Museums are cultural institutions that shape the narrative and cultural heritage of the country. Traditions, knowledge and values are conserved and documented in such institutions and are exhibited. It facilitates dialogues between individuals with communities and displays the country’s diverse cultural heritage. As tourist destinations they are a major source of learning that showcase splendid heritage by audio-visual means or via guided tours.
Staring at the collections of Indian art and bronze sculptures, I stood amazed inside the second oldest museum in India. The Government Museum or the Madras Museum has more than 40 galleries dedicated to zoology, anthropology, geology, botany and archaeology. It is an architectural marvel that opened in 1854 and has the largest collection of Roman antiques outside Europe. The museum is my favourite go-to place in Egmore, Chennai as just a single visit does not do justice to the large collection of knowledge. Chennai is a traditional hub and is also called the ‘Gateway to South India’.
But alas! There is an online booking site for tickets now , although nominal to enter the museum. This got me thinking about why the entrance to museums must be free.
Why Should Entrance To Museums Be Free? – My Chennai Rendezvous
The Madras Museum – a museum of human history and culture
The Madras Museum is an excellent place to spend the afternoon and also houses the Museum Theater and The Connemara Library. The popular museum is the second-largest in India and covers an area of around 16.25 acres. Walking around the museum complex in the peace of the afternoon is cathartic for me.
There are six buildings and 46 galleries that portray artefacts from various fields. From archaeology, numismatics, natural history, sculptures, and Amaravati paintings to palm-leaf manuscripts. This is where I reflect upon images of my childhood as I had spent many hours wandering the complex under the shade of the green trees.You can explore the historical background and sight-see various monuments here. Museums and art galleries to me are educational institutions and play an important part in portraying the journey of a country, its culture and its civilization.
Fort St. George – first British fortress in India
In my quest to find a free to enter museum, I reached another place of interest in Chennai. The Fort St. George Museum that was opened first to the public in 1948. I had to pay a nominal fee to enter as the display in the 10 galleries beckoned me. As a lover of art and culture, the entrance fee did not hinder me.
However, does it impact others from visiting this beautiful attraction? As I wandered past the museum, I saw the pistols, cannons, various British army uniforms, silverware and more.Fort St. George was founded in the year 1644 and houses the famous St Mary’s Church, a museum that contains antiques and artifacts from the British rule and Wellesley House where you see the paintings of the Fort Governor. The rich collection of history and artefacts in the museum was a learning experience.
It is maintained by the Archeological Survey of India, a government organisation. So, I began to ask myself once again why shouldn’t the entrance to all museums be free? Although, I am grateful to the organisation for charging a nominal fee, it should be open to the public with no charge.
Here are some of the facts and reasons to support my plea.
Art shouldn’t cost a dime and it should be absolutely free. These are free-to-enter meccas of learning and I need not have to worry about cash in my wallet. Thankfully, that’s the motto of many of the globe’s finest art museums. The people of the world would agree that art is a public service. Some of the global museums that are on my bucket list are Madrid’s Museo del Prado, The Broad in Los Angeles, and The Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. among others. So, apart from my plane ticket, I should be able to leave my cash in my pocket and enter free.
Experiencing the incredible world of art, history and culture is educational in nature. Museums are where I have gained knowledge about different things in society through the various presentations and exhibitions. So, why shouldn’t everyone gain knowledge and insight too, especially children in their learning years? Entrance fees are restrictive and a hindrance to imparting knowledge and the country’s cultural pride.
Dakshinachitra – a cultural heritage center
I continued my day with a visit to Dakshinachitra that taught me to appreciate the creative aspects and nuances of South India. It offered me a chance to interact with artisans and engage in the diversity of Indian heritage. This museum in Muttukadu in Tamil Nadu always excites me. Here, you will find a confluence of art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts and performing arts of South India.
I wandered past authentic homes that are displayed in a vernacular style that represent regions from where they belong. The Dakshinachitra Heritage Museum is a project by the Madras Craft Foundation which is an NGO. My request to the government or private sponsors would be to make the entrance to the place free to encourage children and adults alike to visit the beauty of South-Indian architectural splendour.
ECR – where the road beckons
As I drive along East Coast Road in Chennai, I reach the world-renowned UNESCO site of Mahabalipuram. This for me is an outdoor museum of architectural splendour that I have visited many times. Sadly, the entrance fee is expensive and I pay it with remorse. The parking ticket is also charged as an extra. However, entrance to the temple for children below 15 years of age is free. A World Heritage Site is India’s pride and a country’s cultural heritage should be its talking point to foreigners and locals.
Mahabalipuram – UNESCO World Heritage Site of a temple town
Let me share the elegance of the marvellous ruins, a top thing to see in Chennai while in India. I was lucky to find a boatman to take me to explore the hidden shore temples in the deep sea. This is where you will be transported into the era of the Pallavas. There were seven Shore Temples out of which only one stands unsubmerged.
The Shore Temple that escaped the wrath of the sea still remains elegant along the shore. This temple got its name as it is located on the shores of Bay of Bengal. The silhouette of the temple architecture at sunset amid the sounds of dashing waves in the background is delightful. I wander along to the many caves such as Trimurti, Panchapandavar, Tiger, Atira Chanda among others and go back in time.
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Rock Cut Art and more
The Arjuna’s Penance, Panch Rathas, Lighthouse and the Sea Shell Museum are wonderful to see by foot. I continue to look for stories in the carvings in the temples of Mahabalipuram that were built by the kings of the Pallava dynasty. The rock-cut caves, temples and monuments lie on the Coromandel Coast which faces the Bay of Bengal. The different structures, temples made from a single rock and Pallava art are excellent in creative skills. This is why it is referred to as an ‘open-air museum’.
In my opinion, all museums around the world should be free. They should be open to the public without any entrance fee as they are a source of education. Museums should be accessible to everyone irrespective of their financial status and should encourage all visitors. This is a home of knowledge and is the cultural pride of a country to which free entry should be the norm. The government, private or corporate sponsors can subsidise the maintenance of the museums further so as to not pass on the charges to the tourists at large.
Free Museums around the world : The National Gallery, London | Smithsonian Museum Washington D.C.| Metropolitan Museum of Art New York | Museo del Prado, Spain and more.