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March 07, 2008

On The Nalanda Trail At Asian Civilisations Museum Singapore

On The Nalanda Trail At Asian Civilisations Museum Singapore

To say that my recent visit to the special exhibition, On The Nalanda Trail, currently held at the Asian Civilisations Museum from November 2007 to 23 March 2008 was a cerebral experience would be an understatement.

Above: Photo of "Kwan Yin" at Southeast Asia Gallery 3

This exhibition showcased the historical records and relics of Buddhism as its concepts spread throughout Asia 800 years ago. Through rare art pieces and various exquisite artworks, we were told how religious personnel traveled to and from Nalanda, a place in India well known for its center of learning in Buddhist studies, in order to educate other cultures.

Why visit?
Why did I fork out $10 to visit this museum’s special exhibition, On The Nalanda Trail? There were two reasons. The first was my curiosity to search for an unusual place of interest. The second was a desire to push myself beyond my circle of comfort. At this exhibition, I found a golden opportunity to learn if there could be a case to mix recreation with religion.

What did I learn?
1) Special Treatment
Special exhibitions allowed special visitor “treatment”. We were made to pass through metal detectors to filter away photographic and video-recording devices. One reason given was the consideration to protect the art pieces from damage by photographic lighting. I suspect another reason could be the consideration to protect the mystery of the exhibits to attract more visitors.

2) Geography and Travel
Our guide introduced many new geographic locations on a huge wall-mounted map to detail the historical routes taken by monks and pilgrims across India, China and South East Asia. Visitors who have a penchant for pilgrimages or educational tours need not fly to these destinations, as they are now available at the Asian Civilisations Museum on a temporary basis.

3) Aesthetic Merit
Many original ancient sculptures and statues were worthy of appreciation in view of their artistic refinement and beauty. Made of stones and bronze, the physical features of statues were remarkably detailed. Various styles of Prized collections of international repute, many of these national treasures have never left museums in India except for this short loan period.

4) Legal Tender
Even in ancient times, coins were circulated not only for commercial transactions but also as a form of communication through use of religious symbols imprinted on coin surfaces.

5) Religious Theme
For those interested in religion, the highlight of this exhibition must be the bone relics of Buddha, which was kept in separate room with its own security personnel in attendance.

6) International Ties
In the spread of Buddhism, international ties were also reflected through the discovery of historical relics throughout Asia and even South East Asia with the conspicuous absence of Singapore. Locally, no discovery of any item with a religious connection had been made yet and our guide mentioned the possibility of a few pieces being buried under the padang.

7) Adults Mainly
This place of interest certainly would not interest children very much, as I discovered at the museum. Of those who did turn up, they were more excited to play hide-and-seek with one another along the dimly lit corridors of the exhibition gallery.

Once in a while, a visit to such a rare exhibition could serve to stimulate the mind. Do you have any destination that stimulates your mind?

Take care and be happy.

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