Abode of peace

43-buddha-galeries Buddha galleries at the National Museum in Delhi | Arvind Jain

Across the road from the National Museum in Delhi is the upcoming Buddha museum, which is expected to be one of the key icons of India’s Buddha diplomacy. It is housed appropriately in a building which was once the office of the Archaeological Survey of India, an organisation that has been on a ‘discover more Buddhist sites’ mission since the days of its first director-general, Alexander Cunningham.

“We started working on the museum soon after we had set up a virtual exhibition on the shared Buddhist heritage of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation countries,’’ said an official.

Spread across nine galleries, the museum aims to give visitors a look into the Buddha’s world—his life, philosophy, principles of gender and duality—and art from the Kushans, under whose rule Buddhist art flourished considerably. With pieces from the reserve collection of the National Museum, the ASI and the Indian Museum in Kolkata, visitors can get a glimpse of the sheer expanse of Buddhism spread across the subcontinent. It strives to put the Buddha and his thoughts into proper context.

For instance, in many museums across the world, Gandhara art is labelled as being from Pakistan. “Pakistan has used this very successfully,’’ said historian Himanshu Prabha Ray. “India does not talk about Gandhara at all. We have large Gandharan collections in our museums. We have connections. We can do far more with geopolitics.”

More than just about the objects, the museum is also about the experience. The viewer starts with learning about the Buddha’s life, walks through his journey and finishes with the relics. The bones, which now lay in the National Museum and are visited by devotees from across the world, will be enshrined in a space where they can be worshipped.