The spotlight doesn't seem to waver from Kerala, a state with a hundred per cent literacy rate and a premium tourist destination. Now, it adds another feather to its cap with the opening of the world's first-ever Palm Leaf Manuscripts Museum. The treasure trove of ancient texts on palm leaves is showcased in the tile-roofed rooms of the Central Archives in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram.
Head to the new museum, which has been created on the ground floor of the 300-year-old complex, where the Central Archives is situated. The 187 manuscripts which are housed here are on cured and treated palm leaves and are from the Travancore regime, which ruled over the region. The texts on the leaves comprise financial, administrative, and cultural information, including well-known tales and those thought to have been lost to time. The Travancore kingdom lasted well into the 19th century and has vastly been recognised as a top name in the trading business. During the process of collection of the palm leaf manuscripts, was found proof of the kingdom's dealings with the territories under the kings of Kochi and Malabar. There are also records of battels mounted and won and lost, especially those against the European colonisers. The 1741 battle against the Dutch was significant, as it ended their dreams of expansion in India. Additionally, the manuscripts also shine a light on the birth and progress of the Malayalam script of the region, which evolved from earlier ones such as Vattezhuthu and Kolezhuthu.
The team responsible for this mammoth heritage conservation project of collection, sorting, preservation, and documentation of the palm leaves sifted through approximately 1.5 crore palm-leaf records from across record rooms of the state. Most of the manuscripts were in dismal conditions and had to be painstakingly restored.
New And Old
You can browse through the museum's eight galleries - History of Writing, Land and people, Administration, War and Peace, Education and Health, Economy, Art and Culture, and Mathilakam Records - and take advantage of information channels such as videos, along with QR code-based digital systems of information dissemination. Also in the making are plans to move the palm leaf manuscripts to a modern facility, which will have storage methods designed to protect the palm leaves from further deterioration.
In fact, a visit to the Palm Leaf Manuscripts Museum holding the past of the Travancore kingdom will give you a double dose of history. You already know that the three-century-old complex where the museum is based belonged to the Central Archives department. But did you know there is an even deeper and older connection between the structure to the House of Travancore? It had not only been the Central Vernacular Records Office since 1887 but also the barracks of the Nair army of the Travancore kings, which they later converted into a prison.
How to get there: Thiruvananthapuram is the capital of Kerala and is very well connected to the rest of the country by air, rail, and road routes.
Check the website for more information on entry fees, timings, etc.