The plea for setting up a museum in DHAKA was first made in the newspaper The DHAKA NEWS on 1 November 1856. In 1909, a few coins were transferred from Shillong to Dhaka, and a suitable place was needed to preserve them. H E Stapleton, a famous numismatist made a proposal to Governor Sir Lancelot Hare on 1 March 1910 to establish a museum in Dhaka. Consequently, a meeting of distinguished citizens of Dhaka was held on 25 July 1912 at NORTHBROOK HALL. The establishment of the museum was formally approved by the government and published in the official Gazette of 5 March 1913. A provisional General Committee of 30 members was constituted with Nicholas D Beatson-Bell, Commissioner of Dhaka Division, as president. It was authorised to appoint a provisional executive committee to draft rules for the management of the museum. The rules drawn up were approved by the government on 18 November 1913, and in accordance with these, a general committee and an executive committee were formed.
In the first meeting of the general committee held on 3 March 1914, a decision was taken to request the Bengal government for a grant of Rs 5,000 to cover the development expenses of the museum for 1914-15. The first meeting of the executive committee was held on 19 May 1914. At this meeting the draft budget for the year 1914-15 was prepared and a decision was taken to appoint a curator. NALINI KANTA BHATTASALI joined as the first curator of Dhaka Museum on 6 July 1914, with a monthly salary of Rs 100. Although the museum was inaugurated on 7 August 1913, it was opened to the public on 25 August 1914, with 379 objects on display. A total of 4,453 people visited the museum in 1914-15; among them 143 were female.
Gradually, collections and activities of the museum increased. The secretariat of the museum was transferred to Baraduwari and Deuri at Nimtali (now in the premises of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh) in July 1915. In 1936, the government dissolved both the general committee and the executive committee and a 9-member Dhaka Museum Committee was formed with the Vice Chancellor of the UNIVERSITY OF DHAKA as president and the curator of the museum as secretary. Nalini Kanta Bhattasali died on 6 February 1947. Later, Professor Ahmed Hasan Dani, Professor Abu Mohamed Habibullah, Professor Sirajul Haque and Dr Mafizullah Kabir worked as part-time honorary curators at different times. According to the Dhaka Museum Ordinance, a board of trustees was formed on 22 April 1970 and the museum became an autonomous institution. The Bangladesh Jatiya Jadughar (National Museum) Ordinance was promulgated on 20 September 1983 under which the Bangladesh Jatiya Jadughar Board of Trustees has been constituted on 15 November 1983.
The Bangladesh National Museum was shifted to its present site at Shahbag on 17 November 1983. The four-storied building of the museum has 43 galleries on a total floor space of 238,000 square feet. The galleries include: Bangladesh in maps; Rural Bangladesh; SUNDARBANS; rocks and minerals; plants; flowers, FRUITs and creepers; animals; BIRDs; mammals; ELEPHANT; life in Bangladesh; BOATs of Bangladesh; tribes of Bangladesh-1; tribes of Bangladesh-2; potteries; archaeological artifacts; sculpture-1; sculpture-2; architecture; inscriptions; coins, medals and ORNAMENTS; ivory works; arms and weapons; metal works; porcelain and glassware; dolls; musical instruments; TEXTILES and costumes; embroidered quilts; wood carvings-1; wood carvings-2; manuscripts and documents; traditional and miniature paintings; Shilpacharya ZAINUL ABEDIN Gallery; contemporary art-1; contemporary art-2; eternal Bangladesh, portraits of national heroes, historical documents and mementos of national heroes, martyred intellectuals; WAR OF LIBERATION-1; War of Liberation-2; world art-1; world art-2 and portraits of world personalities. The museum has two auditoriums - one with 700 seats and the other with 200 seats, a temporary exhibition hall and office rooms for officers and the staff.
By June 1998, the museum had collected 82,475 objects. The most significant objects are: ancient petrified wood (2.5 million years old) collected from LALMAI and MAINAMATI; blackstone Naga Darwaza (serpent doorway) of 10th-11th century collected from Bangarh, DINAJPUR; pieces of atom bombs blasted in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945; mat made of ivory; objects of the Liberation War of Bangladesh; objects used by the martyrs of the LANGUAGE MOVEMENT; MUSLIN of Dhaka; items of folk art and crafts; coins of emperor Sher Shah; terracotta plaques; sculptures and collection of contemporary art including various types of statues.
A large portion of the budget of the museum comes from the government as grant. The sources of the museum's own income include the rent collected from the four auditoriums and other buildings and sale of entry tickets. The director general is the chief executive of the museum. It has four branch museums: Osmany Museum at SYLHET; AHSAN MANZIL Museum in Dhaka; Zia Smriti Museum in CHITTAGONG, and the Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala at MYMENSINGH. The number of foreign and local visitors at the museum average 2,345 a day. For rural people, the museum organised a Mobile Exhibition in 1979 with a special bus containing a Mini Museum of 28 small galleries. The objective of this programme was to make the masses familiar with the culture and tradition of Bangladesh.
In 1976, the museum started the school service programme that provided the students of Dhaka city with the opportunity to visit the museum by using its own transport. Under this programme, a total of 24,013 student visitors visited the museum during 1996-97.
According to the nature of objects displayed, the museum is divided into four curatorial departments. These are: Department of History and Classical Art, Department of Ethnography and Decorative Art, Department of Contemporary Art and World Civilisation, and Department of Natural History. The important objects under the supervision of the Department of History and Classical Art include the table on which the Instrument of Surrender was signed by the Pakistan army on 16 December 1971; the first flag of independent Bangladesh hoisted at foreign missions; documents of the Liberation War of Bangladesh; torture machines; The historic declaration of BANGABANDHU SHEIKH MUJIBUR RAHMAN delivered on 7 March 1971 in Dhaka; the bullet- ridden and blood-stained shirt and shoes of Shaheed Shafiur Rahman, a martyr of the language movement of 1952; personal mementos of martyred intellectuals and Shaheed Asad; historical mementos of ROQUIAH SAKHAWAT HOSSAIN, MICHAEL MADHUSUDAN DUTT, KAZI NAZRUL ISLAM and RABINDRANATH TAGORE; ancient blackstone, sandstone and metal sculptures; coins of gold, silver and metal; ancient inscriptions and manuscripts; terracotta plaques; wooden sculpture; medals, royal decrees and historic artworks; iron axes; archaeological artifacts and objects of religious significance.
Remarkable objects under the supervision of the Department of Ethnography and Decorative Art include muslin SARI; decorative umbrella and sari; choga (a sort of loose and long outer dress); achkan (kinkhab- ceremonial dress); textiles; boats of Bangladesh; weapons made of iron; cannons; nakada (war drum); swords; filigree models; ivory works; NAKSHI KANTHA (embroidered quilt); plates and dishes of porcelain; potteries; dolls; wood carvings; musical instruments; ornaments worn by various tribes; dresses worn by tribes; ornaments worn by women; fishing implements; objects of household decoration; moulds of decorative cakes; and strings of glass-beads.
The important objects under the Department of Contemporary Art and World Civilisation include paintings and sculptures of Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin, Quamrul Hasan and artist S M Sultan and artworks and reproductions of works by renowned artists from home and abroad; potteries burnt during the Second World War in Hiroshima of Japan and various local and foreign objects collected from Bangabhaban.
Objects supervised by the Department of Natural History include mapping of rocks, minerals and population of Bangladesh; geological map of Bangladesh; water colour paintings of rural Bangladesh; stuffed Royal BENGAL TIGER of the Sundarbans, chitral deer, honey bee, PEAFOWL, CATTLE and birds, fruits and flowers, butterflies, pet animals, marine mollusc, elephant, monkey, LANGUR and the skeleton of a whale. Two other departments are Conservation Laboratory and Department of Public Education. The laboratory looks after the restoration of museum objects using scientific methods. The Department of Public Education conducts museum-related education programmes for the public and students. This department has seven sections: education, display, library, publications, audio-visual, auditorium and photography. The Department of Public Education organises seminars, symposia, exhibitions, competitions and educational and cultural functions.