The Varendra region of ancient Bengal, which roughly encompasses the present-day Rajshahi division, has a rich and fascinating history and culture. With many myths, legends, and imperial legacies, the region is home to many historical artefacts.
However, a lesser-known fact about the region is that it has long been home to the country's only research museum.
Sarat Kumar Roy, a member of the famous 'Dighapatia Zamindar Bari' of Natore, was a student at Kolkata University. He had an affinity for travelling and visited Europe and Egypt at one point in his life. His travels to many historic places invigorated his curiosity about the history and traditions of his homeland.
He established 'The Varendra Research Society' in 1910, accompanied by Akshaya Kumar Maitreya, a leading legal practitioner and historian, and Ramaprasad Chandra, another scholar of history and archaeology.
The society's objective was to collect and research information about the ancient archaeological marvels of the Varendra area. He was adamant about turning his collection into a museum, as he thought it would be a better way to preserve the artefacts and research them in the long run.
This was the first museum in erstwhile East Bengal, and at the beginning, the Zamindars of Rajshahi and Natore facilitated the collection. One of the earliest remarkable works of the society was the excavation of Sompur in Bihar, along with Calcutta University.
Rajshahi University, the first university in that region, was established a few years after the creation of Pakistan, and the museum became a part of the university in 1964.
The museum has a rich and diverse collection, with artefacts from the Indus Valley civilisation, various Muslim Sultanates of Bengal, and the Buddhist and Hindu empires, which had their roots in the Pundra and Varendra regions, being among the most notable.
Many ancient sculptures are also preserved in the museum that would have otherwise been lost, such as a terracotta idol of the Hindu god Vishnu and an idol of Ganga, among the most notable and prized collections. The museum also boasts a decent collection of ancient manuscripts that are written in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the ancient Bangla language.
In a digitalisation attempt, the museum will soon institute an audiovisual gallery. It is hoped that about 40 people will be able to witness the artefacts due to the gallery.
The museum is open five days a week, barring Thursday and Friday. The museum should be on the bucket list of every history enthusiast while visiting Rajshahi, as it is right in the middle of the city.