Thursday 28 February 2013

A museum with a difference

Museums always have a tale to tell and whichever museum it is, it has its won share of legends, myths and stories. Generally, museums are open to the public and there are not many restrictions regarding entry and viewing of exhibits.
However, there is a museum in Bangalore which houses one of the  richest collection of archives, documents and memorabilia of old Bangalore, particularly those relating to Cantonment and the British Indian Army of pre-colonial days.
The museum is a virtual storehouse of  military history of Bangalore and it details perhaps the most comprehensive tale of the British troops in Bangalore till 1947.
Unfortunately, this museum is generally out of bounds to the public and you have to take special permission from the Army authorities if you want to visit it.
This museum is therefore little known to the public though its nomenclature MEG or Madras Engineering Group is a household name in Bangalore.
Yes, this is the MEG museum in Ulsoor, a locality almost at the centre of Bangalore. The MEG is Indian Army's oldest unit of Engineers and its personnel are more popularly known as Madras Sappers and Miners.
The Madras Sappers Museum, located within the beautiful MEG campus, showcases Bangalore’s tryst with the military. Among its stunning exhibits are  a rare porcelain bowl, which was presented to the Indian Army by the Chinese defence forces. This is believed to be the only such piece of  porcelain in the world.
The museum still preserves uniform of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives during World War I and II and the gallantry awards given by British to the Indian soldiers.
The museum is more of an archive as artifacts from 1790s are still preserved and displayed.
Though the museum was inaugurated in January 1979 by Lieutenant General P R Puri, the then Colonel Commandant of the MEG, not many can claim to have seen it. The idea of such a museum was the  brainchild of Lieutenant General C A Barreto, the Commandant of the MEG and Centre.
The museum has three main sections-history, contemporary, and an outdoor display.
The history section details may developments, including the inception of MEG in 1780, its long link with Bangalore since then, its involvement in many wars, including the two World Wars, the artifacts and gifts it won during the wars and the weapons and mines that were used then.
It also includes some beautiful sketches by William Daniell (1769-1837-It is Daniell and not Daniels as he is commonly referred to). Daniell had accompanied the British army during its siege of Srirangapatna in 1799. An 1812 on-the-spot sketch of The Battle of Seringapatnam and Army on the March on the way to the Seringapatnam battle are some of his works, which along with the paintings of a 19th Century Egyptian soldier. Other paintings include The 1803 Maratha war and an 18th Century map of South India.
The museum shows the history of the Sappers or Thambis as the MEG personnel are called from 1780 onwards. One of the oldest regiments of the Indian Army, which is 223 years old, the origin of the unit is interesting.
In 1759, the British trained Indians set up temporary companies of Indian Pioneers to fight in the wars. But soon it was observed that their training was “inadequate” and the soldiers “ran away every time they heard a gun shot”. The British then decided to set up a new unit in 1780 and Lt. Moorhouse of The Madras Artillery laid down the rules for the soldiers, who were given a salary and a dress code. This incident is depicted at the museum here with pictures and paintings.
The battle section will hold a lot of interest to military historians and it has details about all major battles fought by the Madras Sappers.
The museum contains the many trophies of Madras Sappers during their wars. A replica of the sphinx, given to the Sappers during the 1801 war, an 1885 silver model of the Burmese pagoda,
The China Bell (1842), Peking Bronze Bell (1903), and the medals that were won by the Indian soldiers are displayed.  
The contemporary section has a fantastic record of  all major events, including recent happenings such as India-Pakistan war, MEG uniforms over the years and MEG help during natural calamities.
The outdoor section has a display of the missiles that were used in the various battles, and a mini train with an engine that was used to take the British women around the MEG premises.
The MEG also has a well-stocked library with several thousand books, many of them on Bangalore and its history. The library  stocks books of British origin, a record of all previous commandant's activities, the various wars it was involved in and even social work it has been involved with.
There is also a book in the MEG that has a record of the articles displayed and the achievements of the Thambis. The book is priced at Rs. 1,000.


  1. Hi Samyuktha,

    Please tell me how i could get to visit this museum as i'am very intrested in seeing it..who do i need to contact and contact details if any...

    Thank you,
    Ainsley Wilson

  2. You can contact the MeG itself and they will be happy to oblige. The MeG campus where the museum is located just across the Ulsoor lake.