Timeless treasures

Last Updated 29 September 2014, 15:45 IST

The Folklore Museum in Mysore throws light on the rich folk culture of Karnataka – its different forms and objects used in folk traditions, writes Gouri Satya

The first century artifacts of Rajaghatta excavations, a burial urn of same era, copper plates with elephant insignia of a Western Ganga ruler of 788 AD, a pickle jar of Tipu Sultan’s period, a ritual game of Dakshina Kannada district, a large-sized image of Trimukha Brahma, an attractive chariot with eye-catching wooden carvings and many more interesting objects draw less visitors to a folk museum in Mysore than it deserves.

Housed in a mansion, which in itself is attractive with excellent carved wooden pillars and artistic ceilings, this Museum has a rich collection of artifacts that would interest any visitor. Thanks to low publicity, this repository draws few visitors except those who are aware of its heritage and cultural importance. 

Located in the Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion, a heritage building having a historic past of over a century, in the sprawling campus of Manasa Gangotri of the Mysore University, the Folklore Museum is itself a gangotri of folk objects that throw light on the rich folk culture of Karnataka. 

The ‘Archaeological Wing’ comprises of antiquities which throw light on the cultural life of ancient man. Art works of interest constitute the ‘Art and Architecture Wing’.

Mysore can boast of at least a dozen museums that offer a peep into our cultural heritage and historical past. Of them, the Folklore Museum is chiefly dedicated to the diverse culture of folk traditions of Karnataka. It was founded in 1968 in the palatial mansion built in 1905 during the reign of Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV for his sister, the first princess Jayalakshammanni, daughter of Maharaja Chamaraja Wadiyar, and hence the name. It came under the possession of the Mysore University recently. 

A rare collection

Thanks to the initiative taken by the then Director of Institute of Kannada Studies, D Javare Gowda, and Professor of Kannada, H M Nayak, on preserving the heritage that has come through generations among the rural masses, a folklore museum was set up.

The credit of collecting varied folk artifacts from across the state and creating a museum that is only one of its kind goes to the intensified field work of experts in the field, J S Paramashivaiah, Professor of Folklore, and P R Thippeswamy, a well-known artist. With representative collection of various forms of folk, it not only became the first of its kind in Karnataka and the country but also in South-East Asia. 

Among the exhibits are those related to two main traditions of folk theatrical performing art forms of coastal Karnataka as well as of the plain region, Thenku Thittu and Badaga Thittu. This is followed by toys of South India, masks, costumes, and rare showpieces of performing traditions of Kerala, Kathakalli, and Tamil Nadu, Therukoothu. 

Musical instruments related to the popular folk singing traditions of Karnataka, including string, percussion and wind instruments are among the exhibits. String instruments like kinnari of the Jogis, the choudike, tamburi of the Tatwa Pada singers and nilagaras, percussion instruments like birapana dollu, Gondaliga’s sambala, Halakki Gowda’s gummate, chande, and dimmi dammadi, damaruga of Goravas and nagari are among the huge collection. Wind instruments, junjappana gane, a three-foot long flute, the kombu, kahale and pungi, are also on display. 

Household utensils, kitchenware, temple artifacts, many of which have disappeared over the period, images of gods and goddesses, instruments used by village communities like farmers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, boatmen, fishermen, potters, cobblers and other artisans, and household items like pots, baskets, lamps, beads, churns, measures, farm and weaving implements, items of folk games and clothing, cradles and war weapons form a part of the display. 

Channemane, a well-known ritual game of Dakshina Kannada district, wooden images of mekkekatte and other curios are worth noticing. A settlement of Soliga tribe and big shasa (large-sized slippers) given as an offering to God Hanuman in fulfillment of a vow are worth mentioning.

The doll section has puppets, leather dolls and sawdust dolls, besides statues and large dolls used in dances which include soma, talebhutha, kaibhutha, maari, and gadi maari. Big images of Trimukha Brahma and Marikamba from Shimoga and a rare Hanuman crown from Kugala Balli village in North Karnataka stand out among the folk deities and religious objects. 

Arranged in a systematic order, the astounding collection of over 10,000 artifacts in the Folklore Wing alone highlight the regional and historical influences representing almost all walks of life of rural Karnataka including agriculture, fairs, festivals, wrestling, hunting, fishing, and weaving. 

Not to be missed are the collections of objects related to well-known literary personalities who have contributed immensely to the state’s culture and literature. Some of whom are Aluru Venkata Rao, MS Puttanna, TS Venkannayya, Samsa, BM Srikantaiah, Govinda Pai, TP Kailasam, Sriranga, Y Nagesha Sastry and others. Poet laureate KV Puttappa, popular as Kuvempu, has been honoured with a separate art gallery. 

From a bygone era

The Archaeological Wing has over 6,000 antiques that throw light upon the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Megalithic cultural lives of the ancient man. The collection includes paintings, rare photos and coins. An impressive Saraswati sculpture and a life-like tiger, exhibiting the work of an expert taxidermist, are other interesting objects, besides historically significant antiquities secured from Rajaghatta excavations.

Among the exhibits in the art and architecture wing are paintings executed by former curator of the Museum, PR Thippeswamy, and other artists.

“We have plans to develop and convert this mansion into a huge and unique museum complex among Indian universities We plan to open physical science, bioscience and social science branches, apart from improving the archaeology and folklore sections. We have proposals to open a museum library, digital library and network branches with computers.

We plan to set up a standard chemical conservation laboratory, improve the landscape, create open air galleries, arrange regular folk dances, traditional cultural programmes, offer traditional food by setting up an ethnic canteen, launch post-graduate courses in heritage culture, musicology and chemical conservation of antiquities, and short-term courses in taxidermy, traditional paintings, tourism and landscaping,” says Museum Director A C Lalitha.

Entry to the Museum is free and it is open to public from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm on all working days and is illuminated on all sundays and other general holidays from 7 to 8:30 pm. 

With its ambitious collections, the Folklore Museum has great potential to become a popular destination for tourists students and researchers. It is the perfect place to understand and study the technology, skills and culture of the people who made these objects.

By offering folk programmes, lively shows, lectures and screening of short films, this museum can come on par with the notable ones abroad.

(Published 29 September 2014, 15:37 IST)

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