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HERITAGE

Page from the past

PADMA JAYARAJ

The Sakthan Thampuran palace in Thrissur is a tribute to an enlightened ruler.



History made easy: The approach to the palace.

THE palace of Sakthan Thampuran is in the heart of Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala. A beautiful blend of Kerala and Dutch architecture — the unique nalukettu and a two-storied building — thick walls, spacious halls paved with Italian marble, and a high ceiling keep the temperature cool in a humid climate. Here, the atmosphere is redolent of history — not just of a king and his engagements, but the history of ancient times, thanks to the combined efforts of the Archaeological and Tourism Departments. The archaeological museum celebrated its first anniversary on June 22.

Renowned as the architect of modern state of Kochi, Ramavarma Sakthan Thampuran was a descendant of the kings of erstwhile Cochin. His rule (1790-1805) saw the beginning of the modern era when European powers and feudal lords plagued his land. He ensured the emergence of a strong state and economic development of his people. He encouraged trade; built roads and bridges connecting different parts; planned cities; renovated cultural centres.

Due to familial and administrative matters he lived mostly in Thrissur, though Thrippunithura was his capital. The royal family lived in the palace, situated along a picturesque pond, until His Highness passed away at the age of 54.

Introduction

The palace was converted into a museum last year. Step into the red-carpeted hall, press the button and you get a recorded introduction. A picture of the king fills the screen and there is a guided tour through the different sections. Now you see them all in their glory. The bronze statues made between the 12th and 18th centuries are mostly icons. An ancient mirror icon represents the concept of Mother Goddess, unique to Kerala. Even today there are temples that hold mirror icons with the reflection of a blazing wick placed in front. The mirror is made of a polished metal known as Aranmula mirror.

The sculpture gallery displays images carved from granite between the Ninth and the 17th centuries. "Hero" stones and "sati" stones, excavated from the tribal areas of Attappady, are of great historical interest. Similar stones were found in the Vijayanagar Empire testifying to the links in the subcontinent. Students spend time studying Vaishnava iconography. The Gandhara gallery displays busts and relief of the Buddha from Taxila.

Next, you step down into the nalukettu, typical of Kerala architecture. The life and times of the royal household emerge, as you walk along the collections of copper and bronze utensils. You stand in silence at the door of Thampuran's bedchamber. Here is the royal bed where the King passed away in September 1805. The weapons of the time are on display. The royal chamber from where he carried the business of the state retains its dignity.

The numismatic section begins with the punch-marked coins used in Kerala from the Fifth century B.C. Roman gold coins (from the Eeyyal hoard) and Travancore native coins (in silver), Veerarayans (gold coins) otta puthan and iratta puthan issued by the kings of Cochin are displayed. These indicate an urban development and commerce. The coin board that measured coins in hundreds to thousands is unique. The coins issued by Tipu Sultan during his brief spell in Kerala, Indo-Dutch coins, Malabar coins (issued by the French), and coins of British-India point to different periods of the history of Kerala.

Royal power

Cochin's history wing showcases a few portraits of royalty, their power symbols and their cultural past times: their chessboard, dolls in Kathakali costume. "We have plans to have a Cochin gallery that highlights the royal history, with pictures of royal personage, administrators, and their power symbols. A heritage gallery too is in the offing displaying household-utensils, collected from ancient homesteads. Of course space is a constraint since expansion of the building is not permitted," says B. Balamohanan, the curator.

An epigraphic gallery documents the changing patterns of language, its growth and development. It showcases the Brahmi script. From Vattezhuthu to Kolezhethu we traverse the history of Malayalm. Vattezhuthu is carving on stone and closer to Tamil while the letters of Kolezhuthu — written with an ezhuthani, a sharp pointed instrument — on palm leaves, are closer to Malayalam.

There is also a collection of old revenue records of Thalappilly taluk on palm leaves.

The Kodungallore section is an intriguing chapter of Kerala's past. Renowned historian Romila Thapar is said to have spent hours examining objects dating back to the time of Cheraman Perumal, which were obtained during excavations. Beads, quartz, pots and pieces of chinaware show trade links with China, Japan, and Thailand when Muzuris was an international harbour.

Paleolithic and Neolithic implements, urn burials from excavation at Porkulam; the Mother goddess from Eyyal, and Kattakambal, Black-and-red ware and pieces of bones from the Megalithic period, sun-burnt bricks and a seal from Indus Valley showcase links to our ancient past. The megalithic park, out in the open, is distinctive. An umbrella stone, the model of a rock-cut cave and an urn are grouped together to indicate secondary burial of the megalithic period. There are a number of megalithic monuments too besides rare trees.

The heritage garden, full of giant trees, indigenous plants and herbs shows how the royalty lived in harmony with Nature. Butterflies abound here. Untouched by pruning the trees grow in their natural splendour amid stonecrops. The famous vadakke chira, a large pond, borders the garden. The grove for snakes is typical of Kerala culture. And Sakthan Thampuran is at peace, as you pay your respects to his living memory.

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