There are around 19,000 ancient artefacts at Varendra Research Museum.
This is the first museum in Bangladesh, which was established around 100 years ago. Housed in a single-storey building in Rajshahi city, the museum has a rich collection of ancient statues, pottery and plaques in terracotta, coins, puthis (ancient Bengali and Sanskrit manuscripts written on leaves or on wood), stone inscription, pottery shards, statuettes and earthen and stone utensils. Some of these are very rare in the world.
However, due to severe space constraints, only 1,427 of the relics are on display in 11 galleries of the museum. The rest of the collection are lying uncared for in five storerooms.
Hence, visitors are also being deprived of seeing the rare ancient archaeological treasures.
The museum also lacks maintenance facilities, resulting in the damage to the rare and precious archaeological pieces. Besides, some of the artefacts were stolen from the museum due to a lax security there.
On top of this, around 4,000 artefacts, which have been collected over the last 30 years, are yet to be catalogued.
Though the main task of the archaeological museum is to do research, it has not been done for many years. The last journal of the museum that is maintained by Rajshahi University was published in 2004.
However, the museum authority said it was going to publish a journal by June-July this year.
Dr Saifuddin Chowdhury, former director of the museum and a retired professor of Rajshahi University's folklore department said all the museums in the world displayed 20 percent of their total archaeological collections considering their visitors' taste.
The artefacts on display are replaced by other relics kept in storerooms every three years. But, in Varendra museum, it had not been done for over 12 years, he added.
Dr Saifuddin Chowdhury continued, "The artefacts can get damaged as there is no air conditioning system in the storerooms. The ancient coins are not on display though there is a huge collection of this item. The museum authority can make replicas of the gold coins and keep those on display."
Motlebur Rahman, a college teacher who went to visit the museum, said, "So far I know, this museum has a collection of 15,000 to 20,000 ancient archaeological pieces and documents. But, for the last 15 years I have seen the same items on display."
Abdul Kuddus, deputy-chief maintenance officer of the museum said, "The lion's share of the archaeological collections have been kept in storerooms due to space constraints. It is very difficult to keep such a huge number of artefacts in storerooms. Besides, a lack of skilled technicians and archaeologists makes it hard to take care of these artefacts. Though there is a shortage of manpower, we try our best to preserve the archaeological treasures."
Prof Ali Reza Muhammad Abdul Majid, director of the museum, said, "A master plan has been made for displaying all the artefacts. For this purpose, a suggestion has been given to construct a high-rise building in the open space outside the main building of the museum or turning the residence of the director into a high-rise building and using the upper floors of the building as galleries. The work will start after getting the budget for it."
There are around 5,000 ancient statues in the museum. Most of those are Buddhist, Hindu and Jain sculptures made during the Pala and Sena eras between the fifth and 12th centuries. Out of the 5,000, only 795 sculptures are kept on display. Some of the statues are also kept on the veranda of the museum. During a recent visit, The Business Standard found some of the sculptures on the veranda broken.
Around 2,000 terracotta, including plaques of Indus Valley civilization, are in the collection of the museum. All of these are 5,000 years old. The terracotta were collected from Paharpur, Mahasthangarh, Gour, Pandua and Mainamati archaeological sites. However, out of these huge collections, only 350 terracotta plaques and potteries are on display.
The museum has a collection of around 6,500 ancient coins made of gold, silver, brass and other mixed metal. There are some rare collections of coins like silver coins from 300-400 BC, coins of King Shashanka era in the seventh century and 78 gold coins. However, only 72 coins are kept on display due to the scarcity of space. None of the gold coins are kept on display for security reasons.
There are 5,000 puthi manuscripts, most of which are written in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Bangla. Two manuscripts of 'Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita' written on palm leaves sometime between 1273 and 1300 are also in the collection. However, only 15 of the manuscripts are on display.