A trip to the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets is a fun filled walk through history of sanitation practices from across the world, an experience that is unique, somewhat bizarre and deeply informative.
Located inside the Sulabh Gram, in the National Capital’s Mahavir Enclave area the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets offers a very unique experience. The museum has on display more than 300 exhibits comprising of Photographs, models, originals, jokes, literature, replicas, cartoons and so on. Apart from tourists the place is a faovourate of those researching on the subject of sanitation. As of now there are a total of nine toilet museums in the world and the Sulabh was the first such museum when it started in 1992.
This museum secured 3rd position on TIME magazine’s ‘World’s 10 Weirdest Museums’ compiled in the magazine’s November 2014 edition its popularity can be gauged by the fact that it receives approximately 10,000 visitors per year.
The museum never ceases to amaze and entertain with its funny bizarre and ingenious exhibits.
The French took Anglo French rivalry during the middle ages to ridiculous levels by making the ‘Book shaped Toilet’ which was a toilet shaped as a pile of books with names of English writers written on them. The French apparently had an acute distaste for Shakespeare as most of the names on the ‘Book shaped Toilet’ are Shakespeare’s works.
The ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV set new benchmarks on multitasking as he used the ‘Throne toilet’, where a commode was installed under his throne so that he could relieve himself while court proceedings were in progress.
Nineteenth century Britain saw similar toilets in use at elite Victorian clubs where sofas had removable panels in them that could be removed and used as a commode so that people while socialising were not interrupte
d due to the call of nature. While open defection is scoffed at; when the elite of Victorian England did the same thing it was viewed as a status symbol.
Not for nothing are elephants considered one of the cleverest creatures after humans; in Chiang Mai region of Thailand elephants have been trained to use a commode toilet. The museum has incredible pictures of elephants relieving themselves on gigantic commodes.
Class differences and professional seniority are evident even in sanitation practices as proven by the ‘Double storey Office toilet system’ used in the US during the 1920’s. The toilet system consisted a toilet on the ground floor which was meant for the office personnel and the one toilet directly overhead to it was meant for the boss who would climb it by stairs to reach it.
The meusem also exhibits Vedic literature that provides guidelines for defection and urination along with exhibits regarding medieval Indian toilets like the one at the Amer fort and a dry toilet at Golconda.
A Brazilian futuristic toilet exhibit aims to make defecation a luxurious affair as it is fitted with cushioned armrest.
Then there is the exhibit of the ‘Conjoined Twin commodes’ especially designed for lovers who can go and spend some ‘quality time’ with each other at the loo.
Exhibit of the NASA built toilet which is used at the International space station has an inbuilt vacuum flush and filter which transforms urine into drinking water and costs USD 19 million dollars.
Another curious exhibit pertains to a Taiwanese theme restaurant where all the furniture, eating utensils, cutlery and interior designing are related to toilet objects. Trekking and camping activities need not be detrimental to the environment anymore because now a covered eco friendly foldable camping toilet built in Korea is available details of which are on display at the meuseum. Its best feature are the bio degradable plastic waste bags these bags are fitted beneath the commode so as to collect the excreta which then zipped and once buried in the ground in two months the plastics biodegrade in two months time.
Sulabh toilet in the Taj Complex in Agra is built in regal fashion keeping the ambiance in mind, the interior decoration of the toilets are based on Mughal architecture as one can see arches, stone inlays or carvings and plant motifs inside it. Sulabh toilet with its exquisite interior decoration work secured second position in the ‘10 ten urinals list’ compiled by Hindustan Times in 2006.
An exhibit from South Africa is based on solar energy, consisting of it has inbuilt solar panels to generate electricity which sucks out all moisture and gases from the excreta what remains is collected in a tray below this waste is stored for two months after the duration it turns into manure .
Charts depicting Sujok acupressure techniques to cure constipation and loose motion are on display.
Varun Kumar, Assistant Curator at the museum dispels the theory that the water Closet flush toilet is a western invention.
Pointing at photographs of remains of the Harappan settlements he explains “WC flush toilet was invented in India it was in use in India in the Harappan settlements since at least 2500 BC. It was a sitting water closet pour flushed toilet with a bucket of water acting as a flush due to which the excreta goes got drained into a covered drain which disposed it outside the city not contaminating the water sources or rivers”.
Varun points to the sanitation infrastructure of the Harappan settlements like remains of water reservoir, individual drains, individual bathrooms and evidence of recycling of water found at Doholavira and proudly says that the Harapans can be called the pioneers of sanitaion “To say that Romans pioneered sanitation would not be correct as the Harappan people had such extensive infrastructure dedicated to it”.
As of now there are a total of nine toilet museums in the world and the Sulabh was the first such museum when it started way back in 1992.
Bageshwar Jha, the curator of the museum expresses great pride on the museum he declares the museum serves the dual purpose promoting sanitation and social reform “This museum has double purpose promoting sanitation and social reform. The social message is very important, we cannot turn a blind eye to sanitation, in a home a toilet is as essential as a kitchen, we must have due respect for sanitation and those who work for sanitation, not hate them” he says.
Jha also narrates what inspired Dr Bindeshwar Pathak to establish such a meseum he says “Dr Bindeshwar Pathak wanted to spread awareness about sanitation and do it in a manner which would be an enjoyable experience. During his trip to England he saw Madame Tussauds museum which proved to be a trigger for setting up of this museum. On his return to India he wrote to about 100 embassies and high commissions requesting them to share relevant information about their countries native toilet practices about 60 countries obliged with material with which the museum started functioning in 1992 itself”.
Facilitating research in the field of sanitation according to Jha is another motivation behind setting up the museum “Besides creating awareness among the common people providing information to those who are working in the field of sanitation is a key service this museum is providing. Researchers on sanitation, people writing books on the subject, press reporters they come us for material not only for material but even if someone gets material from other sources they come to get it rechecked it with us” he says.
True to the Sulabh spirit Jha describes his mission as making sure that people opt for toilets in their homes “Every day even if I am able to convince one person the necessity of a toilet at home then I have done my work” he says.