The historic Bastion Bungalow in Fort Kochi will become a Heritage Museum that will showcase the various aspects of Ernakulam district

Perhaps the most recent collective memory of the Bastion Bungalow in Fort Kochi is of the Ivory Merchant production Cotton Mary being filmed there, sometime in the late 90s. It was only then that the public had some access to the structure whose metre thick outer walls are a relic of Fort Immanuel possibly built by the Portuguese in 1667. Otherwise this 450-year-old edifice has remained sequestered from public gaze, post-independence it being the residence of subsequent Sub-Divisional Officers and a camp office, a carry forward of the colonial style. In 1999 the structure was handed over to the State Archaeology Department and declared a ‘protected monument.’

Chequered history

The chequered history of the bungalow is set to take a turn again. The bungalow is to open as a Heritage Museum that will showcase different aspects of Ernakulam district.

J. Rejikumar, Director, Department of Archaeology, is excited at the prospect of flagging off Bastion Bungalow as the first in a State-wide project where the 14 districts will have a heritage museum each. In the first phase, he discloses, five known structures will be converted into museums. They are Sri Padam Palace, Thiruvananthapuram, Mannady Museum, Bastion Bungalow, Mural Arts Museum in Thrissur and one in Wayanad.

Dr. V.R. Shaji, Conservation Officer, stresses on the fact that conservation will be done strictly within prescribed guidelines of using natural materials. “We will be doing structural and chemical conservation. We cannot use modern materials and will use lime plaster if required,” he says.

Bastion Bungalow was an integral part of the different colonial histories that criss-crossed Fort Kochi. It was part of the first Portuguese built fort lapsing into Dutch occupation as Stromberg Bastion, later to be used by the British as Bastion bungalow, a residence-cum-office for the government officials.

K. J. Sohan, former Mayor and Chairman, Standing Committee for Town Planning, Cochin Corporation, recounts recent history and says with pride that the bungalow housed some of the most distinguished officers of the government, like former District Collector S. Krishnakumar, former Cabinet Secretary K.M Chandrasekhar and Valsala Kumari. “It was during her tenure that part of the roof collapsed and it was at her and then Revenue Minister P. J. Joseph’s insistence that the roof was rebuilt. If not for them the structure might have been demolished,” he says, adding that Fort Kochi is a living museum and all structures should be sensitively conserved to merge with the ambience of the place.

Rejikumar elucidates the plans for the building. It will be a thematic museum. Each district has its unique heritage including variations in dress. So, Ernakulam will be showcased in all its different aspects.” There will be exhibits, audio visuals, an archival gallery and touch screen kiosks.”

Kerala Museum, the nodal agency of all museums under the cultural affairs department of the State, is the consultant for the project. Executive Director S. Raimon explains a detailed plan for the museum. “Here, the main thrust is to highlight the heritage and culture of the district with stress on Kochi. The bungalow itself is a very important monument.”

Restoration

One of his primary concerns is to restore the monument. “This is the first aspect,” he says categorically. An important feature the museum will showcase is the contribution of the Cochin Royal Family to the development of Kochi. Other themes that will be addressed are Kochi as a melting point of cultures, the city as a commercial capital, the role of the 25 different trading communities from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Konkan coast who have made Kochi their home. The archaeological heritage of Kochi in the form of Roman coins excavated in 1974 from Kumbalam will be exhibited. “The district has so many renowned palaces, mosques, synagogue, temples and places of interest. All their archaeological aspects and social aspects will be exhibited. Cochin port and its history will be interestingly narrated. The role of Sir Robert Bristow, the founding of Lotus Club, the first inter-racial club, and such facets of history will be told. The political and social reform movements that touched the district will also be highlighted. Forts and palaces in the district will have their presence in new and varied forms. The art and culture of Kochi with special stress on the local art of Chauvittunatakam will be showcased. An open air theatre will host weekly art performances. The men of letters of Kochi and their works too will be proudly displayed. Archival gallery will host records, manuscripts, maps and the story of evolution of the district.

With three other museums in Fort Kochi and Mattancherry, the Hill Place museum in Tripunithura will content between them overlap? Raimon says that care will be taken to make this exclusive and unique in that aspect, it being thematic.

One of the methods of display that will be used for the first time will be glass art. “It is a new medium of presentation, conducive to themes of culture, history and heritage. In Europe this is commonly used.” Raimon cites the example of an etching on glass of the Chinese net, the cheenavala, which will be an attractive visual display.

A sculpture garden, a library, a souvenir shop, audio guiding services in different languages will be the other features of the museum which is slated to open by the end of the year.

Meanwhile travellers and holidayers stand outside this magnificent edifice clicking pictures against its heavy walls. Soon they will be a part of the monument imbibing the rich heritage of the region.