Roughly since 1991, as India embraced an era of technological progress and corporate excess, the nation’s culturescape began to view museums as static and inaccessible tokens of the past. Traditionally regarded as repositories of the past, post-1991 India dictated for years that we embrace the shinier aspects of a neo-liberal economy instead of quenching our curiosity in the halls of an institution, that ties India’s multitunious pasts. Such a line of thinking degraded the museum from a respected institution to an anachronous emblem, frequented by only a few scholars and visitors.
Defining modernity and its timeline is a tricky venture. Modernity, as a concept, encapsulates the rapid changes and advancements that have shaped our contemporary world. So, cut short to the present day and age, there has been a resurgence in the collective interest in the nation’s rich cultural past channeled through the institutions of museums. But what does it exactly entail when we say that museums have embraced modernity? How can a 17th-century Mughal coin be an object of interest for the Gen-Z? Or what relevance does the ancient rock-archtecture of the Ellora cave hold today?
With all these questions in mind, Sarmaya was born. To put it simply, Sarmaya is an online museum. It was established in 2015 by Tina and Paul Abraham. The word Sarmaya is an Urdu word that means ‘collective or shared wealth’ and rightly so. With a digital presence and a physical collection, Sarmaya seamlessly bridges the past and present, inviting young Indians to embark on a journey of cultural discovery. Sarmaya’s mission is to engage and educate, and through a digitally-driven approach, tap into the transformative power it holds in shaping the future of museum experiences. Sarmaya defines itself beautifully as “not a museum you go to, it’s a museum that comes to you.”
At the heart of Sarmaya lies a meticulously curated repository of art, artifacts, and living traditions from the vast Indian subcontinent. Its collection encompasses a diverse range of categories, including numismatics, cartography, photography, indigenous art, contemporary art, and rare books. Their passion for collecting and sharing stories about the Indian subcontinent’s cultural history and artistic traditions laid the foundation for Sarmaya's inception. From paintings depicting the British siege of Delhi to unique photographs of places in India lost in time like the Watson’s Hotel (it collapsed in 2020), its vast collections are an invaluable source of knowledge for the intellectually curious.
Sarmaya emerges as a trailblazer, challenging traditional notions of what a museum can be. It transcends physical limitations by making its collection accessible online, inviting anyone with a curious mind to explore and engage with India's rich heritage. By erasing boundaries of space, Sarmaya ensures that its rare historical artifacts and Indian art are available to a global audience, fostering inclusivity and democratizing access to cultural treasures. Sarmaya recognizes the importance of engaging the younger generation so that they can build and understanding and appreciate their cultural inheritance. Through its digital platforms, including their website, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube channels, Sarmaya offers immersive experiences, captivating storytelling, and visually compelling content that continuously engages and educates the nation’s youth.
Moreover, Sarmaya challenges the constraints of time. It interprets history through a contemporary lens, infusing events that took place centuries ago with the urgency of a breaking story. This approach sparks curiosity and invites dialogue, encouraging visitors to connect the past with the present and find relevance in historical narratives.
A museum is important for the same reason studying a subject like history is important. Without knowledge of the past, we cannot build a better future. However, at the same time, the museum cannot be a dinosaur or an institution frozen in time. Like all things, it must evolve catering to the needs of the present and Sarmaya is a beacon of that evolution.
Click here to explore India's rich cultural history through Sarmaya's lens.
Follow Sarmaya Arts Foundation here.