An ode to local heritage

An ode to local heritage

Two doormen, embellished with silver jewellery and adorning red dhotis welcome visitors while standing guard at the entrance of the Government Archaeology Museum in Madikeri. The museum has been set-up inside a 150-year-old intrinsic church, which is located at the southeast entrance of Madikeri Fort. With Roman Gothic architecture, the 19th century church invites the art connoisseurs into the world of forepassed artefacts. As one crosses the glass-painted windows, sky-reaching arch, limestoned blue walls, and the dwarapalakas at the entrance, one is introduced to Kubera, the Lord of Wealth, revived from the ruins of a temple in Bettageri.

Artefacts from every era

While statues of folk deities stand firm on wooden stands, two horns pop out from behind the 18th century Ganesha statue. And they are the horns of a 1922 aurochs, which is now preserved to perfection. Adjacent to the aurochs stands a stuffed life-size leopard, “given to the museum by Mysore Archaeological Society,” explains, Renuka, the curator.

Inscriptions from the Ganga dynasty, seals from the Lingayat kingdom of Haleri, statues of Jain tirthankaras, 3D paintings of the kings and queens of Kodagu, terracotta and brass kitchenware from 12 century, and beautiful lintel that has been carved from limestone are a few objects that decorate the inner linings of the museum. However, it is the cultural folk deities and the traditional weapons that steal the show here. “People want to see and learn more about the uniqueness of the culture of Kodagu. And they ask for cultural, tale-telling artefacts of the district,” explains Renuka.

The 18th century swords and daggers from the historical reminiscence of British rule are arranged neatly in a glass case. “The collection also includes the swords used by King Veera Rajendra,” she explains. The cult weapons — odi kathi, peechakathi — synonymous with dagger and sheath knives, tell the tales of the warrior clans of Kodagu. There is also a section of armouries that bring light to the heroic deeds of Kodavas in the army. One of the highlights among these armouries is a heavy bronze cannon of the 17th century.

The Kodavas also hold special reverence to cult deities that were worshipped in the then extensive, now diminishing, devara kadus or the sacred groves. And the museum is home for many such cult deities revived from 11th and 12th century. Naga idols, masks of boar headed folk gods, idols of the Sun God, Goddess Kali, Shiva-Parvathi idol and Uma Maheshwari idol are just a few to mention among the immense bronze idol collection.

“Most of them are harake shilpas (ex-voto offerings), which were recovered from the ruins of many temples, and some gifted by the temples for preservation,” she confirms. The museum sheds light on the Jain heritage in the region too. Stone and pot inscriptions and intricately carved statues of Jain tirthankaras — they take one back to between the 11th and 14th century, when the Kongalvas (subordinates of Cholas) were the prominent rulers in the district.

There is also a section in the museum dedicated to Field Marshall KM Cariappa, who donated many worthy artefacts of the past. While an ornamental chair of the Field Marshall sits at the centre of this section, it is surrounded by various mementos won by him and a few other age-old statues collected by him as an art connoisseur. “They have been exhibited in the gallery in memory of his parents,” Renuka explains.

The art of preserving

While the staff of the museum is actively involved in reviving historical artefacts, they have also faced hurdles in preserving some historical objects. Renuka explains, “We make sure that none of the ruins of historical idols are immersed in the rivers and immediately fall into action in collecting them. However, sometimes the beliefs of people work against our actions. One such incident took place in Bhagamandala, where the locals refused to hand over the ruins of elephant sculptures in the area due to religious beliefs. However, learning its importance, they are now preserving the sculptures.” Renuka, as a curator of this museum, has revived over 250 artefacts; the recent one being the painting of King Chikka Veera Rajendra, the last ruler of the kingdom of Kodagu.

A State-funded museum, the museum attracts a lot tourists during the weekends who also tour the historic fort located in the area. “We are looking at further improving the museum by including a detailed story of the heritage value and revival process of these historical objects,” concludes Renuka. The museum is open to visitors from 09.00 am to 5.00 pm except on Mondays and general holidays.

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