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A Bridge to the Wisdom Tree

Chief Minister of Bihar, Shri Nitish Kumar inaugurates the opening of Bihar Museum, Bailey Road, Patna on August 7th, 2015

A Museum comes up

In 2014 December, Lopez Design was shortlisted for Specialist Design Consultant for Branding, Way-finding, Signage and Web Presence of the upcoming Bihar Museum.

Early 2015, we were informed that we had won the competitive selection!  

A small flame sparked in each of our hearts at Lopez Design, proud and excited to be a part of this fantastic venture. We automatically became inheritors of a rich legacy with a tremendous responsibility, on the road with many others shaping Bihar Museum, bound to Bihar’s destiny. Since then, we have made many visits to Patna.

A familiar line resonates from the Inception Document by Lord Cultural Resources  – Patna is a city with a storied past. The ancient city of Pataliputra was at the dazzling centre of dynastic reign many times in history –  heart of the Mauryan Empire and later the Nanda Dynasty, capital of the Guptas and Palas. In the 16th century, the fierce Pashtun Sher Shah Suri defeated the Moghuls and made Patna a fortified capital. It was from Bihar, the first unification of our country began and here was the heart of early India. 

It is the mission of Bihar Museum to showcase the splendors of the past to instill pride in the people of Bihar. Through the Bihar Government’s wing DACY (Department of Arts Culture and Youth), highly reputed firm Lord Cultural Resources were selected to design and plan this as a history museum, showcasing civilizations over two millennia to Independent India. Architects Maki and Associates from Japan visualized the Museum building experience in a unique way – as a journey, as a symbol, as learning landscape and as expanse. Ancient settlers of this region started to work with iron millennia ago; to bring this symbolic connection, the architects used a rusty red Cor-ten steel for the façade, holding a torch to Bihar’s past in metallurgy.

Walking through the steel and concrete edifice of the Museum building rising to completion, we are reminded how this land was home to kings, poets, philosophers, artisans and many others. We walk back into the past, the Bihar Museum holding the wheel of time, constantly turning to reveal many facets of history. The Museum is not just a repository or a defining monument but a catalyzing space, which can actively change the way people see Bihar and how the world sees India.

Bihar Museum opens with the Children’s Musuem and the Orientation Section

How pillars formed a structure

We are on fresh ground, delving into history over two thousand years, forging a brand new vision. The idea of place is inherent to a Museum and its location in a certain space is particularly important as it reflects the arts and culture of that region. When we studied the history of Bihar we found an interesting pattern emerging. From early on, with the emergence of two major religions from this nurturing crucible, Jainism and Buddhism defined a way of life.  It was from here for the first time, a disparate set of kingdoms were unified by the Magadhan dynasty as one land, which would be the future India. Bihar gave birth to great dynasties. Attaining social and economic stability, rulers devoted their energy to culture and learning, paving opportunities for great knowledge. Nalanda and Vikramashila were amongst the great Buddhist monasteries established that were hubs of scholarly exchange. These three entities Knowledge, Dynasty and Way of Life became the “pillars” of our Museum identity.

lion-pillar
The Lion Pillar of Asoka: Dynasty, knowledge and way of life formed a perfected society

 

The story of the Bihar Museum identity

The Chief Secretary of the Museum’s direction was to create an identity that was simple, universal and carried the essence of Bihar. The State symbol of Bihar is the Peepul tree, which is widely recognized. Asoka’s reverence and love for the Bodhi tree was so deep that one jealous queen had it cut down but it was grown back. A sapling from the original Bodhi tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment was planted in Sri Lanka. The tree is  ingrained into architectural motifs as in the Stupa of Bharhut. A note at Bharhut says that the panel is a “visual storehouse” for the reconstruction of history of India. 


Stupa of Bharhut, 150 BCE shows the Tree of Enlightenment and its connectivity with architecture of place and people

The Bodhi Tree is a symbol that has gone beyond specificity and has become a universal meaning of learning, knowledge and environment. The tree seemed too obvious, but we returned to it again and again to make it unique to Bihar Museum.


Messages in stone: Asoka’s edicts were a starting point for uncovering lost histories

All over the country, Asoka set his pillar and rock edicts and by the 19th century British indologists and Indian scholars started deciphering the ancient scripts, unravelling history through the written word. James Prinsep was the most notable, deciphering the Kharoshti and Brahmi scripts in which the edicts were written. Language transports history through time. We made a bilingual bridge in Hindi and English, which connected cultures through words to the Wisdom Tree. 


Bihar Museum is projected as the “Bridge to the past, Portal to the future”. The three trunks are emblematic of Dynasty, Knowledge and Way of Life intertwining as the Wisdom Tree

 

That thou art

How can a Museum bring its ethos to live within the hearts and minds of people? We felt the need for the Museum to get closer and become less imposing. We wanted the story of the Museum to play out as everyone’s story. In the booklet we wrote titled “I am the Bihar Museum” the Museum speaks to its audience. The idea of personalizing an institution came from Indian philosophy and the words in our ancient texts that say “Tat Tvam Asi” – That thou art. The sentences are naturally attuned to becoming one with the Museum in the booklet text.  “I connect with each individual at his or her level”  reaches out to everyone to find his or her space. “Think about me as a land with many trails” is a reference to Maki’s architecture, encouraging visitors to come back again and again to have renewed experiences.

Several days before the Museum opening our group went to Patna and got into action. Hoardings, banners and placards went up all over town. At the opening of the Bihar Museum on August 7th, 2015, we were together with a huge crowd. Shri Nitish Kumar suddenly opened the booklet we had made and started to read from it. “I am the Bihar Museum….”

poster01

 

Looking forward

Our story with every brand is about giving birth to a form, which has a certain solid character. This has to be nurtured and grown. Like every personality on this planet, a brand’s character is tested. It shows itself in many situations – on the web, in communications, in posters, in little booklets and large hoardings. But most of all, it must reflect in the behaviour of people who come to the Museum and who are a part of the Bihar Museum. We look forward to continuing our journey with Bihar Museum and the people of Bihar.

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by Sujatha Shankar Kumar
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