The concept of museums in India may be traced back to the historic times, in which references to the chitrasala (picture gallery) do occur. However, in India the museum movement post-dates the similar developments that occurred in Europe.
The earliest necessity to house objects of antiquarian remains dates back to late 1796 AD when the Asiatic Society of Bengal felt the need to house the enormous collection of archaeological, ethnological, geological, zoological pursuits. However, the first museum by them was started in 1814. The nucleus of this Asiatic Society Museum later provided to the Indian Museum, Calcutta.
In Archaeological Survey of India also, due to the various explorative investigations that was initiated since the times of its first Director General, Alexander Cunningham, vast quantity of antiquarian remains were collected. The creation of site museums had to wait until the arrival of Sir John Marshall, who initiated the founding of the local museums like Sarnath (1904), Agra (1906), Ajmer (1908), Delhi Fort (1909), Bijapur (1912), Nalanda (1917) and Sanchi (1919).
The concept of site museums is well elucidated by Hargreaves, one of the former Director Generals of
‘it has been the policy of the Government of India to keep the small and movable antiquities, recovered from the ancient sites, in close association with the remains to which they belong, so that hey may be studied amid their natural surroundings and not lose focus by being transported’.A separate Museums Branch in ASI was created in 1946 by Mortimer Wheeler. After the independence, there was a spurt in the growth of site museums in ASI. At present there are 44 site museums under the control of ASI.