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Preserving local culture through a unique museum in Bhimtal

By Somrita Ghosh | PUBLISHED: 10, Nov 2017, 19:53 pm IST | UPDATED: 13, Nov 2017, 20:31 pm IST

Preserving local culture through a unique museum in Bhimtal Nainital: One of the most sought-after destinations for tourists visiting Uttarakhand, Nainital has remained an abode of eternal charm, but very few are aware of the Lok Sanskriti Sangrahalaya, a private museum in Bhimtal that houses several rare art objects. Its owner, now in his late 70s, continues to strive day and night on its upkeep.

Meet Yashodhar Mathpal, the septuagenarian who built this museum to preserve local culture, document oral and written traditions and folklore, provide training to the vanishing arts and crafts of the region, and encourage local artists and artisans.

"Art is something which, if not preserved, will become extinct. It represents our culture and is our identity. If not protected, then nothing will be left to show the later generations. So, I wanted to build a place where I can collect and display the art and let people know about our roots," Mathpal, 78, told IANS.

This museum man of Bhimtal has multiple designations in his kitty; apart from being the founder of this museum, he is a Padma Shri awardee, a curator, research scholar, public relations officer, fund-raiser, artist, sculptor, guide -- and even a sweeper.

With a team of just three, including himself, Mathpal said it is often a difficult task to take care of the entire museum. He added that his age has now become a hurdle, but it is his long association with the museum and love for art that still keeps him going.

"Before opening this place I worked in many other museums and learned many things. And now, that experience is helping me to make Lok Sangrahalaya stronger. I am still the curator of this gallery," he explained.

But there was a touch of despair in Mathpal's tone. He conveyed that despite being a museum with such valuable art objects, there are hardly any visitors to his place -- the reason being people are unaware of the museum.

"Art is what defines us, it is our identity. Strangely, people are not concerned about it. It is mostly foreign tourists who come here and very few Indians. Not even the local people make any visit," Mathpal lamented.

His effort to keep the dying art of the Kumaon and Garhwal belt alive has been largely ignored by the media, but he has no regrets. He doesn't lament that he hasn't got due credit for his contributions. What hurts him, though, is the lack of appreciation and promotion by the government.

"I got a call from a museum in France to showcase my collection, but unfortunately never got a chance to be a part of any art exhibition in Nainital. Art is yet not appreciated in India as it is done in other countries, especially in Europe," he said.

"This is a tourist spot; the hotels can add this museum in their travel suggestions. Local art can survive only if the locals are involved in it. Help from the people living in this region is needed; they should first be made more aware and then the DM (District Magistrate) and the state government officials should come and help," Mathpal added.

Although he has got several invitations from the National Museum to display his collection, he never accepted the requests. And now the museum authorities have fallen silent. The reason?

"The officers, without taking commission, will never sanction any proposals for the museum. And they know very well that I am not going to give money to display my collection. So now they don't bother to call me," he responded.

His future plans? "I have travelled a lot and still prefer to, when my health permits. But I want to continue collecting art objects till my last breath," he said.

Founded in 1983, the Lok Sanskriti Sangrahalaya is located three km from Nainital. It is home to more than 500 paintings, including cave paintings, a 14-foot-long water colour, old manuscripts and much more.

And all this is the effort of a single man.