“It’s better to be pissed off than to be pissed on”, says a cheeky exhibit in the Sulabh International Toilet Museum. Located inconspicuously on the side lanes of the narrow and crowded Palam Dabri road is the 3rd weirdest museum of the world – the epithet rightly given by Times.
Detailing the history of sanitation since 2500 B.C, the wall exhibits document the evolution of toilets over the ages. Visit the museum to know about bizarre uncanny exhibits of the medieval gold plated toilets of the Romans, ‘throne’ toilet of a British Emperor, table toilets of hunters, the massage toilets of Japan and much more.
A Unique Concept
Documenting the history of toilets is indeed something unheard of. The courtyard outside the small museum has model toilets of different kinds as exhibits. As one enters the museum you are greeted by a guide who takes immense pleasure to show you around and make you understand the exhibits in a meaningful way.
Exhibits from all around the World
The information covers toilet history since the Harappan-Mohenjo-Daro settlements until the most advanced toilet system now used in Japan. One such exhibit of Lothal, Gujarat (in 2500 BC) explains the impressive width of the street drains and their perfect gradient which were to carry sewage disposal as well as stormwater.
Another frame informs us of the elaborate sewer systems in 1500 BC Jerusalem, consisting of trunk lines and auxiliary drains underneath each house. The ancient Hebrew was among the first to inculcate cleanliness and hygiene into their everyday life. It is also said that washing, bathing and cleaning are core to the religious beliefs of the Jews.
While the common folk relied on canals and rivers for their daily chores, the well to do had separate bathrooms for bathing and cleaning. Rich Babylonians clearly didn’t like constrained spaces for relieving themselves. Typically a bathroom was around 15 square foot and built at the Southern end of the house. Unlike what we see now, the floor sloped to the centre of the room where the water drained off in small runnels by baked and glazed earthenware tiles.
The plumbers of Crete built elaborate systems of sewage disposal and drainage which matches today’s engineering. Underground channels have virtually remained unchanged throughout centuries. The steep topography of Crete helped the plumbers devise an appropriate drainage system with lavatories, sinks and manholes. A terra cotta tub from the palace of King Minos (1700 BC) is a testament to the importance of the bathroom since early ages. Even a child commode has been unearthed from Athens, Greece dating back to 6th century BC.
A 4th-century pilgrim (Christian) visiting Jerusalem once boasted that she has maintained the purity of the holy water which was used to baptize her by not washing her face for 18 years!! The early Christians rejected mostly anything Roman. They considered it unsanitary to be clean. “All is vanity” – stated an early Christian writer St. Benedict. He even went to proclaim that “to those that are well, and especially for the young, bathing shall seldom be permitted.” In 1348, the first wave of the Black Plague entered England. One-third of the population was wiped out as rats and fleas thrived in the filth and garbage which was ubiquitous as English practised throwing all garbage and filth on to the streets!
The first sewers of Rome were built between 800 BC and 735 BC. Every street emptied into a channel of the sewer. By the 4th century AD, Rome had 11 public baths, 1352 public fountains and cisterns and 856 private baths.
The French Connection
- 1200 AD: Introduction of Sewer in Paris
- 1513 AD: Urinals made compulsory for each house in Paris
- 1596 AD: Sir John Harrington invented the WC (water closet)
- 1737 AD: The first attached toilet by JF Blondel
- 1739 AD: First separate toilet for Men and Women
- 1771 AD: First pay and use toilet
Gardez – L’eau – A war cry for saving yourself from shit!!
Filth and excreta from homes were usually emptied from an upstairs window into the street below, and in France, people used to shout ‘gardez-l’eau’ giving warning to the people below to take evasive action! Sir John Harrington was the inventor of the first WC (lavatory). It is interesting to note that he was ridiculed by others for his ‘absurd’ invention. Queen Elizabeth was the only other person for whom he built another such toilet.
Poetry on Toilets
We have heard of shitty poems/lyrics, but did you know there are poems on shit? French poet Woostroque-de-Bolyu (1544 AD) became famous for his flamboyant poetry on human waste.
Royal Toilets – Queen Elizabeth and Henry VIII
The toilet used by the Queen was cushioned and had lace decorations with a pot inside the toilet while the toilet used by Henry VIII was covered with thick velvet laced with ribbons and 2000 gold plated rivets. An exhibit even quotes a recent instance where renowned actor Ben Affleck purchased popular singer/actor Jennifer Lopez a jewel-encrusted toilet. The $105000 toilet adorned with rubies, sapphires, pearls and diamonds is set inside the plastic so that Jennifer’s behind doesn’t get scratched.
Hold Court while doing your “Business”
Louis XIII in 1600 AD England used to give an audience while sitting on the pan. The throne was specially designed with a pan-like hole on the seat. The courtiers except the close ones would have no idea why the King used to grunt while talking. Hilarious indeed! A replica of the throne is on display in the museum.
Tickling the Funny Bones
The museum has an array of exhibits with many quirky one-liners. The best thing about these posters is that most of them are amusing while being educative. For instance:
A hand wipe sadly pointing out to a toilet paper about how disgusting its job is and subsequently asking – “what is your job?”
Another shows elephants getting potty training in Northern Thailand to use big human style toilets so that tourists do not encounter their droppings.
The Sulabh International Toilet Museum has been covered by several news agencies and channels including History Channel. Visit this quirky museum on your next trip to Delhi.