Shankar’s International Doll’s Museum

The world in miniature ♦

This article is part of a longer story on Delhi’s museums.

[cycloneslider id=”shankar-dolls-museum”]To celebrate Janmashtami this year, the doll-makers at this museum’s hidden workshop spent four months working on a new diorama. It’s the 45-year-old museum’s only multi-sensory display: a tableau of Vasudeva crossing the Yamuna with baby Krishna on his head. Thunder crashes and lightening flickers over the plastic rain and frozen waves, adding a gloomy vibe to the dim room, which is already eerie with the hundred glassy doll eyes looking out at you.

When political cartoonist K Shankar Pillai began amassing little people (many of them gifts from visiting heads of state), he envisioned his collection as a mini-United Nations. That vision still defines the Shankar’s International Doll’s Museum, but it is – perhaps like the UN itself – a bit frayed. There are amazing, gently disintegrating dolls here: a 250-year-old Swiss doll (who has been “confined to bed” in the display); Shankar’s first doll – an apple-cheeked Hungarian peasant;  Japanese Girl’s Day festival hinamatsuri dolls with precise little fans and scrolls; witch-faced Irish biddies; and so much more. There are also recreations of Neil Armstrong’s first moonwalk, Krishna cavorting with a bunch of wild-haired gopis, and Indian dolls made in the museum’s own workshop. Sadly, information on the doll-folk’s individual histories is negligible.

Shankar’s International Doll’s Museum Children’s Book Trust, Nehru House, 4 Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg (+91 11 2331 6970). Pragati Maidan. Tue-Sun 10am-6pm, Entry R15; R5 for children under 12.

Read more about Delhi’s museums.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, September 2011.