A peaceful silence reigns in the courtyard as students sit in rapt attention before their guru. Nearby, a couple of cowherds squat idly, watching farmers going about their day’s work. Ideally, this rustic scene should have been accompanied by the jingle of bangles, traditional folk songs and strains of conversation. Yet, not a sound is to be heard. That’s because the only flesh and blood here are of visitors. The rest of the landscape, people included, are made of stones, brick and cement. The Siddhagiri Museum, located some 10 km from the busy district of Kolhapur, is an entire village recreated in sculpture.
The museum was conceptualised by Adrushya Kadhsiddheshwar Swamiji, head of the Siddhagiri Gurukul Trust, in a bid to create awareness about the ancient ways of village life. “The idea was taken from the concept of a self-sufficient village propagated by Mahatma Gandhi. According to him, the basic necessities should be fulfilled by the village itself,” says Sanket Sagvekar, one of the trustees. “It is the gram culture that has made India what it is today. But over the course of time, we have forgotten about the benefits of the traditional way of living. Now is the time to bring up the self-sufficient model yet again,” says Sagvekar.
Built on an eight-acre plot, the museum was launched in March 2007 and finally completed this year with additions and alterations. Two new sections have been added to the main structure to showcase India’s prowess in science. “One is about the great scientists in ancient India whose knowledge about ayurveda, physics and chemistry knew no bounds. Then there is the Garden of Science, where the 12 ancient branches of science have been represented in the form of tableaus,” explains Sagvekar. The life-like images of ancient sages like the mighty Kashyap and Agastya draw a lot of visitors to the museum. The museum’s popularity has seen a slow and steady increase. While a year ago only a handful of people knew about it, today it attracts nearly 15,000 visitors on a daily basis.
A lot of visitors are so enamoured by these picture-perfect creations that they are now calling this museum ‘The Madame Tussauds’ of India. However, there’s a difference. These sculptures have not been created with wax, but with locally available materials. “The stones and bricks have been wrapped inside a wire gauze and then layered with cement,” says Sagvekar. Part of the money generated from the museum is utilised for making additions to the structure, and the rest goes into building infrastructure for the neighbouring villages. The trust now plans to create similar museums in and around urban centres like Mumbai and Pune.