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Where are India's textile museums?

Our nation has a diverse textile and cultural heritage. Yet, much of it remains undocumented 

The Kheta embroidered textile of Bihar is influenced from a river’s movement and the life around it.
The Kheta embroidered textile of Bihar is influenced from a river’s movement and the life around it. (HT_PRINT)

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While India is home to many relics that reflect its rich cultural history, our textiles are among the true vanguards of our values and living traditions. 

They help tell the story of India as a melting pot of cultures, and serve as a constant reminder of our regional diversity. 

Also read: Artists who are darning a new textile art story

One of the world’s oldest surviving garments, the sari, for example, is a reminder of how Indian fashion has evolved over the decades. 

Yet, our textiles lack adequate repositories to showcase their cultural and historic relevance. 

For a nation that is home to arguably the widest and the most diverse textile heritage, the absence or inadequacy of national institutions to house them is, frankly, unfortunate. Barring the Calico Museum of Textiles and a handful of galleries, India lacks adequate or suitable homes for our textile archives. The absence points towards a lack of appreciation of our textile legacy. 

Why can't some of the textile budget be used to create singular professionally governed National Museum of Textiles? 

While museums across the world boast of far smaller archives, they have thrived on the strength of both public and private patronage. The textile archive at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are among some shining examples. 

The V&A's collection of textile relics from India has been a source of some of the most authoritative works on South Asian textiles. 

Attention: The Indian museum  

Indian museums struggle in comparison. While many of the existing craft and textile museums suffer from neglect, the few that are intact hardly offer enough collections to reflect our rich and varied textile heritage. 

Plus, some objects aren't preserved properly, or remain largely undocumented. 

Some of the steps that could be taken to address the issues are: firstly, professionalise the governance of the public museums. 

Secondly, museums are often viewed as memorials to objects of the past. There needs to be a shift in mindset. During my visits to museums across the world, I have noticed how they become dynamic and vibrant public spaces in their respective cities. Museums cannot be viewed merely as grand architectural sites; they need to been seen as living, working spaces that are constantly evolving and engaging with the public. 

They function as experiential centres of learning and scholarship and serve to inspire participants by providing a bridge between the glories of the past and possibilities of the future. The objects they showcase are not a mere accumulation of material things, but live examples and evidence of the evolution of human thought. 

For our textile museums to thrive, we require, besides investment, a newer narrative and better storytelling to pique the interest of the public.

Also read: Celebrating sustainability through India's textile history

Radharaman Hari Kothandaraman is the founder, CEO and principal designer of The House of Angadi, and the creative director of design label Advaya and ready-to-wear label Alamelu.



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