Science Museum Shines A Light On India In Two Free Exhibitions

Illuminating India, Science Museum ★★★★☆

Science Museum Shines A Light On India In Two Free Exhibitions Illuminating India, Science Museum 4
Inside the exhibition, with a tuk-tuk taking centre stage. Copyright Science Museum.

Did you know the first recorded use of zero was in India? Without it, our current mathematical system wouldn't work. Or that an Indian-born and educated man led the team that came up with the concept of USB ports?

These are just two fascinating facts in an exhibition at Science Museum covering 5,000 years of India's innovations in science and technology. Alongside this, there's another exhibition looking back at India's history through photography. Best of all, both exhibitions are free to visit.

Covering 5,000 years in one exhibition is a bold task and this show takes us on a brisk tour from a Buddha statue thousands of  years old through to a model of India's first satellite and the rocket that launched it.

The beautifully carved Bhugola is one fantastic item in this exhibition. Copyright Museum of the history of Science, Oxford.

It's great to see a beautifully carved Bhugola (similar to a globe) with feet in the shape of elephants and then to learn that an Indian scientist discovered the process of spectroscopy, which is used today to determine what materials are made up of. Two very different achievements that give a taste of how broad this exhibition is.

We learn how an Indian man led the team that designed Intel's Pentium chip, and nearby we have historical agricultural instruments designed to mimic the claws and beak of animals, plus a truly beautiful Indo-Turkish sword — it's behind glass but it still looks sharp enough to cut. Taking a prominent place in the exhibition is an auto-rickshaw (or Tuk-Tuk), still an icon of modern day India.

This is a compact exhibition and it bounces through Indian history at pace, this style of curation keeping us engaged throughout.

A picture of Lord Mountbatten in India. Copyright Alkazi foundation for the Arts.

In the adjacent gallery is an exhibition of photography looking back at India's history through architecture and portraits. The historic images are used in this show to give us glimpses at key moments in India's history, including the fight for independence. Our favourites are the sepia portraits that were then overpainted to give leaders clothing that is vibrant and resplendent.

Modern India also gets a look in, as photographers capture workers eating their lunch at street-side stalls, pedestrians crossing what looks to be a very dangerous road and a cabaret singer backstage.

The former Mr Gay India in portrait. Copyright Olivia Arthur, Magnum Photos.

These are two very different and illuminating exhibitions, and taking them both on in one go is difficult as there are so many fascinating stories to uncover. Science Museum's Illuminating India season has kicked off with an enlightening start.

Illuminating India: 5000 years of Science and Innovation & Photography: 1857-2017 are on at Science Museum until 31 March 2018. Both exhibitions are free to visit, but booking is required.

Last Updated 15 October 2017