History museum envisaged by Muziris Heritage Project yet to take off
A simple white wall, adorned only by a motif of two peacocks facing each other, stands guard to the Paliam Kovilakam at Chennamangalam, around 30 km to the north of Kochi. A 10-foot teak door opens to the entrance passage of the Kovilakam, which was the seat of the Paliath Achans, the hereditary prime ministers of the erstwhile Kingdom of Cochin who rose to prominence in the 17 century.
The palace complex today wears a deserted look. The well-preserved halls of the 350-year-old palace and adjoining Paliam Nalukettu are silent.
Six years after the State government envisaged a Muziris Heritage Project for the conservation of sites of archaeological importance in and around the towns of Pattanam, Parvur and Kodungalloor, the Paliam Kovilakam is still empty.
“The government has decided to accord the heritage monument tag to the Kovilakam. But the gazette notification hasn’t been made even two and a half years after the decision was made,” said Krishnabalan Paliath, manager of the Paliam Eswara Seva Trust that manages the Kovilakam, Nalukettu, the nearby cremation ground and temples.
The present head of the family is 95-year-old P.V.K. Achan, who was formerly chief advisor of Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd.
The Muziris Heritage Project envisaged the formation of a history museum at the Paliam Kovilakam, rebuilt by the Dutch in 1663 as a gesture of gratitude to the Paliath Achan, who helped them rout the Portuguese out of Kochi.
The building has been restored by conservation architect Benny Kuriakose, who is also the chief project consultant of the Muziris Heritage Project.
The interior of the palace has been fitted with LCD televisions, cameras, lights, and display cases, keeping in mind the proposed design of the museum.
Though the structural restoration and development of the palace was completed a couple of years ago, the museum is yet to take off.
The materials on history and the exhibits are still scattered across government offices, museums and archives in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. The display cases and halls of the palace all lie vacant.
“It is not as if there is a dearth of funds for the project. Some officials of the Tourism Department, including the Tourism Secretary, are very enthusiastic about carrying the project forward. But no progress is seen on the ground,” said Mr. Paliath.
Similar is the state of the Paliam Nalukettu, a two-storeyed building adjacent to the palace, built in 1786 for the women and children of the Paliam family.
The Nalukettu is to be a lifestyle museum, depicting the way of life of the Paliam family. The restored building now awaits museum exhibits and the visitors they will bring.
Another programme that is part of the project is the development of the Ernakulam-Kottappuram inland waterway. “Visitors can park at certain central locations and take boats from there to reach the monuments that are part of the Muziris Heritage Project,” said Mr. Kuriakose. The objective of the plan is to ensure easy access without burdening the road network and damaging the ambience of the area.
However, not much has been done to develop the waterway.