa. Each is supplemented by information collected in situ by interviewing elder members of that community. Overflowing with household and agricultural tools, musical instruments, tools of the trade used by carpenters, tailors, goldsmiths, cobblers, barbers, blacksmiths and masons, traditional games, and even chariots – it’s a window into a Goa that time forgot.
Location: Benaulim | Type: Ethnographic | Opened: 2010

Read more.

Take a virtual stroll through the Louvre’s magnificent collection

Discover the treasures of India’s museums at the Bihar Museum Biennale

Road to the FUTURES: The Smithsonian will invite in travellers with an exciting new exhibition