The History of Toilets: One Museum Has it All

I’m so bummed. I lived in New Delhi for two years, had my “places to see list” but got too busy. Every once in awhile I remember a place I forgot to see. Here’s one: The Sulabh International Museum of Toilets. I have a vague memory of someone telling me about this place, pronouncing it “pretty neat.” But, like I said, I got busy and it’s still on my places to go list.

I can see why a person living in New Delhi might come up with the idea of a toilet museum, although New Delhi is actually a fascinating city that manages waste admirably well considering. When I heard about this museum, I thought it was just a bunch of toilets gathered together for display, but not so. Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder, is a sociologist who has studied the ideas, problems and solutions of how to get rid of human waste in an honorable way. Read Dr. Pathak’s profile to learn about India’s issues with this. It’s connected to the now abolished caste system among other things.

Besides displaying the variety of toilets over the centuries from various countries, the museum also has displays the ideas people have had about defecating. For example, there is an Arayn code of toilets that dates back to 1500 B.C. If you want to follow the code, one thing to do is to get yourself a piece of sacred thread and hold it next to your ear while doing your business. I wonder if the toilet timeline includes details about when reading the newspaper and adolescents pleas of “I have to go to the bathroom” became popular ways to avoid doing household tasks or get a few moments to oneself.

For a detailed history of ideas humans have had about toilets and doing one’s business over the centuries, click here.