Shankar’s International Dolls Museum, Delhi
Delhi is famous for many things. It is the capital of India. It is well-known for its rich Mughal heritage which includes several UNESCO World Heritage such as the Qutub Minar or Humayun’s Tomb. It is loved for its mouth-watering street food at Chandani Chowk. Delhi, however, still has several hidden wonders that many are yet to discover. One such place is Shankar’s International Dolls Museum.
Shankar’s International Doll Museum is tucked away inside the Children’s Book Trust building (Nehru House) on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. It has a collection of a whopping 6500 dolls from over 85 countries. It is the biggest doll museum in the world.
It didn’t start off that big though. The founder of the museum, Shankar Pillai was gifted a Hungarian doll. The child in him awakened. He was very fascinated by the make and the costume of the doll. His interest in dolls led him to keep collecting dolls wherever he travelled. When he would come back to India, he display the dolls for poor children.
This touring, unfortunately, took a toll on the dolls. The frequent handling damaged the dolls and made them deteriorate faster. Then, none other than Indira Gandhi decided to help him set up a permanent museum. Shankar Pillai had set up the Children’s Book Trust in 1957, so a provision was made for museum was added on the first floor of the building.
Indira Gandhi had first visited his exhibition with her father Jawaharlal Nehru. She fell in love with the collection. Incidentally, the museum was set up just a year after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru’s death in 1964. The museum holds many dolls that were gifts from Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and succeeding Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Many other diplomats and foreign embassies have added dolls to the collection. The museum has even received gifts from Queens and Presidents of other countries.
The museum occupies a space of over 5000 sq. ft. The museum is divided into two sections. One section is dedicated to Commonwealth countries and the other section holds dolls other Asian Countries, the Middle East, Africa and of course, India. There are over 150 Indian dolls.
The dolls are made of an assortment of materials such as wood, cloth, leather, clay, straw or even bone. Different countries show a predisposition to use different materials. For example, Eskimo dolls are made out of seal skin. The dolls vary in size from miniature to large life sized mannequins.
The museum has clinic for ‘sick’ dolls, where deteriorating dolls are carefully restored. There is also a workshop where various dolls are made. They are built with painstaking detail. A thorough research goes into the process. Everything from the costumes including the jewellery to the physical aspects of the people in the region is studied before the doll is made. These in-house dolls are either sold to collectors or exchanged in return for gifts of other dolls.
Some dolls are beautiful, prettier than the prettiest Barbie. At the same time, some could give you nightmares. Though they aren’t quite as scary as Chucky from popular horror movie Child’s Play, the dolls sometimes have distorted expressions or wear tribal masks.
K. Shankar Pillai was awarded with a Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award by the Government of India for this contribution. He was also a well-loved cartoonist. The doll museum remains a permanent legacy of his work and love for children. It is a delightful visit for any enthusiast or even an interesting place to take your children. Don’t forget to tell them that the dolls are not for sale!
Children’s Book Trust: http://www.childrensbooktrust.com/dm.htm
Guidetrip Delhi Tours: http://www.guidetrip.com/find-experiences?experiencelist=delhi