A Community Museum in the Gya-Sasoma village of Ladakh

This story was submitted as part of our Wiki Asia Month campaign (November 2023) and is licensed CC BY SA. It has been edited for readability.

The Community Museum Ladakh is paradigmatic of the newly defined goal of 21st century museums1 : a museum exhibiting the tangible and intangible, with a mission to be inclusive and diverse, with participation of communities.

For centuries, Ladakh has remained a home to a self-sustaining and rich culture. It is not only known for its natural beauty but also for the evolution and varieties of distinct cultures. Over time though, it has become a region with the leading number of tourist spots. There has been a vast increase in modernisation, urbanisation, and social change.

Consequently, there are many communities in Ladakh which are endangered today and are on the verge of fading away. This has prompted a need for community museums that can represent the cultural heritage and traditions of these cultures.

The community museum is situated in one of the oldest inhabited villages of Ladakh

exterior of community museum ladakh. A small building made of bricks painted white. In the distant background hills are seen.
Community Museum Ladakh : a traditional Ladakhi house. Image: Kajal Sharma, CC BY SA

It is situated in Gya-sasoma village (73 km away from the Leh city) – one of the oldest inhabited villages in Ladakh. The inhabitants of the village are semi-nomads who settled in this region over a period of time. The locals of the village lead a sustainable lifestyle without depending entirely on the modern ways.

The museum aims to preserve the cultural heritage of Gya. Its vision is to promote diversity and sustainability while providing visitors with a diverse experience of rich Ladakhi culture.

This is the first community museum in India which is curated by the community itself.

The villagers have donated the entire collection of the museum and displayed it in a traditional Ladakhi house that forms the museum.

Picture of brown shawl on display at the museum. A label reads "Chali (Blanket) It is a traditional Ladakhi blanket." The same information is also given in Hindi and Tibetan language.
A blanket in the Community Museum Ladakh. Image: Kajal Sharma, CC BY SA.

The museum explores the life of the people in high altitudes regions. It connects the outer world with rural Ladakh, its culture, traditions, customs and lifestyle.

Two ladakhi women and a girl spinning threads seated on the floor.
Ladakhi women spinning thread. To educate the visitors about the culture of the community, there are live demonstrations about the Ladakhi household activities. They also engage with the visitors, providing them with hands-on experience of some traditional cooking, weaving etc. Image: Kajal Sharma, CC BY SA

The museum aims to be a space for not only visitors but a space for the local community. An introductory label at the Museum states:

“It is a platform for not mere physical collection but an anchorage point for the young generation to their own identity”.

Inside the Community Museum in Leh

The museum, spread over two storeys, presents the community’s traditional method of living, daily-life tools and equipments, items of clothing, and primary components of their diet. Additionally, traditional utility items, textile, dresses, antiquities from the everyday life of Gya-Sasoma are also on display.

The structure of the building allows the visitor to take a tour of the ground floor first where the Winter kitchen is situated. Visitors can then move to the first floor where the majority of the collection is displayed along with some important features of the house like the summer kitchen, open verandah, dry toilet, etc.

Ladakhi woman seated on the floor in the act of cooking.
The house has two kitchens – Winter kitchen on the ground floor (pictured above) and the Summer kitchen on the first floor. The first floor also features a terrace space, dry toilet, bathroom and several rooms housing textiles, utensils and other such collections. Image: Kajal Sharma, CC BY SA

The spaces of the house are utilised to display the collection. Most of the collection is displayed traditionally – just as things would usually go in a Ladakhi house – to stay true to the idea of presenting the lifestyle of the community,.

The Community Museum experience.

The textual content is available in English, Hindi and Tibetan Language.

The museum employs multiple interpretive methods to allow communication between the contents of the museum and the visitors. These include text labels/object identity labels, sectional panels and introductory panels along with TV screens and guided tours done by the people of the community themselves.

Man standing at the entrance to the community museum ladakh. The doorway is made of carved wood.
Entrance to the Community Museum Ladakh | Image: Kajal Sharma, CC BY SA
Entry ticket to the museum. One side reads Community Museum Gta Sasoma. Other side is an illustration of the museum entrance doorway.
Entry Ticket for the museum | Image: Kajal Sharma, CC BY SA

The Community Museum in Ladakh is defining the new role of museums in 21st century.

It employs a people centred approach rather than an object centred approach unlike the conventional museums. The community is not just an audience learning about their culture but also active participators in the activities of the museum. Museums like these are perfect examples of an inclusive museum that are by the community, for the community and of the community.

The Museum is the result of a collaboration between the Women Alliance of Ladakh, Museology Department,National Museum Institute of History of Art, Conservation and Museology, New Delhi ( now Indian Institute of Heritage) and the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC).


Kajal Sharma is a Project Intern at L.D Museum Ahmedabad in the Education and Outreach department.

References

Appleton, Josie. “Museums for ‘the People’.” In Museums and their Communities, 114-126. 2007.

Burnell, Jeni. “Small Change: understanding cultural action as a resource for unlocking assets and building community resilience.” Community Development Journal 48, no. 1 (2013): 134-150.

Brown, Karen. “Museums and Local Development: An Introduction to Museums, Sustainability and Well-being.” Museum International 71, no. 3-4 (2019): 1-13.

Dash, Paul. “Museums and Communities: Curators, Collections and Collaboration.” International Journal of Heritage Studies 20, no. 5 (2014): 573-575.

Iqbal, Zafar. “Dard and Dardistan: The Unknown Tribe with Unknown Country.” In Beyond the Object: Changing Museum Discourse, edited by Marie Eve Celio-Scheurer and Moe Chiba, 37. Context 8, no. 2. 2011.

Museums Collaborative (MUSE). “A Museum for the People: A Report of Proceedings at the Seminar on Neighborhood Museums.” 1969, 27-29.

Ridwan, Nia Naelul Hasanah. “Preserving Collection and Underwater Heritage in Southeast Asia: The Role of Community Museum and The Importance of Encouraging Community Involvement.”

Seth, Manvi. “Museums and Changing Cultural Landscape (Proceedings of the International Seminar).” Shubhi Publication Gurgaon, 2016.

UNESCO. “Community-Based Approach to Museum Development in Asia and the Pacific for Culture and Sustainable Development.” Paris, 2010. Available at https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000189902

  1. Museum Definition ICOM, 24 August 2022 ↩︎

Share your reaction!

Loading spinner

Click Culture!

Submit a photo of your favourite object from a museum collection to help us improve the coverage of Indian culture, art and heritage related content on the internet beginning with Wikipedia.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here