‘Dr. Dinkar Gangadhar Kelkar or Kakasaheb Kelkar was the founder of the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum.’ If I begin this article with this introduction, I am afraid I will not be praising him enough for his passion and determination in single-handedly collecting more than 21,000 antiquities with the modest means of a man who was a university dropout. With this penchant for collecting historical materials and rare foresight, he preserved the relics of the past which might have disappeared forever, and institutionalised them for future generations. Considering his impeccable contribution to heritage and culture he was awarded the Doctor of Letters by the Pune University in 1978 and later, in 1980, the civilian award of Padma Shri by the Government of India. This makes one curious about the life of a personality who disliked the very idea of going to school every day but became a prominent figure in the study of the Indian historical and cultural milieu.
Dinkar Kelkar (fondly referred to as 'Kaka') was born on January 10, 1896 in Kamshet, a small, beautiful village in Maharashtra. Since his father was in Indian postal service, his childhood was spent moving between places such as Belgaum, Pune and Mumbai, in the company of two elder brothers who were also his friends. His brothers, Narhar and Bhaskar, were extremely doting. During the time when Kaka was completely involved in collecting the antiquities, his family was supported by his brother Bhaskar Rao. His support was a boon, it allowed Kaka to spend his entire time in search of antiquities.
During his stay in Pune, his teachers like Shripad Mahadev Mate and Ram Ganesh Gadkari, who were also outstanding writers of their time, influenced Dinkar a lot. This awakened the poet in him and he soon started composing several poems expressing his love for the history. For his literary endeavours, he adopted the name ‘Adnayadawasi’, which literally means ‘denizen of the unknown world’. His love for poetry and history led to daydreaming because of which he had to struggle through high school. He pursued his university education at Wilson College, Mumbai, and might well be the most successful university dropout from the University of Mumbai.
During those college days, Kaka befriended S.A. Dange, who later became a prominent member of the Communist Party of India, and it became a lifelong relationship. His love for poetry also brought him close to the major poets in the Marathi language of the time. His marriage with Kamalabai, solemnised in 1913, proved to be one of the important events of his life during this time. Both of them were teenagers which in modern terms was a child marriage. Their married life of 67 years was eventful. Kamalabai proved to be the perfect complement to Dinkar and because of her strong support he could achieve what he did. It was during this time that Dinkar started a new hobby which gave him the identity of a museologist that culminated into the establishment of the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum.
Dinkar Kelkar: The poet
His efforts towards the establishment of the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum was both phenomenal and tiring. In his early twenties, with the responsibility of a family, Dinkar took up a job at Aryan Watch Company which was right in front of his home in Girgaum and was paid INR 5 a month. As a shop assistant who looked after the spectacle section of the store, Dinkar learned the basics of business there. During this time, he was also working on his own style in poetry and Adnayadavasi became a name popular in the literary circle. The first collection of his poems, Adnyatnad, was published in 1924. The INR 200 royalty which he received for this collection was the main source of investment for his first shop in Pune, where his family settled permanently. The support of his brother, who by that time was an established eye specialist, boosted his business.
Dinkar was soon ready to open another shop for which he chose the Camp Area in Pune. He soon earned enough to buy a secondhand Baby Austin car, which was a luxury by the standards of that time. Dinkar took great delight in taking his poet friends for excursions in the car. By that time, his shop became a popular meeting point of major poets of that era. There they used to engage in all aspects of poetry and, under the guidance of Shripad Krishna Kolhatkar in 1921-22, established a proper study circle called Shri Maharashtra Sharada Mandir.
His literary activity took a formal shape and Adnayadavasi started publishing books and anthologies of poetry. The first major publication of Shri Maharashtra Sharada Mandir was Shri Maharashtra Sharada. It was during this time that he edited and published Zhenduchi Phule, a collection of satirical poems by Prahlad Keshav Atre (popularly known as Keshavkumar). In 1933, another collection of Dinkar’s poems titled Adnyatawasinchya Kavita (Poem of Adnayadavasi) was published by Shri Tukaram Pundalik Shetye; it was priced at 1 rupee 8 anna, which was very high for that time. His poetry was brewed in the nationalist sprit and soaked in his love for history. However, despite the popularity he enjoyed, all of a sudden he stopped writing poetry. His last poem before giving up was aptly titled ‘Kavite! jai door bharara’, the poem asked the muse to leave him and go far away; his next poem came out only after 40 years then.
Kaka and his museum
Kaka’s dedication to cultural preservation is evident from an interview published in Kirloskar Magazine in 1941, where he explains, ‘Even if a small insignificant thing is lost by us, we become restless. It upsets us for a long time. How is it that we don't feel anything for having lost our motherland which was so precious and rendered rich by all sorts of arts and artefacts, possessing such tremendous wealth? It can be recovered only if we try to create awareness about this past glory in the mind of the younger generation and can happen only through showing them these artefacts.’
During his college days, Kaka started a new hobby of collecting ‘old things’ like old coins, discarded locks and toys. Initially, it was a random collection. There was no specific purpose for this. But he took great delight in collecting those antiquities and caring for them. This was the initial step in the journey towards the establishment of Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum.
In pursuit of his passion, the Old Pune city helped him a lot. The antiquities which he collected arrived mainly through donations as well as purchasing and collecting scrap material. He could identify the objects and the places where he could collect them instinctually. He would visit the ancestral mansions of people who were once the noblemen of the old city. He would collect old and discarded items from their houses. The collection included heavy tapestry, metal utensils and gadgets, portraits and pictures, furniture, carved wooden doors and pillars, exquisite jewellery, mirrors and carpets. He also collected weapons such as swords, guns, country-made pistols, spears and javelins.
His exclusive love for antiquities was supplemented by the narration of stories of bygone days by Sardar Dixit Patwardhan, who was instrumental to the initiation of Kaka’s monumental collection of paintings in the 1920s. Slowly with the donations by him and his family, Kaka was able to make a huge collection of antiquities which was earlier lying around like junk in the Dixit Patwardhan house. Kaka brought them all home, polished and framed them to make them presentable. Kaka’s home was filled with artefacts such as portraits, knives and scissors, copper and brass utensils, swords and shields, the objects of everyday use such as betelnut crackers, hookahs, musical instruments, lamps, images of gods and goddesses, stone carvings and much more. It was during this time that Kaka got the idea of visiting the local flea market. The flea market in Ravivar Peth in Pune contributed immensely to the vast treasure of the Dinkar Kelkar Museum. He collected junk made of brass, copper and iron that was sold by the kilo. The flea market enriched Kaka’s collection in no time.
Old Pune at this time was covered with old mansions and buildings called ‘wadas’. Wadas are strongly-built stone structures supported by delicately-carved wooden pillars. Kaka became an admirer of these structures and began to make a collection of items. Kaka would buy these objects at a very nominal price and transport them home. The Kelkar Museum was also built with similar material. It was the same passion that led him to restore the Mastani Mahal which was in ruins. Mastani, presumably a daughter of King Chhatrasal of Bundelkhand, was the epitome of feminine beauty. When Mastani accompanied Peshwa Baji Rao I to Pune, he constructed a palace for her. They married and their love for each other became the core theme of many poems and stories, also inspiring Bajirao Mastani, a Bollywood movie. Kaka too had written poems related to this theme when he was Adnyatawasi.
He came to know Kamalnayan Bajaj, the owner of the land where Mastani Mahal stood, wanted to dispose of the palace to build a factory. Bajaj gave away Mastani Mahal to Kaka for almost nothing. Kaka dismantled the palace brick by brick and, together with his wife Kamala and his daughter Prabha, restored it in his museum with the help of a skilled carpenter, Janba Thore. This is one of the best examples of salvage archaeology work done within limited means without compromising the originality of the structure. He also rearranged the entire Mastani Mahal with Peshwa-style cushions, carpets, hookahs, tanpuras and fans.
Kaka roamed the narrow lanes of Pune to acquire the discarded objects which could prove to be an asset for his collection. The search for these antiquities took him to various places such as Belgaum, Bengaluru, the princely states of Gujarat such as Baroda and Junagadh, of Rajasthan such as Bikaner, Bundi, Dholpur, etc., and even distant places such as Delhi and Madurai. To save on his travel expenditure, he would travel in the cheapest class in trains and buses and take accommodation in the cheapest hotels possible.
During one of the trips to the flea market at Madurai, Kaka chanced upon a bronze head of Lord Ram. Kaka was instantly attracted to it but expressed no interest in front of the shopkeeper. Kaka had by then become an expert in identifying the age of bronze statues and knew that it was a Chola-age statue. He enquired about the statue head and the shopkeeper began to quote a price which was very high. Kaka told him just the head of the statue is not worth buying. The shopkeeper wanted to get rid of the statue and began lowering the price. Kaka refused to buy it and left the shop but not before furtively measuring the neck of the statue with a string.
He entered another shop and while casually browsing through the antiquities saw a statue of a human torso used as a clothes-horse. His sharp eyes identified it as the missing torso of the head of Ram he had seen at the other shop. This shopkeeper too quoted a price too high but through his deft dealing Kaka managed to buy the torso for the price of scrap; his excellent negotiation skills made sure he also got the head at a throwaway price. He brought both the pieces to Pune and with the help of his friend who was a metallurgist fixed the pieces together in the same way it might have looked before. A wonderful raconteur, Kaka had stories for each object of the museum which he used to tell at will to visitors.
The collections of the Kelkar Museum
As mentioned before, Kaka collected the antiquities as a hobby and initially he didn't have any definite plan of what to do with them. Kaka’s business was at its peak and he had a treasure trove of antiquities at home. To add to his happiness, the couple was blessed with a child after a long wait. The Dinkar couple was very happy and they named the boy Raja. However, they soon discovered that he had a visual impairment. This kept him in the company of his parents for many years. The couple spent all their time in looking after their child. Nine years passed in constant caregiving. By his tenth year, he was seriously ill with high fever and ultimately passed away. The couple fell into depression. Kaka stopped going out in search of new antiquities. They felt their life had lost meaning; that was until Kaka decided to make Raja immortal. He decided to dedicate his entire collection to Raja’s memory. He named his museum ‘Raja Sangraha’ and then changed it to ‘Raja Kelkar Historical Collection’ which eventually became ‘Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum’.
The museum has a huge collection of antiquities which depicts the richness of the culture that has shaped our present times. It was not just about the beauty of the objects but the minds of the people who made everyday articles materials of artistic wonder. Kaka wanted to enrich his collection in a systematic way, which is why items were selected and distributed among separate divisions within the museum: the gallery, doors gallery, images of gods and goddesses, gallery of kitchen utensils, ornaments, musical instruments, paintings, and such.
He had collected hundreds of betel nut crackers and lamps from various parts of the country such as West Bengal, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. These are from different historical periods belonging to dynasties such as Mughals, Marathas and Peshwas. The lamps in his collection also reflect the history of thousands of years, from the age of stone lamps and conch shell lamps right to the present day. The most intricate and adorable in this collection may be the ornate shikhar deep. Kaka has also written a book exclusively on lamps titled Lamps of India, published by the Government of India, which has a foreword by Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India. The same book was also presented to the then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, when he visited the museum. In this book, Kaka tried to interpret the lifestyle of the people in those places and the different ornamentations on the lamps determines the status of the owner.
Dinkar Kelkar’s vision to make a museum which depicts the daily life of the people of India is a remarkable attempt. He made a successful attempt to exhibit the objects which a Maharashtrian household usually possesses. It reflects the daily household activities of a Maharashtrian family. The household objects such as Tulsi Vrindavan, vajri (foot scrubber), kitchen utensils, etc., which are exhibited in the Museum are examples of this.
For instance if we start with a day, it depicts the vrindavan (holy basil plant) which most Hindu Maharashtrian houses will have, which is worshiped in the morning. As the day starts with a bath, the vajri used as a foot scrubber, depicts this aspect of the daily affair. The kitchen utensils, including tableware, give a vivid picture of the domestic life of those times. The variety of betel nut crackers and boxes, musical instruments, playing cards and chessboards show the entertainment part of day-to-day life. The collection of the statues of gods and goddesses such as Ram, Krishna, Ganesha and folk gods like Khandoba, the house shrines, the lamps, the utensils of worship, etc., stand for the religious part of daily life. The houses in which they lived are reflected through the doors and windows present in the museum. The common makeup articles found in the vanity box of women such as mirror, kol stick, the containers for sindoor, which are also seen as part of many cultures in India, are depicted with the beauty they possess.
The honours and titles of Dinkar Kelkar
Dinkar Kelkar’s efforts to make a museum single-handedly and to make it a centre of education are exemplary. For this, he was felicitated by the Indian Centre for Encouraging Excellence. Later in 1976, FIE Foundation of Ichalkaranji, Maharashtra, honoured Kaka with its prestigious award. In 1978, the Pune University conferred on him a DLitt degree for his achievements, following which Dr Mulk Raj Anand, the famous novelist and art historian, organised ‘Dinkar Kelkar Festival’ in Pune from November 2 to November 9, 1978. The Max Mueller Bhavan in Pune also felicitated Kaka by arranging a lecture series of archaeologist Prof. Herbert Hertel in his honour. Further, Kaka was made an Honorary Fellow of the Museum Association of India and was also given the membership of the Archives and Archaeological Council of Maharashtra.
Considering his untiring efforts to accrue the antiquities from far-off places, the then Union Railway Minister S.K. Patil offered him free pass in the Indian Railway so that he could travel comfortably to pursue his passion even in his old age. However, in terms of sheer stature, he received the highest honour when he was coveted with Padma Shri in 1981. Kaka also received the first ever Salarjung Gold Medal in 1987 for his noble and pioneering contribution in the field of Museology.
Kaka’s wife Kamala played a very important role in setting up the museum. She even sold her ornaments for the purpose of the museum. It was during this time that the two of them had a discussion about the collection they possessed and realised that they had all the materials for daily living. Kamala came up with the suggestion of dedicating a separate section for women. In a traditional Hindu set-up, a Maharashtrian woman starts her day with a daily prayer which she offers to the gods and goddesses in the ‘devhara’ (house shrine) of her home. The idols of various gods and goddesses and the arti tabak for the worship form an indispensable part of this ritual. The tulsi vrindavan which forms part of the house courtyard is another feature. Objects such as vajri, hair pins, vermillion box, ittar bottles, kajal, etc., form a part of her vanity box or ‘fani karanda’. The other objects of her use include the kitchen implements such as vessels, pestle and mortal, bowls and plates, and ornaments, jewellery and textiles.
In 1981, when Indira Gandhi visited the Kelkar Museum, she was so enamoured by the collection that she forgot about prime ministerial protocols. During their conversation, Kaka suggested the women’s section be named after her, an offer Gandhi politely declined, instead telling him that it should be named after Kamala. This separate section built inside the museum, holding exclusively items of women’s day-to-day use, was ultimately named ‘Vanita Kaksha’.
Gandhi praised Kaka’s dedication for bringing to life such a museum. Within a few days of their meeting, Kaka received a letter from her in which she wrote:
'For many years I have been talking of the necessity of collecting and preserving articles which have been of everyday use in households all over India but are now becoming rare and unavailable. What fine workmanship and attractive design they have. And what a sad come down it is to those items which we are obliged to buy today. On a recent visit to Pune, I was delighted to find that long before and without knowing of my idea, Dr. Kelkar had on his own put my idea into practice. He and his wife had made an excellent collection.
Dr. Kelkar’s collection confirms our admiration for the skill of our craftsmen. It also reminds us that modern industrial civilisation ignores the consideration that art does not belong to a separate niche, isolated from everyday life, but must be an integral part of it.
In olden days utility was in no way compromised by the individual care given to the production of these beautiful articles. The contemporary dissociation between art and function reduces the wholeness of man’s personality. Life is one and should not be compartmentalised.
I wish Dr. Kelkar many more years of active life. His new project of collecting articles used exclusively by women is a novel and good idea.
My good wishes to Dr. Kelkar.’
Gandhi also extended full support of the State and Union government for the museum. She made it a point to recommend Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum whenever a foreigjn dignitary visited India. In this way, dignitaries such as Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway, extended full support for Kaka’s visit to any museum anywhere in the world.
After the death of Kamala, Kaka travelled tirelessly to collect objects for the Vanita Kaksha. He bought more and more articles of daily use for the Vanita Kaksha from various places such as Hyderabad, Odisha, Bengal, Bihar, and Gujarat.
His wife’s death left him lonely and dejected. Though he was in the company of his daughter Praha and her husband Dr Haribhau Ranade, Kaka struggled to get the emotional support that he needed. To come out of his loneliness, he began visiting the museum twice a day. He also travelled to places such as Tanjore, Trivandrum and Trichy, and collected objects which added to the museum collection. It was during this period that after a gap of 40 years, he again started writing poems. He felt a sudden urge to write and wrote 700 poems from 1980 to 1985. These poems, dedicated to Kamala, were published in two volumes titled Adnyatwasinchi Kavita.
Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum had by now attained the status of a renowned museum of everyday items. But as time passed, Kaka started getting worried about the fate of the museum after him. He decided to handover the museum to the Government of Maharashtra. Thus, the museum was taken over by the Archaeology Department of the Maharashtra government in 1962. The Kelkar family still has the right to the day-to-day governing of the museum.
On April 17, 1990, the eventful life of Kaka came to an end. He passed away in his sleep. The function to bestow upon him the prestigious award of Punyabhushan was scheduled for April 22, 1990.
Kaka will be remembered in Indian history as the person who opened a treasure trove of the past to the future generations. Most importantly, he upheld the belief that artistic value of items don’t trump their utilitarian value, that objects of art in India are not separate exquisite items but a part of daily living.
Gupte, S., H.G. Ranade,et al (Ed.). 1991. Padmashree Dr. D. G. Tatha Kakasaheb Kelkar Smriti-Granth. (Commemoration Volume). Pune: Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum
Joshi, Mrudula. 2011. Pursuit and Rhetoric of Dinkar Kelkar: Preserving Heritage of India. Pune: Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum
———. 2017. Maharashtrache Shilpakar: Sangrahalaya—Maharshi Dr. Dinkar Gangadhar Kelkar Urf Kavi Adnyatvasi. Mumbai: Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya Ani Sanskruti Mandal