The Partition of India was one of the most defining events in the Indian subcontinent’s history. Estimates suggest that up to 18 million people lost their homes and up to 2 million people lost their lives. The Partition Museum is the world’s first Museum dedicated to the Partition of 1947. It is a People’s Museum that aims to tell the stories of the millions impacted through oral histories, refugee artefacts, personal artefacts, letters, photographs and original documents from that time. Housed in the historic Town Hall building in Amritsar, which was constructed in 1870 by architect John Gordon, the Museum is located at the beginning of the heritage street in Amritsar, a 5-minute walk from the Golden temple. The building used to house the court of small causes, city police headquarters, municipal offices, a free library, and a meeting room. It suffered severe damage during the Punjab uprising of 1919, and was subsequently rebuilt, witnessing violence again in 1947. The Partition Museum opened on 17 August 2017, marking the day as Partition Remembrance Day, as it was on 17 August 1947 that the actual boundaries of India and Pakistan were announced. The Partition Museum comprehensively charts the Partition with a narrative arc that moves from the time before Partition, proceeds to the independence movement, the social, cultural and political events of the decades leading to 1947, and ultimately the Partition and its consequences. Here are some of the highlights from our collection!
Textile Labels were once used as markers of a vibrant trade between India and Britain. Commonly known as "shipper's tickets", these catchy chromolithographs (a coloured picture printed by lithography in the late 19th-early 20th centuries) were attached on the front of a bolt of cloth during shipment, for the purposes of immediate brand recognition and information. The most useful labels would often contain the name and location of the mill, a trademark image and cloth details.
Now a collectable item, these textile labels act as great sources of historical records to show shifts in design and printing techniques, while also throwing light on historical trade routes, systems and businesses. During the colonial period, Bombay, Calcutta, and Amritsar rose as prominent trading centres for textile industry. In Amritsar, it was the Hall Bazaar near Town Hall that became a landmark for textile trading.
A Portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh taken from a miniature by Jivan Ram of Delhi as depicted in the 1836 Issue of Magasin Pittoresque (1836) by M. Edouard ChartonPartition Museum
A portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who ruled Punjab in the early 19th century, taken from a miniature by Jivan Ram of Delhi as reproduced in the 1836 issue of Le Magasin Pittoresque
Under Ranjit Singh, Amritsar blossomed as a cultural, spiritual and economic hub. In this portrait made during his lifetime, the famous diamond, the Kohinoor, can be seen on his left arm.
A certificate for permission to sit in the presence of a British official is testament to the many humiliations Indians faced during the Raj. Generously donated by Amar Kapur.
Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar
This image was taken shortly after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre by photographer Narayan Vinayak Virkar.
Jallianwala Bagh was a desolate piece of irregularly shaped land surrounded by houses on all sides, and had only 2-3 narrow entrances. It is believed that it was originally laid out as a garden in the 19th century by Hamit Singh Jalla, and that the ground came to be called “Jallianwala Bagh” after him. By the end of March 1919, political meetings in Amritsar came to be held at the Bagh, as it could hold large numbers of people. On 13 April 1919, General Dyer ordered troops to fire on an unarmed crowd in Jallianwala Bagh, killing hundreds and wounding thousands.
One can still see the bullet holes on the walls at the Bagh.
The Young India weekly journal was published by Mahatma Gandhi from 1919 to 1931, and used by him to spread his ideology of non-violence and resistance against the British.
On 23 March 1931, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru were hanged at the Lahore Central Jail for the killing of assistant police superintendent John Saunders in 1928, and for throwing bombs in the central Legislative Assembly, Delhi in 1929. Bhagat Singh, who was only 23 years old at the time of his death, inspired thousands of young people across the country.
In 1933, Rahmat Ali, a student in Cambridge, coined the name “PAK-STAN” from an acronym of the provinces in the North-West.
The Last Viceroy
Lord Mountbatten was the last Viceroy of India. He arrived in India on 22 March 1947 and would oversee the Partition of the sub-continent in August 1947.
Meeting with Indian Leaders on 2 June 1947. From Lord Mountbatten’s left: Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Sardar Rab Nishtar, Sardar Baldev Singh, Acharya Kripalani, Sardar Patel, and Jawaharlal Nehru.
"India Independent: British Rule Ends" The Hindustan Times, 1947. Courtesy: Nehru Memorial Museum Library (August 15, 1947)Partition Museum
Headlines of The Hindustan Times announce the independence of India from British rule.
Indians celebrating Independence at Vijay Chowk, Delhi. Courtesy: Nehru Memorial Museum Library (1947)Partition Museum
Indians celebrating Independence at Vijay Chowk, Delhi on 15 August 1947. Courtesy: Nehru Memorial Museum Library
Map of Undivided IndiaPartition Museum
Defining the Borders of the two newly independent nations of India and Pakistan
The province of Punjab on the west would be one of the most affected by the Partition as the border divided it between India and Pakistan, resulting in large scale migration from both sides
On the eastern border, Bengal, which had earlier been partitioned in 1905, would once again be divided between India and Pakistan
Kuldeep Nayyar, Veteran Journalist and Partition SurvivorPartition Museum
Born in Sialkot, in present-day Pakistan, Kuldip Nayar, was one of the few people to have interviewed Cyril Radcliffe, the man who drew the boundaries between Pakistan and India. In this video, Kuldip Nayar talks about meeting Radcliffe in his apartment in Oxford, and their initial interaction.
Mass migration begins
Some of the most iconic photographs of the Partition show refugees traveling on train carriages. So large were the numbers of refugees that they had to find space to sit on roofs, in doorways and on the engines of both goods and passenger trains. Courtesy: “Refugee Travel between India and Pakistan”, The Railway Gazette, 24 October 1947.
Thousands migrated during the monsoon season and faced heavy rains, falling prey to diseases like cholera as well as starvation and exhaustion. People would rest briefly in temporary camps before continuing their journey. In this photograph, refugees load a cart with as much luggage as it can carry.
Roshan Lal Kapur, Partition Survivor, reciting Bharat Ka BatwaraPartition Museum
'Bharat ka Batwara' encapsulates the vivid scenes of partition. Mr. Kapur describes how people were utterly shocked and saddened by the news of partition of the Indian subcontinent and that all the cities were wrapped in flames of fire.
The thali and katori made of kansa metal, and lassi glass made of brass, were owned by Kamal Bammi’s family before Partition. They were brought across from their house in Lahore by a Muslim friend of the family, when he traveled from Pakistan to visit them in Delhi in 1949. Generously donated by Kamal Bammi.
Sewing MachinePartition Museum
Sewing Machines were prized by the women at that time, and many remember their first machine. This sewing machine was brought across from Bahawalpur during Partition. Generously donated by Mrs. Bhatia
Painting from the Muraqqa-i-Chugtai (1920s) by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiPartition Museum
The Muraqqa-i-Chughtai is a book printed in Lahore in the 1920s with paintings by Abdur Rehman Chughtai and the full text of the Diwan-i-Ghalib. Loaned to the Partition Museum by Rajni & Padam Rosha.
Ghalib's verse on the title page -
Naqsh fariyadi hai kis ki shokhi-e-tahrir ka, kaghazi hai pairahan har paikar-e-tasvir ka (Who is that Power before whose might and grandeur everything is helpless)
This pocket watch belonged to Pt. Devi Dass of Nowshera, now in Pakistan. He got separated from his family and for weeks they had no news of him. One day, an acquaintance of Devi Dass, Kishori Lal was helping with the mass cremation of unclaimed bodies when he recognized the body of Devi Dass. He removed the watch from his pocket and later advertised in a daily newspaper, asking any surviving family members to collect the watch from him. The family thus came to know he was no more. Generously donated by Sudershana Kumari.
Sudershana Kumari, Partition SurvivorPartition Museum
Sudershana Kumari was eight years old during Partition, Looking back, she misses Pakistan desperately. This is an excerpt from a song that she composed which speaks of this longing.
Susheila Hotchand Shahani was a microbiology student at the D.J. Sind College, affiliated with the University of Bombay. This is her Bachelor of Science degree certificate conferred in 1945. Soon after Partition, Susheila left Karachi with her mother and two younger sisters and came to Bombay by steamer. Donated to the Partition Museum by Susheila's brother, Mohan H. Shahani.
Born in 1925 in Jhelum, in pre-partition West Punjab, Satish Gujral moved to India in 1944 to join the Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai. A witness to Partition, the agony of the immigrant experience strongly manifested itself in Gujral’s early works—his first collection of works during 1947 are called the Partition Series. It is a theme he has returned to frequently in his career spanning over six decades.
Partition in Bengal
The movement of people across the border took a different form in Bengal as compared to Punjab. West Bengal had 5 million Muslims in a total of 21 million, while East Bengal had 11 million Hindus in a total of 39 million, almost equal percentages of the minority communities. Initially, cross-border movement was limited. However, communal riots later triggered migration a few years after independence. Between February and April 1950, riots led to a million and a half people migrating. Because a lot of migration in Bengal happened after 1947-48, this was viewed as economic migration by the government, reducing the official aid that displaced persons received. Photo: This Dhakai Sari, gifted to Bakul Chanda at her Wedding in 1951, was carried by her when she migrated in 1955 from Comilla, (then) East Pakistan to India. Generously donated to the Partition Museum by Bakul Chanda.
Dilip Kumar KaungoPartition Museum
Dilip Kumar Kanungo recalls that large-scale migration in Bengal happened only in 1950, and that refugee colonies came up across the city which were regularised by the government later.
Spectacles (1934)Partition Museum
These spectacles date to 1934 and were used by Amal Shome’s father who belonged to Mymensingh, now in Bangladesh. The family migrated to West Bengal, India in 1951. Generously donated by Amal Shome.
Forced to migrate from East Pakistan to India, Sunil Chandra Ghosh shared a very close bond with his mother. She used this rosary to pray when she was alive. He kept it safely as a remembrance of his mother, whom he credits as being his strength as long as she lived. Generously donated by Sunil Chandra Ghosh.
Santosh was extremely fond of embroidery and embroidered this cloth in her house in Tetulia in East Pakistan. It was brought across when the family migrated to escape the riots and killings, in 1948. The royal Bengal Tiger is found mostly in the Sunderbans, the largest delta in the world. The marshy lands formed by the Ganga and the Brahmaputra flowing into the sea are shared between India and Bangladesh. While Bengal was divided during the Partition in 1947, the tiger has shared cultural importance, being the national animal for both India and Bangladesh.
Hasina Bewa, Partition SurvivorPartition Museum
Hasina Bewa recalls the fear felt by the Biharis in a camp in East Pakistan, after they migrated. Courtesy: Ravi Thakran Collection.
The Partitioning of the subcontinent meant that everything needed to be divided between India and Pakistan, down to office equipment and books, for the use of the two governments. However, even as August 1947 approached, the boundaries were left unclear and a vast majority of the people did not know they would belong to which country.
Creating the Wagah BorderPartition Museum
Pushpindar Singh Chopra recalls how the Wagah Border was drawn by his father, Brigadier Mohinder Singh Chopra, and his Pakistani counterpart, Nasir Ahmed.
Phulkari, which literally translates as 'Flower Work', is synonymous with the culture of Punjab. The embroidery is made with a darn stitch on the wrong/reverse side of cloth with coloured silken thread. Phulkari has strong roots in community activity, as it was carried out by women of different households who would sit together to create exquisite phulkaris for their daughters. Our museum houses a variety of Phulkari embroidery items spread throughout to emphasise the essence of how partition had an effect on the intangible cultural heritage. Generously donated by Chhote Lal Bharany.
These stamps from 1947 signify the end of an Empire and the creation of two nations. The George VI series of Indian stamps, printed in Nashik, Maharashtra, bearing the portrait of King George VI, continued to be used in India and Pakistan for some months following Independence. India released its first post-Independence series of stamps on 21 November 1947 bearing an image of the tricolor and the words 'Jai Hind'. In Pakistan, as the new country worked to set up its systems, with delays in transit due to violence and lack of facilities, the George VI 'India Postage' stamps were overprinted with the name 'Pakistan'. It was in the following year, in July 1948, that the first set of Pakistan's independence series were printed and circulated.
Starting a New Life in a New Land
During Partition, Humayun's Tomb, along with Purana Qila and Safdarjung's Tomb, became a major refugee site in Delhi. It first housed Muslims who were migrating to Pakistan, and later provided refuge to Hindus and Sikhs coming in from Pakistan.
Resettlement Cards issued to Lakshman Sarup Bammi’s family in Amritsar on 14 December 1947. Generously donated by Lakshman Sarup Bammi.
This medal was awarded to Gauhar Singh Waraich for his service to the British Indian Army as a Junior Commissioned Officer. He returned to his family after he retired in January 1947. But once the riots started, he was called upon to serve at the refugee camps. His ailing wife and five children navigated their journey from Radiala (now in Pakistan) to Amritsar on their own. His wife died of tuberculosis and was no more when he was finally reunited with his family in November 1947. Generously donated by his great-grandson, Gurshamshir Waraich.
Chugnamal Palomal KukrejaPartition Museum
Chugnamal Palomal Kukreja recalls the conditions after his arrival to India.
"Refugee Woman" by S.L. Parasher
The chaos and violence of Partition affected so many, but it’s impact on women was arguably greater. This sculpture by camp commander S.L. Parasher, was made from the earth of Ambala’s Baldev Nagar refugee camp, and speaks to the unspeakable violence inflicted on so many women during the time.
Born in Gujranwala, west Punjab (now Pakistan) in 1904, Parasher took his masters degree in English literature from the Forman Christian College, Lahore. In 1936, he joined the Mayo School of Art as a lecturer and vice principal. Towards 1947, Parasher’s first hope was of staying on in Pakistan. This was not to be – he had to move to Shimla, then to Bombay, and finally settled in Delhi. Through these tumultuous times, emblazoned on several paintings, sketches, even sculptures, is Parasher’s experience of the agony, trauma, belongingness, alienation, and hope vis-à-vis the Partition. A fiercely private man, Parasher did not let anyone see this work, and it was discovered only after his death.
This has been made available to the Partition Museum, courtesy Parasher’s family.
Drawn largely on scraps of available paper at the camp, Parasher's sketches are a testament of all that was lost. In this sketch, a bare-chested man with a topknot, with shut eyes and an open mouth, raises an arm to his head. While the sketch might be silent, his mouth tells a devastating tale of anguish. Parasher's drawings function as snapshots of a moment in time in India's history. It was as if the artist knew that he was documenting the trauma revealed by a people being shaped into a nation.
Sudershana Kumari was 8 years old during Partition. Her family was displaced from their home due to the riots, and barely escaped with their lives. While waiting at a camp for an army truck to take them across the border, she found this tin box in the ruins of a broken down house. She thought of her dolls that she had left behind in Sheikhupura and decided to take the box to keep her her new dolls in her new home. Generously donated by Sudershana Kumari.
Tikka Rani Jagjit Kaur Bedi kept strict purdah before 1947. She, along with her husband, Tikka Surinder Singh Bedi, migrated to Delhi soon after Partition. She wore this burkha while fleeing Kallar. Once in their new home, with the pressing need to help re-build their lives, she gave up purdah and never wore a burkha again. Generously donated by Sarabjit (Gugu) Kaur.
Minna KapoorPartition Museum
Minna Kapoor talks about hiding a young Muslim friend of her brother's in their house in 1947 by disguising him as a member of their family.
Padam RoshaPartition Museum
Padam Rosha, then a young police officer, remembers how he arranged for people to meet at the border.
Ijazz Khan, Partition SurvivorPartition Museum
Ijaz Khan describes the experience of his father and other members of his family when they went back to their home in Jalandhar a few years after Partition, and the warmth and love they received.
Friendship Across Borders and Time
Amar Kapur, Asif Khwaja, Agha Raza and Rishad Haider grew up together in Lahore and graduated from St. Anthony's School. Amar's family migrated to Delhi in 1947 and the friends lost touch with each other. They finally reconnected in 1949. “[We] assure you with the utmost sincerity that distance has not made the slightest difference in our love and affection for you; that we remember you, and remember you very often, with the same brotherly feeling that for so long characterised our relations.”
This letter was written to Amar Kapur by his friend Asif Khwaja, after the Kapurs had left Lahore after Partition. Generously Donated to the Partition Museum by Amar Kapur
Tree of Hope
Our Tree of Hope installation provides a space for visitors to reflect on the Partition and on their visit to the Museum. The long-lasting impact of the Partition is most visible in the family stories and poems on Partition shared by visitors.
"I was born in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) in 1942. I vividly remember how I and my mother hid ourselves in a good's train and had been hit by stones. Somehow we reached India. Museum is a true depiction of many events. Generations will remember [the] sacrifices for freedom. My regards to the creator of the Museum." - Satish Kumar at the Partition Museum.
"Today I learnt a lot about the history of 1947 and felt what it was like at that time. Hindustan and Pakistan were like brothers, it was one nation. Now one brother has gone that way, and the other has stayed here, like a house that is divided. We got this independence with so much struggle, those people went through so many difficulties for this independence for us. Now I wish happiness and peace for both the nations, India and Pakistan. I also wish for the Kashmir issue to be resolved soon." - a Visitor at the Partition Museum
-The Partition Museum, Amritsar
- Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi
- The Ravi Thakran Collection
- Government of Punjab
- All the Partition Survivors who have given their valuable time and/or cherished artefacts to the Partition Museum