The Museum Beneath Your Feet
The path slopes downwards, lit by floor lights, with metallic rings protruding from both walls. “It sloped so that artillery could be brought down easily,” says Umesh Kashikar, the public relations officer of the Raj Bhavan in Mumbai, as he leads the way. Kashikar is offering a preview of the newly refurbished British-era bunker believed to have been used as an arms storage room for defence in the early part of the 20th century. Rediscovered in 2016, it has since been electrified, spruced up, repainted and awaits being opened to the public as a museum. “This bunker is a unique and wonderful example of urban archaeology in the city of Mumbai,” one of the boards reads. The museum will showcase not just aspects of Raj Bhavan’s storied past and the bunker’s history, but also information about the forts of Maharashtra and the freedom struggle. Various virtual reality features are also being planned and several explanatory panels and models are already in place. The 15,000 square feet museum will open to visitors on a small scale from October 1. Raj Bhavan became the ‘government house’ from 1885, at a time when Bombay was a flourishing city and empire was at its height. It sits on Land’s End, surrounded by water and vulnerable to potential attacks by sea, and experts suspect the bunker was created to fortify the property. With apertures for water and light, a drainage system and rooms marked as ‘shell stores’, ‘central artillery store’ and ‘workshop’, the entire space had been sealed off for six decades until 2016. Then during the tenure of the previous governor C.H. Vidyasagar Rao, staff were directed to bring down a wall covering one of the entrances, only to stumble on a series of rooms below the lawn. After a structural audit by a team from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, conservation architect Vikas Dilawari was enlisted to study its history and context. “It’s a very good idea to open it up to the public,” says Dilawari. “Otherwise where would you get an opportunity to go underground and see something so unique?” Dilawari believes it was likely constructed during the tenure of George Sydenham Clarke (1907-1913), the only governor with a military background, and built in phases, although there is no record of it having been used to fend off an attack.
BATTLE READY Inside Raj Bhavan, a newlyrefurbished British-era bunker that has been converted into a museum of history