Government Museum National Art Gallery, Government Museum, Chennai (Madras)


Archaeology | Anthropology | Art | Numismatics | Botany | Zoology
Geology | Children's Museum | Chemical Conservation

square.jpg (5451 bytes) Introduction to Various  Sections



      The Archaeology Section of the Museum is primarily concerned with the acquisition, preservation and display of antiquities of the historic periods of South India. The antiquities consist of sculptures, architectural pieces and inscriptions on metal and stone, which have a bearing on the past history and social life of the people of this part of India. A significant collection of objects representing the industrial arts such as wood carving, ivory work, metalware and inlay and embossed works for which South India has been famous from very early times, is also dealt with by the Section.

   The objects mentioned above have been accumulated over the period and preserved in the Museum since its inception. They were organised into the present form in 1938 AD due to the efforts of Dr.F.H.Gravely and Sri (late) Dr.C.Sivaramamurti, then Curator who later on became the first Indian Director-General of the National Museum, New Delhi. Though prior to the formation of the Section sporadic research by Sri T.N.Ramachandran, Curator, on certain groups of antiquities have revealed the importance of the objects and thus made the Museum well known, yet only after the formation of the Section more detailed studies of the antiquities of the Museum were undertaken. The results of the studies were published in a series of Museum Bulletins. Gradually, the scope of research work of the Section was expanded so as to include other allied subjects such as temple architecture. The activities of the Section, thus, increased and as a consequence, it grew rapidly in size.

History of the Archaeology Section

In 1850 AD, Edward Green Balfour, the first Officer-in-charge of the Museum, Chairman of the Committee of the Madras Literary Society and also the Secretary of the Central Committee of the 1851 AD. Exhibition had a broad vision about the Museum expressed as "Care was taken to impress upon all within the Presidency, that the basis on which the Museum was established was so broad that whatever in creation was sent, a use and place would be found for it". With this broad vision in 9th August 1853 AD, the Museum had a total of 19,830 specimens and though only twenty months old could "bear a comparison with the long established Museum of the Bengal Asiatic Society in Calcutta". Captain Mitchell who followed Dr. Balfour as part-time Superintendent of the Museum continued his efforts in securing more of Amaravati sculptures for the Madras Museum. In about 1884-85 AD, Surgeon George Bidie arranged the display of the Amaravati limestone sculptures in the Madras Museum. During Dr. J.R. Henderson's period, a post of an Archaeological Assistant was sanctioned. During 1920-40 AD, Dr.Frederick Henry Gravely became the Superintendent of the Museum. The objects collected during the earlier periods were organised into the present form about 1938 AD due to the efforts taken by him.

    In 1926 AD, the start for the archaeological work was strengthened by the addition of one more post, enabling one of the two assistants to do concentrated work on coins and the other to study and catalogue the bronze and other sculptures, which had so long remained uncatalogued. The collection of metal images,Buddhist sculptures from Goli were monographed and arrangements were made for  catalogues of Amaravati sculptures and Nagapattinam bronzes. These catalogues are not mere lists, but authoritative monographs on the subjects. Thiru R. Srinivasa Raghava Iyengar was the Curator for Archaeology Section in 1919 AD and Thiru T.N. Ramachandran became the Curator for the Archaeology Section from 1925-1935 AD during which period his famous catalogue of metal images with Dr. F.H. Gravely was the first authoritative monograph on scientific basis of determining the period of metal images. Soon after completion of the above mentioned works, Thiru T.N. Ramachandran was asked to write a monograph on 'Tiruparuthikkundram and its Temples’. The present new extension gallery was opened on 4th December 1939 AD by His Excellency the Governor, through which the visitors have for the first time had put before them in a way that they readily understand, a brief outline of the history as revealed by art, of the early empires of North India, and of the principal empires and kingdoms of South India right up to Modern times. At this point of time Dr. C. Sivaramamurti was the Curator of Archaeology Section (1935-1946 AD). In 1931 AD, stock registers of exhibits in the galleries were made and also separate accession registers for each of the main sections of the Museum. When it was Gravely's privilege to give, he gave generously. To Dr. Ananda Coomaraswami's Museum in Boston, he gave in 1921 AD as the gift of the Madras Government 18 pieces of Amaravati sculptures, 37 wood carvings and 11 sculptures; 467 pieces in all, including a few bronzes to the Prince of Wales Museum; and 22 pieces to the Lucknow Museum. The Madras Museum has given more to other Museums in India and Europe than it has received.   

    In the year 1946 AD was received an exquisite bronze image of Siva Natesa in the Pandyan style from Poruppumettuppatti in Tirumangalam taluk of Madurai District. In workmanship it is excelled only by the world famous Tiruvalangadu Natesa image. Earliest Collection of Bronzes:-Somaskanda in 1886 AD and Vishnu with consorts from Komal, Mayavaram Taluk, Tanjore District and Seated Vishnu with Consorts from the same area in 1896 AD.

   From 1947 to 1959 AD, Thiru P.R. Srinivasan was the Curator. During his period the Centenary Exhibition was arranged and the now famous National Art Gallery [Victoria Memorial Hall], was annexed to the Museum. From 1959 to 1963 AD, Dr. R. Nagaswamy was the Curator of the Archaeology Section. During his period,Ardhanariswara bronze was obtained as a treasure trove. In 1963 AD, the Bronze Gallery was built to house the famous bronze collections under a single roof and the monograph "South Indian Bronzes" by Thiru P.R. Srinivasan was released.Then Dr.V. N. Srinivasa Desikan became the Curator for Archaeological Section [1963 to 1992 AD], Dr. N. Sankaranarayana was the Curator of the Section from 1993-1994 AD and Thiru R. Balasubramanian was the Curator of the section (1994 - 2014). From 2014, Thiru S.Paneerselvam is the Curator of the section.

    In 2001 AD, a monograph on Jain Iconography was published - as a bulletin of the museum. It is the first publication out of the  Museum Publication Fund, which accepts sponsorships. The book 'Jain Images in the Government Museum, Chennai’ covers collections of Jain sculptures and Bronzes collected up to 2000 AD. It is written by Dr. R. Kannan Ph.D., I.A.S., Commissioner of Museums and Thiru K.Lakshminarayanan, Curator, Education Section. This sponsored publication brings to Chennai Museum publications coffee table book quality colour photography and printing-making with international quality, while offering detailed explanations intelligible to both scholars and layman.

    During 1992
and 2002 AD
the Bronze Gallery was refurbished and the Industrial Art Gallery in 1997 AD.


     The Madras Government Museum began as a Museum of Geology in 1851 AD. Its scope was soon extended to cover other fields such as Archaeology, Ethnology, Pre-history and Natural History. In 1878 AD, Surgeon General Dr.E. George Bidie, the then Superintendent of the Museum, made Ethnology as one of the subjects to be illustrated by Museum collections.

    The Government instructed all district authorities to render assistance to the Superintendent of the Museum in regard to Pre-historic Archaeology of the various districts. The collection of pottery, etc., from the ancient burials of The Nilgiris, known as Breek`s Collection, reached the Museum in 1878 AD. Mr. Bruce Foote, the Father of Indian Pre-historic Archaeology, made his  first discoveries of early man in the valley of the Corteliar river during this period and the Madras Museum received some of these finds as gifts.

    Dr.Edgar Thurston, successor of Dr.Bidie published seven volumes of "Castes and Tribes of Southern India" by bringing together a vast body of ethnological information. By about 1890 AD, he began to pay special attention to Ethnology and strengthened the Ethnological Section of the Museum. The block of buildings now known as the Front Buildings, the Museum Theatre and the Connemara Public Library were sanctioned in 1890 AD.

   Dr.Thurston commenced his anthropological investigations sometime about 1894 AD. He took several thousands of anthropometric measurements, becoming a pioneer investigator in human biology in Southern India. In 1895 AD, anthropology was adopted as a post-graduate subject in the Madras University. In 1904-1905 AD, Government purchased the pre-historic and proto-historic collection of Mr.Bruce Foote. Mr.Foote`s collection included palaeolithic and neolithic tools, hammers, mealing stones, scrapers, bangles, beads, etc., from Salem, Bellary, Anantapur, Kurnool and other districts.

   In 1926 AD, when Dr.F.H.Gravely was Superintendent, Dewan Bahadur K.Rangachariar was appointed as part-time Ethnological Assistant to prepare plans for Ethnological investigation. Two years later, Government sanctioned the appointment of a full time Assistant for Ethnology.

   In 1940 AD, Dr.A.Aiyappan was Curator of the Anthropology Section for about eleven years and he succeeded Dr. Gravely. Then Dr.Aiyappan was promoted as Superintendent (the first Indian Superintendent) of the Museum. Four life size models of Kathakali dancers, a model of the Brahmagiri cist burial, stone tools of Peking Man, Shadow-play figures from Malabar were notable additions during the period of Dr.Aiyappan.

   During 1940 AD, Prof.Jouveau-Dubreuil sent to the Museum a number of beads of glass and semi-precious stones, terracotta figurines and variety of potsherds.

    Mr.C.J.Jayadev succeeded Dr.A.Aiyappan as Curator, Anthropology Section and continued till March 1961. Miss.R.Vanaja was in-charge of Anthropology section from 30-3-1961 AD to 16-6-61 AD. Mr.A.V.N.Sharma succeeded Miss. R.Vanaja and he was Curator till 27-11-1962 AD. Dr.N.Devasahayam succeeded Mr.A.V.N.Sharma on 28-11-1962 AD. Later Dr.N.Devasahayam was promoted as Assistant Director and Deputy Director and holding the post of Curator, Anthropology Section. When Dr.N.Devasahayam retired in June 1998 AD, the Curator, Zoology Section, Mr.P.Jawahar, took charge of Anthropology Section, then Dr.C.Maheswaran took charge as Curator of this section and then Tmt R.D. Thulasi Brinda took charge as Curator of this section. In 2014, Ms.E.Divya is the present Curator of this section.

   During the end of his tenure, Dr.N.Devasahayam tried to repatriate the artifacts of Kanchikoil, Erode District, displayed under the title of Brough and Mckenzie Collection in the Australian Museum. These artifacts were collected by Rev.Antony Watson Brough during 1894-1934 AD. 33 selected artifacts from this collection were repatriated to the Government Museum, Chennai. On 28-2-2000 AD The Australian High Commissioner to India, His Excellency, Rob Laurie A.M., handed over 33 artifacts to the Special Secretary to Government, Tamil Development-Culture and Religious Endowments Department, Thiru.S.Ramakrishnan, I.A.S., who in turn handed them over to Dr.R.Kannan,I.A.S., Commissioner of Museums. A special exhibition of these artifacts organised in the Gallery of Contemporary Art was inaugurated by His Excellency, Rob Laurie A.M., the Australian High Commissioner on 28-2-2000 AD.

Arms Gallery

     Extension to the Front Buildings to house arms and weapons and the pre-historic collections were made during Dr.J.R.Henderson`s term as Superintendent (1908-1919 AD). At present, the Pre-history Gallery and Arms Gallery are being modernised. In the second arms room a very large and varied collection of ceremonial and lethal weapons obtained from the Tanjore Armoury are exhibited. They include swords, daggers, maces, elephant goads, choppers, knives, shields, spears, bows and arrows. Several of these weapons have exquisitely carved designs of yali, makaras and parrots on them.

    Around the front buildings, a number of cannon captured at Manila, Mysore and Tranquebar. At the entrance to the Arms galleries are on view a varied assortment of halberds, pikes, spears and a set of Spanish plate armour from Manila. In the first arms room are ancient matchlocks, musketoons, hand guns, blunderbusses, rifles and pistols used by the English East India Company or captured by them as war trophies. Two guns richly inlaid with gold which are exhibited in special cases are those which were presented by the English East India Company to Serfoji Maharaja of Thanjavur.   



    The Art Section of the Museum was an integral part of Archaeology Section and was maintained by Archaeology Curator until 1983
AD. The Museum had a collection of 400 objects from which 54 selected objects were displayed in the National Art Gallery at the time of its establishment in 1951 AD. A few bronze objects, metal wares, wood-carvings, ivory and textiles from the Museum and art objects such as Rajput, Moghul paintings and textiles were transferred to the National Art Gallery. Simultaneous with its acquisition of great works of ancient South Indian art, the Government Museum, Chennai had been collecting works of Modern Indian art work right from the turn of the twentieth Century. The Chennai Museum is purchasing art objects on the recommendations of the Art Purchase Committee of the Museum.
The Contemporary Art Gallery was established in January 1984 AD, after the bifurcation of the then existed Art and Archaeology Section. The Chennai Museum has a collection of one thousand and two hundred objects including metal sculptures, paintings such as oil on canvas, tempera, water colour, textiles etc. Paintings of eminent artists in India from various Art Schools are represented in the collection.

   The traditional paintings consist of Rajput, Moghul, Kangra, Tanjore, Deccan, South Indian School of Art. Bidriware, Metalware, Ivory and Sandalwood objects are also in the collection. The modern paintings consist of works of eminent artists namely Raja Ravi Varma, D.P. Roy Chowdhury, Nandalal Bose, Jaimini Roy and artists from Tamil Nadu.
   In 1995-96
AD and in 1997-98 AD, the existing sloping cases were removed and galleries where the traditional paintings, textiles, ivory and inlaid works were displayed. The lighting in the Contemporary Art Gallery and rear hall of the National Art Gallery have been modernised by introducing Dichroic Halogen lamps and Fibre Optic lighting respectively. In order to store the paintings the Visual Storage is established in the section.

Facilities Available
   The activities of this section include guidance to researchers and students. Students from School of Architecture, Engineering Colleges, College Arts & Crafts do project work on art and architecture pertaining to this section. Research scholars avail various facilities in this section.

Educational Activities

   Under educational activities, the Section lends selected art objects on loan to schools for exhibition. The Section conducts seminar, workshop, exhibition and training programmes. Gallery talks and special lectures are given by the Curator to the college students and teachers.

Curators of the Art Section

  • Miss. R. Indira 1984 - 1993 AD
  • Thiru. M. Mohan 1993 – 2002
  • Tmt. A. Prema Deepa Rani 2002


Numismatics is the study of coins. It is important for the study of history, especially ancient history. It confirms, modifies and even amplifies history. To a great extent the political and economic history of a country is constructed by numismatics and historical facts are very often corroborated or rejected by numismatic findings. Many facts connected with administration, history, geography and religious history of ancient India are revealed to us by numismatics.
    The Government Museum, Chennai has a very rich collection of the ancient, medieval and modern Indian coins made of gold, silver, copper, lead, potin and billon. Besides these there is a representative collection of foreign coinage.

    The Museum had, upto 1865 AD, only a very small collection of coins in its cabinet. Under the Treasure-trove Act of 1878 AD all finds unearthed anywhere in the State are sent to this museum by the revenue authorities for examination and if decided that they are worth acquiring, they are acquired by the Government for the Museum. But treasure-trove hoards are not the only source through which coins are acquired. Most of the North Indian coins are donated by North Indian museums and institutions such as the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay, the Asiatic Society, Nagpur, the U.P. Coin Committee, Indian Museum, Calcutta and so on.

    In the year 1976 AD, at the first floor of the Bronze Gallery, the Numismatics Section started a gallery of its own. It is not possible to exhibit the coins in original to the public on grounds of safety. Therefore plaster cast and metal cast impressions of the coins are prepared and exhibited in the gallery.

   There are at present two hundred and fifty medals in the section, a majority of which are exhibition medals, of very little interest. The rare piece are the Mysore medals. The plaster cast of these medals are kept in the gallery with photographs. The collection includes a facsimile of the Great Charter of England, the Magna Carta of 1215 AD believed to be the only copy in India. It is displayed in the gallery for the public view.

    The Government Museum, Chennai has the unique privilege of organising the Philatelic Gallery for the first time in India. The gallery has been organised in 1966 AD to present the evolution and development of postage stamps in the world. Stamps of all countries of the world beginning with the very inception of the modern Postal System is displayed here.
    This gallery is situated in the second floor of the Natural History Block, which can be reached from the Jain Gallery or from a flight of steps from the first gallery. Thiru N. Sundararajan, is the present Curator of this section.



    The Botany and Geology Sections were dealt together by the Curator of the Botany Section in the initial stage of the Museum . Later the collections in the Botany and Geology Sections increased so much that the need for their separation was realised. Thus it was bifurcated into the Botany Section and Geology Section, each headed by a separate Curator. Important features of the Botany Section are as follows: 1. Public Galleries, 2. Reserve Collections 3. Special Exhibitions, 4. Research and Publications and 5. Information Service.

Public Galleries

 The galleries were dismantled at the time of the evacuation of the city in 1942 AD and this has incidentally rendered it possible to effect a thorough overhauling and improvements to them. The different groups of exhibits are explained by descriptive labels, while prominent index labels serve as a good guide. Tamil labels are also included, where ever possible.

    Topics in the Botany Galleries of the Museum fall under (a) Systematic Botany (b) Economic Botany, (c) Ecological Botany and (d) Miscellaneous collections covering other branches of the subject.

Strengthening of the Botany section

While Geology was the chief field of activity during Balfour’s time, Botany gained most during the period of Dr. Bidie’s stewardship of the Museum. Medicinal plants and plants of economic importance were added to the collection. In 1873-1874 AD, the herbarium was enriched by the purchase of Lieutenant Colonel Beddome’s herbarium at a cost of Rs.1,500. The collection contained 2,435 specimens, most of which were rare plants. A good collection of forest products specially made and labelled under the supervision of the Director General of Forests was added to the Botany Section in 1878 AD. The Madras Museum Herbarium became famous and well-known at Kew.

     The Botanical work done by Dr.Gravely and the late Sri. P. V. Mayuranathan, helped to strengthen the Museum Herbarium and the botanical collections. "Flowering Plants of Madras City and its Immediate Neighbourhood", written by the late Mr. P. V. Mayuranathan was enthusiastically supported by Mr. E. Barnes of the Madras Christian College. This volume of Madras flowering plants was published in the year 1929 AD.

     In the year 1919 AD when Mr. H. Dodwell was Superintendent-in-charge, Sri. S. N. Chandrasekaran was appointed as the Botanical Assistant. He was also part-time lecturer at the Women’s Christian College. He attended to the routine work of replacing old specimens and labels. He prepared a 'Catalogue of the Economic Products' in the Economic Botany Gallery.

     In the Systematic Botany Gallery, the exhibits are arranged in their evolutionary order starting with primitive cryptogams. There are over 300 representative samples of various South Indian Timbers. Ecological botany is represented by a few specimens and photographs.

     Exhibits in the Economic Botany Galleries are divided into several groups according to their uses.

Educational Activities

   Guidance on matters of collection, identification, preservation, storage etc., are provided to educational institutions, museum keepers, industrialists and others under educational activities. Periodical demonstrations are held to organised parties of teachers, on how best they could enable their students to make a profitable visit to the Botany Galleries. Short term courses in organisation of School Herbaria and Botanical Museums are also conducted to batches of teachers, Laboratory Assistants etc. In the recent years under the Vocational Training Programme in Colleges, training is imparted to college students in the Preservation of Botanical Specimens, making of plaster cast models, wax models, preparation of herbaria, mounting of both dry and wet specimens etc. Popular lectures are also delivered in various branches of the subject of Botany. To highlight the medicinal usage of plants, several Siddha Medical Camps were conducted, where the Siddha Medical Doctors themselves explained the parts of the plants used for medicines and the diseases to which they are put to use.

Other Activities of the Section

    Research scholars and students are given facilities for Taxonomical studies since the section possess collections of pioneers like Major R. H.. Beddome, K. S. Srinivasan, A. R. Reddy, Dr. K. V. Krishnamuthy, M. S. Chandrasekar, and so on. The exhibit in the Economic Botany Gallery gives the economical uses of plants. The Reserve collections built up by pioneers include those of Colonel Beddome of the Forest Department (1878 AD) and later Gamble’s collection in 1892 AD and by Thiru P. V. Mayuranathan.

Curators of the Botany Section

  • Thiru. T. Narasinga Rao, 1919 AD
  • Thiru. S. N. Chandrasekaran, 1919 - 1920
  • Thiru. P. V. Mayuranathan, April. 1921 – 1936
  • Thiru. M. O. P. Iyengar, 1937 - 1939
  • Thiru. K. S. Srinivasan, 1940 – 1947
  • Thiru. M. S. Chandrasekar, 1947 - 1972
  • Thiru. A. G. Adikesavan, 1972 - 1992
  • Tmt. M. N. Pushpa, 1992 - 2006
  • Thiru M. Mohan, 2006
  • Tmt. M. N. Pushpa, 2007 - 2013
  • Thiru J. Mullaiarasu, 2013

     Presently, in the Systematic Botany Gallery, 13 new showcases depicting the Sangam Literature plants have been kept on display as new additions and removed from 2005. Plant fossils are displayed in this Gallery.


    Dr.Edward Green Balfour, the first officer-in-charge and organiser of Government Museum, Chennai, in 1851 AD had very clear ideas of the functions of the museum, "to contain complete collection of the natural production of the country and other parts of the world, duly named and systematically arranged as a means of encouraging the study of Natural History and to do its share in the advancement of science". Dr.Balfour started collection campaign and acquired valuable collection of fishes, as it reflects in the first letter, letter book of the Museum dated 9th June 1851 AD thanking Dr. A.Lorimer, M.D. Secretary to the Medical Board "for the very valuable present of fishes" to the Government Museum on 17th May 1851 AD.

   Captain Jesse Mitchell who succeeded Dr.Balfour on 15th May, 1859 AD acquired shells, fishes, birds, insects and fossils from several Museums from foreign countries in exchange for similar materials sent from Madras.

   Major Michael secured in 1865 AD for the Museum the femur, tibia and tarsus of Moa, a rare huge bird from New Zealand. Another important exhibit in the Zoology Gallery, acquired during captain Mitchell’s tenure of office (1859 - 1872 AD) was the skeleton of horse of which was his regimental charger. This  skeleton is exhibited in the General Zoology Gallery.

   When Surgeon - Major M.C. Furnell, F.R.C.S., officiated as the Superintendent of the Museum for about eighteen months from June 1874 AD, during Dr. Bidie’s absence on sick leave, the important event was the acquisition of the skeleton of a whale for the Museum. "This  enormous sea mammal was cast on shore near Mangalore and was secured by Mr. Thomas, the Collector. The bones were brought to Madras by a vessel of the British India Steam Navigation Company free of charge. The bones were macerated and the complete skeleton was mounted and exhibited. The Museum was very proud of acquiring such a huge skeleton.

   The Head Taxidermist of the Museum, Mr. Anthony Pillay, won a silver medal at the Fine Arts Exhibition held in England for a group of birds and reptiles, prepared by him in 1867 AD. In 1877 AD he won another silver medal for "preserved fish specimens" from the Maritime and Piscatorial Exhibition held at the Royal Aquarium, London.

      The Zoological collection of the Museum had grown enormously and required to be properly arranged, catalogued, labelled, preserved and also clearly explained. In the Zoology Section  small habitat groups were introduced during the tenure of Dr. J.R. Henderson (1908 - 1919 AD).   Dr.S.Sundararaj joined the Museum as Zoological Assistant to Dr. Henderson in 1913 AD. He had the opportunity of collecting and studying South Indian fauna and started to display the animals in their natural surroundings. The nest of the water-hen, king fisher, a group of flamingos and group of flying squirrels with their nesting in a hollow tree deserve mention. An unusual exhibit, netted from the Museum pond was that a bull frog, which was caught in the act of swallowing a snake. This specimen is also still on display in Amphibian Gallery.

    When Dr. Frederic Henry Gravely took charge as Superintendent during 1920 AD, the investigation of the littoral fauna of Krusadai Island in the gulf of Mannar was undertaken. This investigation led to the revival of the Bulletin of the Madras Government Museum for the publication of the results of the researches. The collections were scientifically preserved, studied and interpreted by publishing research bulletins during the tenure of Dr. F.H. Gravely (1920 - 1940 AD). The reserve collection in the Zoology, particularly of Invertebrates was enlarged and improved. Dr. F.H. Gravely’s work on Arachnida and Mollusca helped in completing the gallery and the reserve collection in these two large Zoological groups.

    An enormous number of shells collected from various localities of the world were received as donation from Mr. M.D. Crichton, a conchologist.

    In 1940 AD, Dr. S. Thomas Satyamurti who joined as Curator, Zoology Section was promoted as Superintendent of the Museum. Later the post of Superintendent was designated as ‘Director of Museums’. During the tenure of Dr. S. Thomas Satyamurti, the displayed collections in the galleries were interpreted and published as Guide Books. His publication on the Mollusca of Krusadai Island in the Gulf of Mannar "Amphineura and Gastropoda" Vol.I , "Scaphopoda, Pelecypoda and Cephalopoda" Vol.II are noteworthy.

     In 1961 AD, Mr. G. Kesavaram joined as Curator, Zoology Section and concentrated on improving the collections. During his tenure, the Bird’s Gallery was modernised and he concentrated on preserving animals in synthetic resin.

    The present Curator, Mr. P. Jawahar joined as Assistant Curator in 1970 AD promoted to the post of Curator, Zoology Section in 1979 AD. During his tenure, renovation of all the skeletons, large fish specimens displayed in the galleries were undertaken. The modernisation of General Zoology galleries during 1980 AD, modernisation of Mammal Gallery by setting up large dioramas in 1999 AD were the improvements to the Zoological galleries. Mr. P. Jawahar was holding additional charge of Children’s Gallery in the Mezzanine floor of the New Natural History Block. During April 1988 AD, the full-fledged Children’s Museum was organised and the Curator, Zoology Section was in-charge of the Children’s Museum until the post of Curator, Children’s Museum was created in 1996 AD. All the wet preserved specimens in jars in the reserve collection have been properly and systematically arranged. Thiru J.R.Asokan, Curator, Zoology Section has been promoted as Assistant Director (Technical) in 2013. Then Tmt.D.V.Umamaheswari took additional charge till 2014. Tmt.R.D.Thulasi Brinda is the present Curator of this Section.


History of the Geology Section

The history of the Geology Section in the Chennai Museum is indeed quite interesting, since it was started only with the Geological Collections in the year 1851 AD. In the year 1828 AD, the Madras Literacy Society, a branch of the Asiatic Society of London, desired to have a Museum of Economic Geology at Madras and began collecting geological specimens. But lack of funds and space for an effective Museum, the Society addressed the then Madras Government to take the initiative in the formation of the Museum.     

     In 1843 AD, Major General W. Cullen suggested to the Government the starting of local Museum for helping those who are interested in minerals and encouraging agriculture and processes improvement. On the basis of the letters of General Cullen and the Secretary, Madras Literary Society, the Court of Directors of the East India Company agreed, in 1846 AD, to the formation of Central Museum in Madras.

    In 1850 AD, Assistant Surgeon, Edward Green Balfour, Medical Officer of the Governor’s Bodyguard and Assay Master offered his services as Officer-in-charge of the proposed Museum and his offer was accepted in 1851 AD
. The Central Museum thus began its life in the upper storey of the College of Fort. St. George with 1100 geological collections. Due to overcrowding of the rooms and more so owing to damage to the upper storey of the college by the weight of the cases, the museum was shifted to the Pantheon, in 1854
AD, which was then occupied by the Cutchery of the Collector of Madras.

     Thus beginning as a Museum of Practical Geology, its scope was later expanded to cover all the allied fields such as General Geology, Petrology, Mineralogy, Palaeontology and Economic Geology. Since then, the geological galleries have been considerably improved, reorganised and modernised.

     The Geology Gallery building repaired and the gallery has completely refurbished in 2006, during the curatorship of Mr. M. Mohan. After the superannuation of Mr.Mohan, Tmt.R.D.Thulasi Brinda took charge as Curator. Selvi. S.Dhanalakshmi is the present Curator of this Section since 2012.

II. Activities in the Geology Section

     The activities of this section include the maintenance and periodical re-organisations of the Geological Galleries, undertaking tours for collecting geological specimens such as rocks, minerals and fossils, organising special exhibitions on various geological subjects, conducting training programmes, arranging popular lectures etc.

III. Facilities Available

    The training course on "Importance of Geological Specimens" is regularly conducted since 1996 AD every year for the benefit of the Geology students. The Geology Section of the Museum is a treasure house for collection of various types of rocks, minerals and fossils, which is very useful for research scholars and students pertaining to geology for their research work.

    The Curators of Geology Section have written popular and research articles in learned and popular journals besides guide book of the geological galleries.

IV. Educational Activities

    This section loans geological specimens to various schools in Chennai for special exhibitions. Besides popular lectures by the Curator, popular lectures by eminent scholars and college professors pertaining to geology for the benefit of the general public and students are arranged.


   "Children’s Museum" is a place of wonder for children, which takes them from the land of books to the land of objects. It encourages a child to probe new horizons. It directs children into constructive and worthwhile pastimes. It moulds them sound citizens of the future.

    The Children’s Museum of the Government Museum, Chennai consists of the Basement, Ground Floor and First Floor, having 5000 sq.ft area each. The architecture of the Children’s Museum conforms to that of a model museum building, with all the facilities contemplated in a modern museum. The display arrangement in the Children’s Museum reveals to the children the world in which they live, arouses intellectual curiosity and opens the door to the world of wonder. This museum has galleries such as the Civilisation Gallery, the Costume Dolls Gallery, the Science Gallery, the Transportation Gallery, the Technology Gallery and the Kids Corner.

History of the Children Museum

    The foundation stone was laid for the separate building for the Children's Museum in the Chennai Government Museum campus during the International Museum Week Celebrations in October 1956 AD, by His Excellency, Shri SriPrakasa, the then Governor of Tamil Nadu. Plans were drawn and the cost was estimated to Rs.10.8 lakhs. But unfortunately this proposal had to be deferred indefinitely. Therefore, it was felt   necessary atleast to start with a Children's Gallery. The exhibits that had been collected for this museum, along with a few specially prepared models and diagrams were provisionally displayed in fifteen newly made show-cases, which were arranged in the mezzanine floor of the Geology Gallery. This newly organised Children's Gallery was thrown open to the public on the 'Children's Day' - 14th November 1960 AD.

    Later, in September 1963 AD this Children's Gallery was shifted to the mezzanine floor of the newly constructed Natural History Block where the exhibits were re-arranged and re-exhibited.

    The proposal of constructing a separate new building for Children’s Museum was renewed in 1979 AD during the International Year of Children, and completed by incurring an expenditure of Rs.39 lakhs. Display was organised in modern way, including the existing exhibits of the Children’s Gallery. This newly organised Children’s Museum was inaugurated by His Excellency, Dr. P.C. Alexandar, Governor of Tamil Nadu on 11th April 1988 AD.

    From the inception of the Children's Gallery in the mezzanine floor of the Natural History Block, the Curators of the Zoology Section were holding additional charge of it. Mr. P. Jawahar, Curator, Zoology Section organised the display in the Children’s Museum and held additional charge of the Museum, until the post of Curator, Children's Museum was created in 1996 AD.

   The present Curator, Mr. K. Sekar took charge of the Children's Museum in 1996 AD. In 1996 - 1997 AD, the Civilisation Gallery and Physical Science Gallery were reorganised with new showcases. In 1998 - 1999 AD, the Technology Gallery was established with working models in new aluminium showcases. Many developmental projects are in the anvil.

   The Children's Museum aims to encourage children to touch and feel exhibits to help them understand their heritage and to develop scientific temper.


History of the Laboratory

   With the valuable collection at the Government Museum, Chennai, it was felt necessary to treat the bronzes disfigured by corrosive crusts in order to expose the decorative details and to eliminate the bronze disease, which brought in added deterioration. As a result of the discussion with various chemists, the electrolytic restoration of bronzes was started in the museum. The Chemical Conversation and Research Laboratory in the museum owes to the scientific vision and foresight of Dr. F. H. Gravely, Superintendent of the Government Museum, Chennai in the early 1930s. Dr. S. Paramasivan was appointed as the Chemist in 1930 AD. He was very active both in conservation of cultural property and related research activities. Besides the treatment of bronze objects, ethnological, prehistoric and numismatic objects were treated. In 1935 AD, the Government Museum, Chennai was also of help to the Archaeological Survey of India in the examination of wall paintings at Tanjore, Sittannavasal etc.

   In 1937 AD, a separate Chemical Conservation Laboratory Block (Old Chemistry Block) was built, being the only one of its kind in India. A two storied building for the Laboratory was constructed in 1963 AD when Mr. N. Harinarayana was the Curator of the Laboratory. During his time the Course on Care of Museum Objects was started for the benefit of those who work in museums and allied fields. For the first time in India the conservation Gallery was established in the rear hall of the Bronze Gallery Ground Floor in 1996 AD and was shifted to the mezzanine floor later and refurbished. In 1997 AD, the Chemical Conversation and Research Laboratory was recognised to conduct research leading to Ph.D Degree and the Curator of the Laboratory, Dr.V. Jeyaraj was recognised as a Research Supervisor by the University of Madras. At present two part-time and one full time scholars are working under him.

Research Activities

   One of the foremost activities of the Laboratory is to conduct research in conservation and materials of the past. In the beginning much research was conducted by Dr. S. Paramasivan, the first Curator of the Laboratory, on paintings and metallic antiquities. The research findings were published in leading scientific journals both in India and abroad. The research activities continued successfully by the Curators of the Laboratory till date. At present research projects such as Study and Conservation of Raja Raja Chola Coins, Conservation of Church Architecture (Buildings) and Their Conservation: A Study, Cotton Brocade of Kodalikaruppur Sari: Characterisation and Conservation-A Study, Traditional and Present Conservation of Manuscripts etc. are under progress.

Conservation Research Activities

   The Laboratory is interested in the conservation research in order to find out new techniques and materials in collaboration with leading research institutions such as Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam; Indian institute of Technology, Chennai; Anna University, Chennai and foreign institutions.


   The publication of this Laboratory from its inception is commendable. Leading national and international journals such as Technical Studies, Studies in Conservation, Indian Academy of Sciences, The Current Science, Conservation of Cultural Property in India, etc., published the out come of the research works of this Laboratory. Besides hundreds of research and popular articles many books and bulletins have been published. Many conservation reports have been prepared by the successive Curators regularly through out the career of this Laboratory. Handbook on Conservation in Museums, Care of Museum Objects, Conservation of Archival Materials, An Introduction to the Chemical Conservation and Research Laboratory, Care of Archival Materials, Conservation of Temple Objects, Conservation of Cultural Property in India, Care of Paintings, Care of Records, Authenticity in Art etc., in conservation; Heritage Management, Directory of Museums, Directory of Monuments and A Technical Study on the Coins of Arcot Nawabs are some of the publications.


   In order to disseminate the expertise of the Laboratory, in 1974, a refresher course on Care of Museum Objects was started. Professionals and students of museology and related subjects received the training. Course on Care of Temple Antiquities for the Executive Officers of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, Government of Tamil Nadu, Chennai, a course on Care of Archival Materials exclusively for the Archivists, a Course on Care of Library Materials for Librarians, a Course on Care of Art Objects exclusively for art students etc. are conducted occasionally. Besides these, training programmes to the school and college students are conducted both in Chennai and districts on Care of Cultural Materials and Preservation of Monuments. It has introduced internship training in Conservation for a period of one year.

Manuscripts Conservation Centre

   The National Mission for Manuscripts, New Delhi has established a Manuscripts Conservation Centre at the Government Museum from September 2004. Dr. V. Jeyaraj, Curator, Chemical Conservation and Research Laboratory of this Museum is the Coordinator and Mr. R. Balasubramanian, Curator, Archaeology Section is the Co-coordinator. It has got two staff to work for the Centre. It conducts workshops on Preventive Conservation of Manuscripts, Awareness Camps, Exhibitions, Special Lectures, training programmes, reorganizing the storage of manuscripts in institutions, which possess manuscripts, carries out both preventive and interventive conservation of manuscripts in institutions through out Tamilnadu.

Conservation Service

   The Laboratory is extending services to the public and other institutions interested in the preservation of objects of the past at nominal charges.

List of Curators

1. Dr. S.Paramasivan Apr 1930 AD 1946
2. B. Narayana Shenoy 1946 Jan 1949
3. R. Subramanian Jan 1949 Dec 1950
4. K. Subramanian Dec 1950 Apr 1951
5. T. V. Satyamurti Apr 1951 Apr 1952
6. R. Subramanian Apr 1952 Apr 1954
7. N. Harinarayana Aug 1954 Aug 1955
8. R. Subramanian Sept 1955 May 1956
9. B. Ramachandran May 1956 May 1958
10. N. Harinarayana May 1958 Aug 1961
11. V. Gopalakrishnan Aug 1961 July 1962
12. N. Harinarayana Aug 1962 Feb 1965
13. M. Kalyani Feb 1965 Apr 1965
14. S. Thangavelu May 1965 June 1972
15. N. Harinarayana June 1972 Nov 1977
16. S. Thangavelu Nov 1977 Feb 1978
17. V. Jeyaraj Apr 1978 July 1986
18. S. Thangavelu July 1986 June 1992
19. Dr. V. Jeyaraj June 1992 May 2008
20. Tmt. J.M.Gandhimathi May 2008 Oct 2012
21. Dr.R.Balasubramanian Oct 2012 Feb 2013
22. Tmt.D.V.Uma Maheswari Feb 2013    



   In order to attend to the day to day maintenance of galleries, set up temporary and permanent exhibitions both in Chennai and Districts, a Design and Display Section was created in the Chennai Museum in the year 1980 AD.

The main functions of the Design and Display Section are as follows:

Organising New District Museums

    As per the Government policy, museums are set up at district headquarters. The planning and establishment of new district museums are done by the Design and Display Section of the Chennai Museum.

Re-organisation of Galleries

   The Government Museum, Chennai has 46 galleries and the galleries are being modernised at regular intervals. The Design and Display Section collaborates with those sections which need re-organising the galleries. The district museums  also re-organise their galleries in consultation with the Design and Display Section.


    Exhibitions are being organised in the Government Museum, Chennai as well as outside the museum on special occasions. Design and Display Section collaborates with other sections in organising these exhibitions.

Maintenance of Galleries

    The Government Museum, Chennai is one of the biggest Museums in India. Many of its galleries are made up of wooden show-cases and maintenance of show-cases is a major work in the museum. Maintenance of the showcases is being taken up by the Design and Display Section regularly.

Research Guidance

    Design and Display Section helps the students of architecture in their project works by providing the necessary facilities.

Outreach Services

    The Government Museum, Chennai guides the different educational institutions and other organisations, which approach it for the reorganisation of museums and galleries in their institutions. Mr.J.R.Asokan, Curator followed by Tmt.D.V.Umamaheswari then Thiru K.Sekar, Curator as additional charge till 2014. Thiru G.Kalathi is the present Curator of the Section.


      In the modern concept, museums should function for increase and diffusion of knowledge among men and women. To achieve this goal, they have to engage themselves in activities related to research education, and preservation which are often defined as great functional trinity of museums. The Government Museum, Chennai is well aware of this basic fact and acts diligently on these spheres from its inception. This museum started its educational activities as early as 1870 AD by initiating popular lecture programmes under which periodically scholars were invited to deliver lectures on topics of public interest for the benefit of town people and students. Soon other educational programmes such as special training courses on taxidermy and museology for teachers, arranged gallery lectures for students and teachers and publication of monographs and bulletins for the museum exhibits have been introduced. The creation of additional guide posts for the museum in 1960’s made it possible to provide Guide Service to the public visitors everyday on prescribed timings. With the creation of the education section in 1970’s a full pledged museum section responsible for educational activities came in to existence. Thiru G. Kalathi, Curator hold this section till January 2014. Dr.R.Balasubramanian is the present Curator of this Section.


The ten day Rajasthani Painting Workshop was jointly organised by the Government Museum, Chennai (Education Section) and the National Museum of Mankind, Southern Regional Centre, Mysore from 11.10.2002 to 20.10.2002. This is the Tenth programme on art workshop and this is the first time Chennai Museum have a tie up with the Bhopal Museum. The Art Workshop was inaugurated by Dr. R. Kannan, Ph.D., I.A.S., Commissioner of Agriculture and Museums on 11.10.2002 at Centenary Exhibition Hall, Government Museum, Chennai. The participants were taught painting on paper and silk by the Rajasthani artists.


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