Lok Virsa: Pakistan’s Unique Ethnological Museum

Pakistan has many museums (though not as many as it should have) and some of them are really fine. But the most outstanding of these is the Pakistan Ethnological Museum in Islamabad, which has-not received due publicity. The only time it featured in the press was when the President inaugurated it last year. Somehow our museums are not a popular subject for newspapers.

Also called the Virsa Museum (because it was planned and laid out by Lok Virsa, the National Institute of Folk and Traditional Heritage) it is completely different from other museums. It is located in the Lok Virsa premises, the same place where the institute was set up in 1974. This place is on the beautiful winding road appropriately called Garden Road, situated behind Shakarparian Hill. It was a brave and unusual decision to locate it so far away from the main Constitution Avenue where all the important government institutions are to be found. But the site is truly attractive.

A description of the Ethnological Museum and the functions of Lok Virsa are so interconnected that it is not possible to talk of one without mentioning the other. The visitor coming to know of the Museum will only look at its galleries and gaze with wonder at the figures and artifacts depicting the march of man in the past centuries in what is today Pakistan. But it is only the few who know what Lok Virsa is really about.

The museum is splendid opportunity for the people of Pakistan who live in Islamabad or visit it, to have a look at their links with the past spreading over a thousand years or more. While meeting all the requirements of a standard museum it is much more, for it serves as a reference point for educating those who are students of history and anthropology and other connected subjects, and aesthetically enriches both their vision and their mind.

With soft music playing in the background, a visitor sees the development of various crafts and trades, nit just through pictures but through actual display of the requisite implements. A special feature, for example, is a pictorial and figurative depiction of the march of transportation in Pakistan, from the bullock cart of Moenjodaro to the modern truck with all its embellishments of pop art.

There is a goodly space devoted to the shrines of sufi saints, the story of the progress of textiles from prehistoric times to the modern day village fabrics worked by the patient hands of women, the hall of architecture where one can see how the people of Pakistan have lived from time immemorial to the 21st century.

Similarly ample space is allotted for depicting the characteristics of life as lived by the people in the four provinces and Azad Kashmir, the peculiarities of the Kalash and other tribes whose origins are shrouded in mystery, and such curiosities as the qahva-khana of the Frontier towns and villagers.

The ancient history of the land now called Pakistan has not been ignored. There is a section named “The land of history” which, besides other things, shows aspects of the invasion of Alexander, and another titled as “The land of wisdom” which revolves around the teachings of the Buddha from which sprang the glorious Gandhara civilization. There are also other sections, too numerous to intention. It would require a long article to do full justice to this fine and beautiful museum.

Visitors to the Pakistan ethnological museum must have a look at the basic functions of Lok Virsa too. During the last 30 years it has not left the remotest part of the country uncovered in its search for folk material. Its mobile recording and filming units were sent out to hunt all kinds of cultural expressions of traditional life. The result is that it has managed to put together a magnificent treasury of rural songs and music, folk tales as narrated by elderly men and women, nursery rhymes, riddles and proverbs and a host of other oral matter sand that had never been recorded before. Of course its annual Folk Mela is now famous and attracts more foreigners than local citizens. — A Pothohari

Leave a Comment