What gives you insights into the evolution of civilisations? Coins, pottery, sculptures — and toilets! Yes, toilets are the most intimate expressions of their times — a key into the personal lives of people and their choices.
On the occasion of World Toilet Day, CitySpidey paid a visit to the first of its kind Sulabh International Museum of Toilets on Palam Dabri Marg in Mahavir Enclave, Dwarka.
This quirky museum is a tribute to toilets across the world and across centuries to understand toilet engineering through times, and more.
Curator of the museum B Jha said, “You would be amazed to know that the Indus Valley civilisation had very high standards of hygiene. Here you can see the different types of toilets used 4,500 years ago and the experiments that happened.”
Elaborating on the Indus Valley sanitary system, Jha added, “In 2500 BC, people had waterborne toilets in each house, which were linked with drains covered by burnt-clay bricks. They also had manhole covers, chambers and other modern features. They had the finest form of sanitary engineering. But with the decline of the civilisation, the science of sanitary engineering disappeared from India. From then on, open defecation became rampant in the country.”
The museum has an extensive display of privies, chamber pots, toilet furniture, bidets and water closets in use from 1145 AD till modern times.
In the ancient section of the museum, there’s interesting history on the code of conduct for toilets during the Aryan period. These customs were written out in Manusmriti, Vishnu Purana, Narad Purana and the other Puranas. For instance, while defecating, one was not to face the sun, a Brahmin, fire or the moon.
The medieval period between 500-1500 AD could be called the dark ages of human hygiene. Forts in India at the time had protrusions for defecation, and the excrement fell into the open ground or in the moat below. The forts of Jaisalmer and big old houses on the banks of rivers bear out this unfortunate truth.
A toilet of the medieval period sometimes had two floors to highlight the class differences prevalent in society. There’s also a toilet from France, which is in the shape of a book — the aim was to ridicule knowledge.
“Bucket men” and “bucket women” from the lower castes would often clean out the excreta from public places. Jha said, “After the Dark Ages, in the 16th century, a technological breakthrough came about that helped people have clean toilets in homes.”
From the 18th century, valve flushes and water closets became more commonplace around the world. The toilets from here on began to be made in beautiful designs and shapes — some even studded with gems. They were works of art on their own.
There are interesting examples of this change at the museum: A toilet believed to be owned by King Louis XIII has a throne-like appearance; there’s one that doubles as a coffee table, and another that looks like a sofa!
And, of course, there are toilets used in spacecraft and submarines, which burn human excreta at high temperatures.
Not just a toilet, is it!
(Note: On the ocassion of World Toilet Day, we are replugging a story from 2017 with some modifications.)