Kolkata in winter is a fine place to be, and there’s no finer way to spend a day in the city than museum-hopping. Sadly, most of them go firmly under the radar, overshadowed as they are by the splendours of the Indian Museum on Chowring­hee. The rich collections of, say, Ashutosh Museum on College Street or the Asiatic Society on Park Street provide for a more intimate setting. However, the best of the lot is the obscure State Archaeological Museum near the Behala Tram Depot. Housed in a palatial building, it was established in 1962, to house antiquities and artefacts from the various archaeologi­cal sites under the ambit of the Kolkata ASI Circle.

And what a collection it is. Sculptures in terracotta and stone adorn the main galleries, including those from Maurya, Kushana, Gupta and Pala eras. Artefacts from Chandra­ketugarh, Pandu Rajar Dhibi and countless under ongoing excavations also find pride of place here. The display is a little haphazard, and you’ll find intricate tools from the Stone Age sitting cheek by jowl with a gorgeous sculpture of a Pala-era Avalalokiteshwara. There are some fascinating scale models of archaeological digs in the state. And that’s not all. One room in the museum is given over to historical art from Ben­gal, from giant two-hundred-year-old scrolls of patachitras to illuminated manuscripts.

If there’s one grouse about the museum, it is that old bugbear, photography. Visitors are not allowed to photograph the art objects unless they have prior written permission from the state ASI office. Combine this bureaucracy with an anaemic museum store, and you’re likely to come away from the museum with nothing but memories of Bengal’s glorious cultural heritage.

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