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A tall building with two storeys, a book by William Shakespeare, a throne and a nicely decorated vase. These are all toilets in fancy shapes at the Sulabh International Toilet Museum, located at Mahavir Enclave, Palam Dabri Road in New Delhi.

Being the only toilet museum of the world, it has a rare collection of facts, pictures and objects detailing the evolution of toilets from 2,500 BC to modern technologies from around the world. The museum has a chronology of developments relating to toilet related technology, social customs, etiquette and sanitary conditions of various eras.

One of the museum’s prize exhibits is a replica of the throne of Louis XVI of France with a concealed commode which enabled the monarch to hold court while doing his daily chores! John Harington, a court poet of Queen Elizabeth I, is credited with the invention of the first flush toilet in 1596, which, except the queen and the inventor, no third person used.

“All that is there in this museum, it is because of some importance,” says Ijaaz Khan, the caretaker. The most interesting ones are the European-style table-top, sofa-seater and book-shaped toilets. The sofa seater and table top were used to avoid inconvenience of leaving one’s work to use the toilet while the book-shaped toilet was constructed by the French to demean English books such as those of Shakespeare. Then there are pictures of urinals engraved and decorated with expensive gems in the Victorian era.

The cutest is a small toilet-shaped piggy bank from Japan which makes a flush-like sound when pulled. Set up on the campus of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation at Mahavir Enclave, the museum is the brainchild of Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, who has been working in the field of sanitation for over four decades.

Dr Pathak is known to have taken up sanitation in India. But why a toilet museum? Dr Pathak recalls when he was visiting London and was asked to go to Madame Tussaud’s. “I have been to London many times but when finally I made it to Madame Tussaud’s, it came to me to create something that will be exclusive in India. Since I have been working in the field of sanitation, a toilet museum made sense.”

“Dr Pathak mixed humour with history in building Sulabh International Toilet museum,” says Ijaaz.

The purpose of this museum is to educate students and general public about the historical trends in the development of toilets, to help sanitation experts learn from the past and solve problems in the sanitation sector and also to help manufacturers of toilet equipment and accessories improve products.

The museum also displays the toilets and sanitation practices in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, Jerusalem and Rome.

And if you thought that the museum doesn’t get its share of visitors, you couldn’t be more wrong. It keeps brimming with tourists from around the world.

This unique toilet museum is a place that showcases some interesting innovations. It also showcases society’s progress with regard to sanitation and personal needs.