Exploring Indian Artifacts in the Chennai Museum

Though I was born and brought up in Chennai, India, never did I visit the Chennai Museum. Presumably it was all too dry for me to digest at such a young age.  However, once I had relocated 8000 miles away in America I had rekindled an interest in my Indian heritage- and by extension, the Chennai Musuem. However, it was now conveniently located on the other side of the globe. I resolved to amble over there during my next trip to India. 

I visited Chennai during the months of June and July and visited the museum twice- once shortly after landing, and once again in July. The first time, I left my  parents’ home around 11AM to be chauffeured to the museum. The weather was actually much more pleasant than normal for Chennai in June. But I was unaccustomed to the heat, and I could feel the sun slowly broiling my skin. However, I was determined to visit the museum and get a few shots of what artifacts lay inside. I brought my daughter along with me so she could accomplish just that. Within 15 minutes we reached the museum, located in the district of Egmore, still jarred from the racing transit that was the streets of Chennai. I bought the tickets for us and for the camera (You need to buy a separate ticket if you want to take pictures inside the museum).

The museum is located in a series of antique buildings constructed during British-Raj era in a form of 1800’s architecture called Indo-Saracenic architecture, combining Indian styles with the Gothic revival that was popular in Victorian Britain. The mere buildings are marvels in themselves, a remarkable example of Indo-Saracenic architecture, complete with minarets, towers, and chhatris. In the outside entrance you can see scores of ancient cannons brought from different parts and different times of India. They looked remarkably well detailed for something that would eventually be marred by the soot of war. We took the photos of the cannons before entering into the main building to see the archaeological section of the museum.

Archaeology section

The archaeology section of the museum consists of historical sculptures of Hindu gods and godesses, ancient India’s metal and stone inscriptions, and temple architectures that portray the rich heritage and culture of South Indian kings and rulers. This exhibit also has various objects that shows the level of sophistication reached by the people during different periods of India’s civilization, with evident attention being lavished upon the even most minute detail.

If you look the metal figures, you can see the craftsmanship shown in the metal casting work, with sharp precision and flowing creativity. The sheer quantity of metal figures is mind boggling; it would take days to see and appreciate ancient India’s wrought work.  Some of the ancient sculptures are so old that the features have worn away with the harsh passage of time, leaving only but a faint whisper of what the artist intended. However, all sculptures appear to have a similar look to them. This is because the sculptures were made with strict accordance to ancient religious aesthetics. The anatomical proportions of the sculptures, for example, all are the same or at least very similar to each other.

We spent about one and half hours in this section and came out at around 1:00PM. My daughter and I were tired. But we both decided to visit the Numismatics section for an hour.

Numismatics section

On our way to Numismatics section, we saw a display of petrified wood. Until I read the display, I hadn’t the slightest idea that wood can turn into a rock. I later learned that this was the result of the fossilization of the wood, and there were numerous examples of this across the world. We took a photo of the petrified wood and entered into Numismatics section. They have ancient, medieval, and modern coins and medals displayed in this section. It was odd, seeing ancient currency in stone, especially with a barely etched-out depiction of ancient India. If you’re interested in ancient Indian coins and medals, emblazoned with the visages of everyone from Ashoka the Great to Edward VII, then you should visit this section.

We spent about 50 minutes and came out the building around 2:00 PM. We felt lazy and lethargic and barely responded to the haze of heat that rolling through the city. We decided that were too tired to see the arts section of the museum and we headed back home. Though we did not spend a lot of time in the museum, we both were happy that we took the time to see and appreciate the rich culture that has been woven in India for several thousand years.

Author: Mani

I am interested in writing about India


  1. Wow…. a 167 year old canon and the finish is so perfect.
    This is one placed I missed visiting in my recent visit to Chennai.

  2. If you like historical artifacts then you shoudn’t miss the Chennai Museum on your next trip to Chennai.

  3. Pam Brown says:

    Interesting writeup, it is amazing to see how these sculptures’re made several thousand years back without any technology or tools.

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