This Indian museum is a treasure trove of toilets


New Delhi : Guess where you can have a glimpse of the commode-attached throne of French king Louis XIV? Right here at a museum dedicated to toilets which houses its replica.

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What makes the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in southwest Delhi unique is that it displays the evolution of toilets and their various designs from all over the world.

“When we were tracing the evolution of toilets, it emerged that India was one of the pioneers in this field, as is evident from the Indus Valley civilisation,” B. Jha, the curator of the museum, told IANS.

The Sulabh International Social Service Organisation is an NGO aimed at abolishing human scavenging and thereby specialises in toilets and sanitation technology. It was Sulabh that set up the museum located in the sprawling Sulabh Gram campus that serves as the headquarters of the NGO.

“The museum attracts around 4,000 people every year,” says Jha.

The museum is home to a rare collection of facts, pictures and objects detailing the historic evolution of toilets from 2,500 BC to the present day.

French kings Louis the XIII and XIV used to address the public while relieving themselves in the commode attached to the throne. A replica of this throne attracts a lot of attention at the museum.

It also has several 19th and 20th century European toilets. Beautiful models of the same are on display in the museum.

“Between 1876 and 1914, there was a trend in European countries of producing colourful and decorated ceramic toilets just for fun and people’s satisfaction at possessing something so costly,” says Jha.

It provides a chronological account of developments relating to technology, toilet-related social customs, toilet etiquettes, prevailing sanitary conditions and legislative efforts down the ages.

It has an extensive display of privies, chamber pots, toilet furniture, bidets and water closets in use from 1145 AD to modern times. Some beautiful poems on toilets are also on display in the museum.

Some 500 people, all of them liberated scavengers, work on the campus on various aspects of Sulabh International’s operations – that include the running of dozens of pay toilets in public places around the country.

“The toilet is a part of the history of human hygiene and a critical chapter in the growth of civilization,” writes Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of Sulabh.

The idea of starting the museum came to Pathak in the early 1990s and he began vigorously searching for literature, photographs and actual toilets the world over by tapping the diplomatic missions in New Delhi.

“It took me over three years to fulfil my ambition,” he said with satisfaction of the museum, which former union minister and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi inaugurated in 1994.

That it is a hit can be gauged from the large number of people from India – and many from abroad – who stream through its portals every day.