Exploring the old and the slightly new in Tiruchirapalli Government Museum

The Tiruchirapalli Government Museum, housed in the Chola dynasty-era Rani Mangammal audience hall, is a rather dark oasis of calm in the busy Rock Fort area. It’s only when the lights are switched on that the treasures inside become evident.

From samples of megalithic pottery to petrified fossils of marine creatures from Ariyalur and idols excavated from Sangliandapuram dating back to 900 AD, and an extensive collection of (duplicate) coins, currency notes and philatelic materials, there’s something to please everyone in this museum.

Models of animals and birds, and detailed charts of local herbs form a part of the small natural history section. Tanjore paintings and a small display area of contemporary Indian art share space in the heritage hall.

The Rani Mangammal building provides a suitably majestic setting to this motley collection of objects, though visitors seem to be less than visible.

“We receive around a thousand school students in a month,” says an official. “Besides this, we also help research students get resource material and publications on history and conduct workshops on epigraphy and preservation techniques.”

The hall (also known as Kolu Mandapam) functioned as the meeting place for Town Hall committees from the 19th and 20th centuries. The State Department of Museums set up the Tiruchi museum here in 1983.

Still in use

Some of the exhibits show the enduring popularity of certain implements down the ages. Domestic grinders, for instance, have gone from clay to wood to stone, samples of which are preserved in the museum. “Of course nowadays everyone prefers electrical appliances,” adds the official. Also on display are objects that have lingered in modern usage in many Tamil Nadu homes: the padi measures, the sangu for dispensing medicine to children and the olakkai, the small pestle and mortar used for crushing betel leaves and nuts.

Keeping up appearances

The maintenance of the heritage hall is taken care of by the Public Works Department. Last year, according to the curator Mr Periyasami, a sum of Rs. 2 lakhs was allocated for the upkeep of the premises. While the squat pillars bear the signs of 21st century whitewashing, luckily, the hall’s more delicate painted areas such as the dome, have been left untouched.

One has to concede that the historic structure may actually have been saved from further dilapidation by serving as a government museum.

Past forward

Amongst its latest acquisitions is a collection of 1,320 Chola-era coins found in the Thirumanamedai village. “It was found in an earthen pot and kept safe by the Tahsildar there. We have cleaned the coins and will be exhibiting a few of them soon,” says the museum official.

There are moves afoot to introduce a ‘mobile museum’ to increase public awareness about local history, says Mr Periasamy. A mini-bus with exhibits relevant to the region it is touring is on the anvil, he adds.

“Generally, there’s a loss of interest in the study of history and languages, as more children and parents prefer subjects like engineering ,” he says. “The public should change its attitude towards history.”