Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, Sociologist and Social Reformer and Founder of the Sulabh Sanitation Movement, envisioned the need for setting up a museum of toilets in the sprawling campus of his central office at Mahavir Enclave, on Palam-Dabri Road, New Delhi, India. The idea engaged his mind for long, eventually leading him to make a hectic worldwide search for the minutest details of the evolution of toilets, as also of various toilet designs used in different countries at different points of time. More than 100 Embassies and High Commissions of different countries, based in New Delhi, were contacted. Letters were sent out to each of them with a request to furnish information on the subject and also to provide details/photographs of various toilet designs used in their respective countries. More than 60 Embassies and High Commissions responded to the request and sent valuable information.
Taking personal interest in his dream project, Dr. Pathak searched vigorously for literature and photographs of historical significance. In each of his visits to several countries around the globe, he made it a point to collect information, bit by bit, from anyone and any institution that had in its possession the material envisaged for setting up of the Museum. The intense search resulted in accumulation of a significant reservoir of information on the subject. All this information, (books, pamphlets, photographs) have now been imaginatively arranged and chronologically displayed in the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets. It took over three years to fulfill the ambition to establish the Museum.
The Museum has a rare collection of facts, pictures and objects detailing the historic evolution of toilets from 2500 BC to date. It provides a chronological account of developments relating to technology, toilet related social customs, toilet etiquettes, prevailing sanitary conditions and legislative efforts of the times. It has an extensive display of privies, chamber-pots, toilet furniture, bidets and water closets in use from 1145 AD to the modern times. It also has a rare collection of beautiful poems related to toilet and its usage; some of which have been reproduced in this booklet.
The pictures displayed at the Museum make one aware of how the world looked like when societies did not have the benefit of water closets (W.C.) and the changes that have been brought about by its invention. Ornately carved and painted urinals and commodes attract attention and are a source of amusement to many. The pictures of medieval commodes are noteworthy. There is also a picture of a medieval mobile commode in the shape of a treasure chest, which the English used while camping out on hunt. One could imagine the shock registered by some unsuspecting highway robbers, if they made away with such “treasure chests”, thinking it to be containing something absolutely unprecedented inside. The Museum also displays how the Roman emperors used to have toilet pots made of gold and silver. The Museum has a rare record of the flush pot devised in 1596 by Sir John Harrington, a courtier of Queen Elizabeth I. The Museum displays sewerage system at Mohenjo-Daro of Harappan civilization and maintains a detailed record of how modern toilet pans have emerged over a period of time.
The Museum has a stock of interesting anecdotes associated with the development of toilets. Tracing the history of toilets from Indus Valley Civilisation in Lothal, 62 km from the city of Ahmedabad, India where a highly developed drainage system existed, the Museum documents facts relating to some countries in Europe where most of the early technological developments in the evolution of toilets and drainage took place. The national flags of different countries, from where the pictures of toilets have been collected are also displayed.
The Museum website has so far been visited by about 27,50,000 people and over 1,00,000 have personally visited it. These visitors, hailing from different parts of the world have found it unique and highly interesting. Most of the national and international media agencies, print and electronic have done their story. Of late, it has been included in the list of world’s ten weirdest museums. Thus, this pioneering museum has achieved a huge global popularity which augurs well for its bright future.