Lost in the shuffle - Precious artefacts gather dust in Taxila museum

By Zahid Hameed, Daily Times, May 24, 2006

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Taxila’s archaeological museum, situated approximately 35 kilometres from the capital, is probably the most conspicuous among the country’s cultural museums, as it exhibits centuries-old cultural heritage and highlights the rich history of the Gandhara civilisation.

However, the museum is now the very face of desolation, as locals, including residents of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, scarcely step into its neglected premises to appreciate the remains of the civilisation.

Museum officials said that people did not realise the importance of the artefacts. The government’s neglect towards the museum had led to its deterioration, they said, adding that the previous government had allocated only Rs 0.5 million for the preservation of cultural sites and museums in the Rawalpindi division, which was not enough. However, they expressed satisfaction with the present government, which had allocated Rs 100 million for a ten-year project that began in 2003, with the aim to preserve the country’s cultural heritage.

Around 118,000 people, they said, visited the museum every year, adding that more visitors could be attracted if the government included cultural history in the curricula at primary schools and made it compulsory for students to make annual study trips to museums.

“Museums don’t attract people the way places like Murree and Swat do,” said Abdul Ghafoor, the museum’s assistant curator, and suggested educating people about history and old civilisations, in which, he said, the media could play a vital role.

The museum is divided into three main halls and features around 7,000 ancient artifacts, which are classified into categories of sculptures and precious jewelry, written scripts, domestic items such as household vessels and toilet articles, personal ornaments, pottery tools and implements, weapons and other miscellaneous artefacts.

The museum building covers only one-fourth of the original plan, as the remaining parts have yet to be completed. Officials said that they would request the government to allocate funds from its ten-year programme to complete the remaining portions of the museum.

The entry ticket for the general public is Rs 10, while students can enter free. Though schoolchildren from Islamabad, Rawalpindi and adjoining areas visit the museum, teachers’ insufficient knowledge of ancient history makes study tours ineffective, said Abdul Ghafoor. Though the staff museum tried to inform students about the ancient artefacts displayed, time constraints were a hindrance as the tours did not last long enough, they said.

A beautiful garden around the museum provides visitors with the ideal picnic spot. “Over the weekend, we spend time in the museum’s ground, as there is no park anywhere else in Taxila,” said three local visitors, adding that though they visited the garden regularly, they had entered the museum only a few times.

When asked, most people living in the museum’s vicinity said that they did not know what the Gandhara civilisation was. A foreign visitor was the only person who knew that it was the name of an ancient kingdom, which was limited to a small region in present day Pakistan and Afghanistan. The museum is quite a popular haunt for foreigners. “I am visiting Taxila for the first time. I have found it really interesting and informative,” said Nakzto, a Japanese visitor, adding that museums were valuable to society as they preserved the past and educated people, especially children.

Hassan, another assistant curator, said that the number of foreigners visiting Taxila had decreased after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre, adding that it had been a temporary decrease, as tourists had finally begun visiting again. The preservation of Buddhist relics was a beneficial step for Pakistan’s image in the global community, he said.

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