I find thematic museums very interesting. You’ll often find me giving such museums priority over a generic city museum. Like the time I visited the Naval Aviation Museum in Goa – a first in Asia and among the only 7 aviation museums in the world; or a museum dedicated to a Sindhi saint in Pune; or the wax museum in Lonavla with a Jackie Shroff statue; or the cricket museum in the suburbs of Mumbai, or the vintage car museum in Ahmedabad where you can take a chauffeur driven ride in a Mustang or Cadillac.
So when I first read of the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in the TIME magazine, I kept this place at the back of my mind to visit when I’m in Delhi next. The museum had featured as the third weirdest museum in the world. That was reason enough to check them out.
Every time I have a layover in Delhi, I steal some moments to go explore the city. Back in 2015, I was in Delhi to attend a conference at the Crowne Plaza. I squeezed in some time to visit the Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum, savoured mutton kebabs at the famous ‘Khan Chacha’ in Khan market and wandered through the streets of the backpacker area of Pahargunj.
This time around, I was backpacking in Himachal Pradesh for eight days. I had half a day in Delhi before boarding the flight back home. So here I was!
It’s surprising that the Toilet Museum finds mention all over the internet and in the prestigious TIME magazine, but back home, no one knows about the place. I wouldn’t blame the locals though. The museum is at one end of the city in Dwarka. Hunting down the place is no easy feat and you have to look for the Sulabh office instead of the museum.
Weird museums don’t find many takers. Often such museums are run by passionate people who have a purpose beyond profits. The Sulabh International is a non-profit initiative founded by Bindheshwar Pathak. He’s an innovator of sorts, making low cost toilets with the objective to provide sanitation facilities across India. His centre takes orders to make toilets. You’ll find many of the centre’s innovative and low cost models on display for visitors too.
The museum is housed in a small room within the office. A staff member acts as a guide and runs you through the 4500 year old history of toilets in 10mins. Then you’re left on your own to explore the place.
There’s a laboratory where experiments are carried out using biodegradable resources to create models like solar toilet and electric toilet. Another section has replicas, some with interesting stories. I saw a 1920 replica where the upper level of the toilet was used by the management and the lower level by employees. There’s a toilet shaped as a bookcase, apparently built by the French for the English taking a dig at their literature. Other weird replicas include a table-top toilet, wax toilet and sofa cum toilet. The one that stood out is the “Rumble Throne” of the French Monarch. The toilet is hidden inside the throne, and according to a legend, French king Louis XIV held audiences while sitting on the toilet so he didn’t waste any time.
I also learnt that John Harrington invented the flush toilet, although Leonardo Da Vinci had a prototype way before Harrington but scrapped it. John Harrington ended his career because he was ridiculed among his peers for this absurd device.
We started it all
You’ll be surprised to know that toilet etiquette is mentioned in the Manusmriti Vishnupuran (Aryan code of toilets) – 1500 BC India. There was a code of conduct for sanitation like urination to be done at a distance of 10 hands from the source of water and defecation at a distance of 100 hands from the source of water.
The Indus Valley Civilisation pioneered the toilet culture in 2500 BC. Excavations in the Harrappa area have shown a highly developed drainage system. Dholavira near Kutch is a prominent archaeological site from the Indus civilisation that has been appreciated for its sanitation arrangements and conservation methods like water reservoirs, underground drains, wells, bathrooms and terracotta pipes.
Town planners across the world have been impressed with our engineering and used the drainage systems from the Harrapa as a prototype to build their city drainage facilities. Sadly for India, with the decline of Indus civilisation, the toilet culture never recovered. And we face the brunt till date…
Good to know
- The Sulabh International Museum of Toilets is open on all days except public holidays between 9am and 6pm
- Entry is free and guide facility is complimentary. Photography is allowed inside the museum
- The museum is located in Dwarka, 25mins from the Delhi airport. Four Points by Sheraton is quite close to the airport and an ideal stay option around the area.
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