Jawaharlal Nehru State Museum, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh

The establishment of the Jawaharlal Nehru State Museum at Itanagar, the capital town of Arunachal Pradesh was sponsored by the State Implementation Committee under the chairmanship of Sri R. D. Pradhan, His Excellency the Governor and Vice-Chairmanship of Sri Gegong Apang, the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, to commemorate the Birth Centenary of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. This Museum has been set up by shifting the central Museum of the Government from Shillong on 15 January,1990.

It may be mentioned that the museum movement in Arunachal Pradesh was started in the year 1956 when the Research Department of the State was established under the overall guidance and supervision of the late Dr. Verner Elwin, the then Adviser for Tribal Affairs. Establishment of museums in Arunachal Pradesh for preservation of the material culture of the people was prompted by the guiding principles and philosophy of late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru the then Prime Minister of India. Elwin could probably visualize the after effect of the winds of change, which just started blowing in the hitherto unknown land of rising sun.

Modern gadgets of the civilized world started penetrating slowly in the different parts of the area and the people were facing the process of transition in the implementation of the various developmental programmes. In other tribal areas of the world urbanization and modernization had already caused sufficient age to the traditional culture of the people by then. This was other factor, which made Dr. Elwin initiate setting up of the museums in Arunachal Pradesh, the then NEFA. Six district museums one each at Bomdila, Ziro, Aalo, Pasighat, Tezu and Khonsa were set up. The Central Museum was organized at Shillong. Establishment of the Museums preceded collection of specimens of arts and crafts of the different tribal groups inhabiting the districts. In course of time and when the archaeological activities in Arunachal Pradesh started gaining momentum two site museums for preservation and display of the artefacts unearthed during excavation were established one each at Malinithan in West Siang District and Itanagar in Papum Pare District. There are now ten museums in Arunachal Pradesh. Efforts are being made to establish museum at each of the headquarters of the newly established districts.

Socio-Cultural Heritage:

Arunachal Pradesh, the so-called formidable and mystical land of the bygone days has attained statehood on the 20th day of February 1987. Spreading over an area of 83,743 Sq.Kms. of land along the southern slopes of eastern Himalayas to the slopes of the Patkai Hills around the Brahmaputra Valley, Arunachal Pradesh stands like a sentinel of the country in the North-East. It has picturesque hilly terrain criss-crossed by a number of mighty rivers and rivulets.

For effective administration and meaningful development, the state has been divided into sixteen districts namely Tawang, East Kameng, West Kameng, Upper Subansiri, Lower Subansiri, Papum Pare, East Siang, West Siang, Upper Siang, Dibang Valley, Lower Dibang Valley, Lohit, Changlang, Tirap, Kurung Kumey, and Anjaw. Some 25 major tribal groups live here who are broadly Indo-Mongoloid racially with distinct and varied culture, language, dress, custom, religion and so on, although they have compelling likeness in respect of agricultural technique, housing, lack of an indigenous script (with one or two exceptions); an attitude to and practice of human cure. They together constitute 63.66 percent of the population of the state, density being 13 persons per sq. km. The tribal communities contribute to the great human association of the State are forming integrated groups, but independent of each other and living their lives separately, making the settlement pattern of Arunachal Pradesh a unique cultural landscape. The people of Arunachal Pradesh have a rich socio-cultural heritage. The societies are patriarchal and patrilinear. Primogeniture is the fundamental law of inheritance though variations are not very uncommon. Endogamy is generally followed and the rule of clan exogamy strictly observed. Polygamy is socially sanctioned. The people called differently for maintenance of law and order in the society and undertaking welfare and other activities.

Agriculture is the mainstay of livelihood, although some other vocations have also taken run up vigorously of late for economic development. Rice is the staple food. Millet and maize are taken by some. Each society has its own code of ethics followed from time immemorial and continued till today. Traditions are respected. In respect of handicrafts, Arunachal Pradesh may be called a veritable reservoir, here we find weaving, painting, basketry, mask-making, ivory-work, black smithy, doll making, pottery, carpentry and so on. Weaving is an inevitable item of socio cultural life of the people It is a secondary occupation of the women folk amongst the majority of the people. Along with weaving, growing of cotton and spinning of yarn are also practiced by some people. Indigenous weaving is done in loin looms, which is a portable equipment and can be carried easily to the places of work. Fly shuttle looms are a later introduction.

The women of Arunachal are expert in the art of weaving. They are very particular about colours and have a beautiful sense of colour combination. The weaving designs are basically geometrical, varying from a formal arrangement of lines and bands to elaborate patterns of diamonds and lozenges. The designs are sometimes enhanced by internal repetition and other decorations. A few of the remarkable products are Sherdukpen shawls, Apatani jackets and scarves, Adi skirts, jackets and bags, Mishmi shawls, blouse and jackets and Wancho bags and loin clothes. Carpet making is the speciality of the Monpa girls. They weave lovely colourful carpets with dragon, geometric and floral designs. The choice of colour and the colour combination represents the identity of the tribe and unique aesthetic sense. Wood carving is a tradition with some of the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh.

The Monpas, Khamtis and Wanchos occupy significant place in this art The Monpa wood carver makes beautiful cups, dishes, fruit-bowls and magnificent masks for ceremonial dances and pantomimes. The Khambas and Membas also carve wooden masks. The Khamtis make beautiful religious images, figuring of dancers, toys and other objects. Very beautiful woodcarving is made by the Wanchos. This art of the Wanchos was earlier associated mainly with head hunting and human head dominated everything that they made. But nowadays variety of other objects are included. They carve beautiful tobacco pipes, drinking mugs, human figures and so on. Cane and bamboo handicrafts of Arunachal are of a very high standard. Most of the domestic requirements are made of cane and bamboo. Hats of different sizes and shapes, various kinds of baskets, cane vessels, a wide variety of cane belts, woven and plain, elaborately woven brassieres of cane and fiber, bamboo mugs with carvings, a variety of ornaments and necklaces are some of the products that deserve special mention. The techno-typology of the baskets have definite correlation with the topography of the state and function of the people.

Ornament making is another craft very widely practiced in Arunachal Pradesh. Most of the ornament are made of beads, as all the tribes are very fond of various coloured beads, While some people just hang strings of beads round their neck, others such as the Noctes and the Wanchos weave them into very attractive patterns. The Wancho girls particularly are very expert in plaited beadwork. The designs and colour combination are superb. Silvery ornaments are a specialty of the Idu Mishmis. They make fillets, necklaces, lockets and beautiful earrings. Paper making, smithy work, carpentry, pottery and ivory work are other crafts practiced by the people of Arunachal. Smithy work is almost universal. Pottery is the occupation of the womenfolk. The Noctes, Wanchos, Nyishis and Apatanis practice this industry.

Similarly the people also make various kinds of hunting and fishing implements. The wide varieties of these implements include spears, bows and arrows, daos, crossbows, traps, fishing nets etc. Under religious and artistic pursuits mention may be made of scroll painting and making of religious prayer flags. Scroll painting is almost a whole time engagement of the Monpa and Memba artists. The Khamti women make beautiful prayer flags and scroll.

The Museums of Arunachal Pradesh established since 1956 are ethnographic. The two museums established afterwards are archaeological site museums. In the ethnographic museums there are altogether a little over seven thousand specimens which include textiles, basketry, pottery, woodcarving, dress and ornaments, headgears, weapons of war and chase, agricultural tools and implements, fishing implements, painting, household articles, masks, heirlooms and musical instruments.

The foundation stone of Jawaharlal Nehru State Museum, Itanagar was laid by the then President of India, Shri R. Venkataraman on Third February, 1988. The architecture of the building was designed by M/s Benjamin & Benjamin. The building was completed within a record time of eight months. After shifting of the specimen and other display articles from Shillong, it was redisplayed in proper perspective with latest presentation techniques. The State Museum, thus organized was formally inaugurated by Shri R.D. Pradhan, the then Governor of Arunachal Pradesh on 1st January 1990. The aesthetic look at the entrance of the Museum was designed from images and symbols of Buddhism.

The image at the centre is Sangge-chomdande, the Supreme God Lord Buddha and flanked by two dragons and at the side panels are with eight auspicious symbols — Right coiled white conch, Precious umbrella, Victory banner, Golden fish, Wheel, Auspicious drawing, Lotus flower and Vase of treasure These eight auspicious symbols signify the following : deep, far-reaching and melodious sound of the Dharma teachings; wholesome activity of preserving beings from illness, harmful forces; the victory of the activities of one’s own and other’s body; speech and mind over obstacles and negativities; the auspiciousness of the turning of the precious wheel of Buddha’s doctrine; the mutual dependence of religious doctrine and secular affairs; the complete purification of body, speech and mind; and endless rain of long life, wealth and prosperity and all the benefits of this world and liberation.

In the gallery at the ground floor, political and administrative development of the area, socio-cultural heritage of the people and their life style have been depicted with the help of maps and life size dioramas The twenty seven finely executed dioramas represent all the major tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. Each diorama has three to four miniature figure of man and women of the tribe with complete traditional attires and engaged in one form or other kind of domestic chore or agricultural activities. Also exact replica of tribal but of the tribe erected at one side and their ecological setting is shown at the background. Thus, at a glance, the dioramas depict almost all aspects of socio-cultural life and habitat of the people.

The fabricated display maps minutely illustrate a wide range of subject such as administrative growth of the state, distribution of the tribal house types, handicrafts, textile designs, musical instruments, weapons of war and chase and development of historical sites like Itafort, Malinithan, Naksaparbat and Kundil Valley civilization. Some actual specimens of arts and crafts like bronze sculpture of Buddha, wood carving objects, masks, metallic heirlooms, musical instruments have been displayed in show-cases. In this way, the first gallery gives a panoramic view of Arunachal Pradesh which is renovated with the financial assistance of Indian Museum, Kolkata. The second gallery at the upper floor has seven section viz. textiles, archaeology, wood carving, weapons, basketry, ornaments and household articles. More than 500 original and unique specimens on the different tribes of Arunachal Pradesh are in display under these sections. A few notable specimens are :

  • Zilang – Apatanis priest shawl
  • Mode – Idu Mishmi war jacket
  • Golden leaf cover of the Pali Abhidharma
  • Brass lamp stand of 17th century A D
  • Terracotta vase; Tambung
  • Cane bottle of Sherdukpen
  • Miksa-lik – bead necklace of Wancho with human heads as pendant
  • Beyop – Brass disc under garments of Ach
  • Amrailla – Idu Mishmi priest’s cross belt and
  • Religious scroll painting like Jigche and Sangge-chomdande.

The archaeology section has been arranged to provide a glimpse about the heritage of the state. Archaeological findings from the excavated sites of Malinithan, Itafort, Naksaparbat, Bhismaknagar and Parsiparlo have been exhibited to reveal rich cultural heritage of the state.

One more gallery, the Thanka Painting Gallery has been added in the existing seven galleries of the upper floor in the year 2003. The bulk of these Thankas were donated by the Buddhist Cultural Society, Itanagar. The gallery was graciously inaugurated by His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama on 16th December 2003 in a simple but befitting manner.

In the ground floor ethnic groups of Arunachal Pradesh with the help of miniature diorama is exhibited. The entire tribal groups have been portrayed in life-size with their natural habitat and some basic socio-cultural features at the background. Miniature dioramas on ethnic groups of the people have been depicted on the basis of their habitat from west to east Arunachal Pradesh.

In North-East India Arunachal Pradesh is the only state having Museum since forty-six years ago when there was no other museum except the Assam State Museum in this part of the country. In the establishment of the J.N. State Museum at Itanagar a long cherished dream has been fulfilled. Now, J.N. State Museum stands as one of the best ethnographic museums in the country.


(Text source : A guide to J. N. State Museum, ISBN -81-9516-7, by Batem Pertin, Deputy Diector of Research (M & a), Directorate of Research, Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh, Itanagar, 2009)

One thought on “Jawaharlal Nehru State Museum, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh

  • March 29, 2018 at 11:25 am

    If u r planning a vacation in Arunachal Pradesh or interested in the culture and tradition of the estern most state of India, it is really a resourseful article. Great job by the scribe@ Mrinmoy Das.

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