The Army Heritage Museum in Shimla is a repository of memorabilia recounting the evolution of the philosophy of the Indian Armed Forces and celebrating their achievements. Sarita Brara takes us on a tour
Set against the scenic background of pines, deodars and the lush green Annadale grounds, the Army Heritage Museum in the historic town of Shimla is a unique repository of what the Indian Army stands for, and much more. As you step inside the museum premises after an almost three-kilometre drive on a serpentine road that winds its way through dense pine forests, one is struck by the all-pervasive peace and calm broken only by the chirping of birds.
The 5000-year history of the Indian Army unfolds before you as you move from one section of the museum to another, starting from the Heritage Corner that housed the Physical Training Centre of the Western Command before 1990 to the Shaurya Hall. The evolution of the ethos and philosophy of the Indian Army, the curator of the museum, Yashpal Mehta, tells you, are documented from ancient times, and include the periods of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana that propagate the belief in working for the common good of society.
One cannot think of the Army without talking about the stories of its valour. Photographs of the signing of the Instrument of Surrender by Pakistan after the 1971 War greet you at the entrance, taking you back to that moment of national pride. Inside the museum there is a section devoted to the 1971 War. Pakistan’s letter of surrender in the War, its flag and a small letter box taken as souvenir during the liberation of Bangladesh and presented to the museum by the Army Postal Directorate are on display.
The execution order of Mangal Pandey, referred to as the first freedom fighter who dared to revolt against the British rule, is among the rare collection of memorabilia and documents in the museum. Every battle from 1947 to the Kargil victory is represented in some form or the other.
One corner of the museum is dedicated to the sacrifices made by the soldiers from Himachal Pradesh, a state often referred to as Veer Bhoomi. The busts of the soldiers inscribed with accounts of their bravery stand as tributes to their supreme sacrifice. There are also pictures of warriors like the brave Maharana Pratap, Rani Laxmibai, Shivaji Maharaja, Guru Gobind Singh and Tipu Sultan. Photographs of Field Marshal Manekshaw and General Cariappa also adorn the walls of one of the halls, and their busts and statues are placed on the lawns that are also dotted with models of tanks and helicopters used by the three wings of the armed forces.
The museum showcases a varied collection of modern and traditional weapons, flags, insignias and other military items. The collection has ancient weaponry like bows and arrows, swords, spears and also modern equipment. Medals and rewards of the Indian Army are also displayed.
If one part of the museum takes you through the various types of weaponry used down the ages, another part gives you glimpses of the uniforms that Indian soldiers have been wearing over the years in accordance with their ranks, topography and climate of the area they were posted in. Some of the uniforms date back to pre-Independence times.
A section of the museum is devoted to peacekeeping efforts of para-military forces in areas of conflict around the world. Courage is required not only during times of military conflict, but even during peace. Visitors can view photographs of how the Army, Navy and Air Force have contributed whenever the country faced natural disasters such as cyclones, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and also man-made disasters.
The lawns overlooking the famous Annadale grounds are provided with many stone benches where visitors can soak in the peace and calm while enjoying a cup of tea or coffee. The curator tells us that the Durand Cup football matches were first held at these grounds in 1888. The contribution of the Armed Forces to sports and games is also showcased at the museum, as is the history of Shimla, and the flora and fauna of the region.
Unlike other museums, there is no entry fee. A cafeteria provides a range of snacks and beverages at reasonable rates. Set at the height of 6117feet, the museum has a glasshouse with more than 300 exotic varieties of cacti and succulents. A visit to the museum set up in 2006 refreshes the mind and inspires visitors to be ready to face any battle for the good of society, the nation, and the world as a whole.
(The writer is a senior journalist who spends time in Delhi and Shimla.)
July – September 2022