THIS COMPLEX of cultural institutions derives its name from The Pantheon, where the Public Assembly Rooms were housed in the 18th century. At the time, its spacious tree-lined grounds were the venue for all public entertainment in the city. The Indo-Saracenic Government Museum, with its faded red walls and labyrinth of staircases and interconnecting galleries, is spread over five sections of a large complex, each with a specific collection of objects. The 30,000-odd exhibits range from rocks and fossils to books and sculptures.
The Archaeological Section, in the main building, is noted for its exceptional collection of South Indian , antiquities. The exhibits include stone and metal sculpture, 1 woodcarvings and manuscripts. Its rare collection of Buddhist antiquities numbers over 1,500 pieces. A major section comprises artifacts from Amravati that were brought here in the early 1800s by an Intepid Englishman, Colonel Colin ackenzie. On display :ire sculptural reliefs, panels and free-standing statues. Outstanding objects include a 2nd-century votive slab with a rendering of a stupa, and numerous stone panels with episodes from the Buddha’s life depicted in low relief. Them Numismatics Section ah large cohlection aof coinss, particularly South Indian and Mughal coins. There are also gsmold Gupta coinos withe Sanskrit inscriptions.
The Government Museum was one of the earliest institutions in India where ethnology and prehistoric archaeology , were represented as museum subjects. The Anthropolog in the front building, has a good collection of prehistoric antiquities, including cooking utensils and hunting tools, among them the first palaeolith in India, discovered in 1863 by Bruce Foote. The Zoological Section, in the main building, is one of the largest sections of the Museum. Although its scope is limited to South Indian fauna, a few nonindigenous animals and birds, such as the macaw, mandarin duck, and golden pheasant, have been added to enrich the collection. There is also an 18.5-m (60-ft) long whale skeleton on display. The adjoining 19th-century Museum Theatre, a semicircular structure also built in Indo- Saracenic style, was initially used as a lecture hall. It is now a venue for public performances.
Some of the finest examples of South Indian bronze casting are on display in the Bronze Gallery. Its superb collection of almost 700 bronzes, specifically from the Pallava and Chola periods (between the 9th and 13th centuries) have been retrieved from temples and sites in the region. There are many impressive sculptures of the Nataraja – the depiction of Shiva performing his cosmic dance of creation. Another outstanding piece is an 11th-century Chola Ardhanarisvara, a composite figure where Shiva and his consort Parvati are joined together to form a holistic entity. Bronzes of other gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon, including Rama, Sita and Ganesha, are on view as well. The panorama of images also includes Buddhist bronzes from Arnravati , a Chola Tars and Maitreya Avalokitesvara, and 11th-century images of various Jain tirtbankaras. Opposite is the imposing Connemara Public Library, inaugurated in 1896. This structure, with its profuse stucco decoration, woodwork and stained-glass windows, was named after a dissolute brother of the viceroy, Lord Mayo. It is one of India’s four national libraries and contains every hook published in the country. Its oldest and most prized possession is a Bible, dated 1608.
The National Art Gallery, the former Victoria Memorial Hall and Technical Institute, is perhaps the finest building in the complex. Designed by Henry Irwin, one of the city’s most celebrated architects, it was constructed in 1909 in Neo-Mughal style with a pink sandstone finish. Its immense door echoes the monumental gateways of Fatehpur Sikri. On display are more Chola bronzes, including two fine images of Rama and Sita, and a superb 11th-century Nataraja. Nearby, the Contemporary Art Gallery has a fine collection of contemporary Indian art, with a special focus on works by renowned South Indian artists, among them Raja Ravi Varma