While renovation of Bastion Bungalow took three years to complete, work worth ₹2.37 cr. was done at Hill Palace Museum
The new museum at the 450-year-old Bastion Bungalow in Fort Kochi tells the tale of the region through the imperial powers who spotted opportunities to cart off spices, ivory, sandalwood, and teak from the Malabar coast, shaping the area’s history in the process.
Developed as a District Heritage Museum documenting Ernakulam’s maritime trade links, it fittingly stands in the bungalow that was built initially by the Portuguese as their fort, then claimed and rebuilt by the Dutch. It eventually fell into the hands of the British and was taken over by the Revenue Department post-Independence. The building assimilates the architectural styles of the colonial powers with the local one.
The museum houses no artefacts, and all archival material displayed are reproductions. The wall-mounted panels are packed with details on Kochi’s international connections, explained through copies of maps and paintings from museums in Lisbon and Amsterdam, besides copies of letters between the Raja of Cochin and officials of the Dutch East India Company.
“Conservation of the building itself was an important component of the project and was a challenge,” said V. Venu, Additional Chief Secretary, who oversees the Department of Cultural Affairs (Archaeology, Archives, Museums). The ₹3.58-crore project took nearly three years to complete and was implemented by Keralam Museums, the nodal agency tasked by the government with establishing and renovating museums across the State.
An entire gallery in the museum is devoted to the Hortus Malabaricus, where a wall is dedicated to detailed illustrations from the work commissioned in the 17th century to document the plant species of Malabar. Another gallery that houses Dutch and British paintings of local residents will serve as a continuous documentation of history of the nearly 30 communities living in the area, and contemporary living heritage can also be recorded, Mr. Venu said.
The museum at Bastion Bungalow is part of a string of museums that are being set up across the State. “Modern museums are cultural, storytelling spaces, and museum modernisation is a dynamic process,” he added.
Along similar lines, the museum at the Hill Palace at Thripunithura was “modernised”. Rather than a jumble of artefacts that constituted the museum earlier, it has now become thematic, Mr. Venu pointed out.
Renovation of the Hill Palace museum had been pending since 1986, when the first proposal to refurbish it was submitted, said K.V. Sreenath, who is in charge of the palace and is the registrar of the Centre for Heritage Studies.
Work worth ₹2.37 crore began last year on the museum which, spread over 51 acres, is the biggest in the State. It now houses two sections, one that traces the history of the royal family of Cochin and another general archaeology section that is yet to be renovated.
Of the nearly 2,000 artefacts at the museum, the gold crown presented by the Portuguese to the Cochin Raja, takes pride of place. A section of the new display at the museum focuses on the unique aspects of the palace itself, like the rare species of plants in the gardens around it, and features of the large complex that comprises 49 buildings, built over nearly a century.
Prasanna Varma, who curated the new display and is a descendant of the royal family, said ensuring their story was told objectively was a challenge. “The museum is no longer just a collection of artefacts with a caption and date. These are backed up with stories now,” said Ms. Varma. Some aspects about the family were perplexing, she admitted. “How could the family be so emphatic about education and still be so conservative? The temple entry proclamation here came 10 years after the declaration in Travancore,” she said.
Both museums, managed by the Department of Archaeology, will be inaugurated on Friday. Entry is likely to be free for the public for a month after inauguration. Ticket prices are yet to be fixed.