It is only a fraction of the invaluable possessions within the Napier Museum and Sree Chitra Art Gallery that have seen daylight. The rest remain locked away in storerooms simply because there is no space inside these buildings to display all the historical treasures.

The public is deprived of this rich repository of knowledge and these relics wither away in their dark niches but technology promises to change their fate. Each item is being slowly unearthed and cleaned up for a ‘digital asset management’ programme being undertaken by the Thiruvananthapuram Museum and Zoos Department.

When completed, the capital’s museum will arguably be one of the first in the country to have a vast virtual inventory. Be it the collection of ancient coins and bronze statuettes inside the Napier Museum or the original artwork by masters such as Raja Ravi Varma and Nicholas Roerich, every single artefact is being photographed from all angles and these images will be consequently uploaded to form an online database of the Museum’s riches. Most of the flora and fauna inside the premises have already been documented so the thrust of this project currently is to present the lesser-known assets.

Renowned photographer Balan Madhavan is currently engaged with the camera work, which he estimates will take another 10 days. It is a careful process that requires capturing both sides of a coin or different angles of a statue to do justice to all the intricacies of the object. While it seems like a painstaking task, for the photographer it has been a visual treat.

“The sheer range and numbers of items here is astounding and only because I was engaged in shooting them, I now know that they exist. So after they are uploaded even if people cannot physically access these relics, they can browse online from anywhere in the world,” said Mr. Madhavan.

Virtual tour

There are an estimated 12,000 ‘assets’ on the sprawling premises that are being documented into around 30,000 images, said Suresh Kumar, consultant of the Small Industries Development Corporation, who is implementing the project. “We have split the department into seven divisions – the Napier Museum, Sree Chitra Gallery, Sree Chitra Enclave, KCS Panicker Gallery, Botanical Gardens, Museum Library, and Zoological Park. As part of a second phase, we plan on creating a ‘virtual tour’ as well. Again, I believe it will be a first of a kind of endeavour by any museum in the country,” he said.

While preserving the value of these objects, this project would also serve a commercial purpose.

These high-resolution photographs – which will be supplemented by a brief description on the object – will be put up for sale, serving as a revenue generation model for the museum department as well.

Moreover, it will be educational as well for children – especially the section showing the exhibits at the Natural History Museum, Mr. Suresh added. Director B. Joseph said that there would finally be a permanent record through which the rich stock of the department can be effectively monitored.

The Library here also has an invaluable collection of literature with documents dating back to twelfth and thirteenth century.

These will be digitised and uploaded to the database for public consumption. There are several smaller components of this project, Mr. Suresh Kumar said, that seek to elevate the status of one of the oldest museums in the country.