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Back to the Dutch Palace again

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History revisited Along with restoration, documentation of the art works is also on
History revisited Along with restoration, documentation of the art works is also on

The Dutch Palace, last renovated in 1951, is undergoing restoration to undo the later additions. This will raise the structure to a building and museum of international standards, says TANYA ABRAHAM

Almost 500 years after the Dutch Palace was presented to Veera Kerala Varma, Raja of Cochin (from AD 1537-65), the royal edifice is in for a second round of restoration, the last having been done in 1951, when it was declared a centrally protected monument. This time, the restoration will raise the historical structure to a building and a museum of an international standard, “preserving its originality, yet highlighting the important facets,” according to Dr Nambirajan Murugan, Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Thrissur.

For a building that has withstood the test of time, unscathed and untouched, a palace that has witnessed centuries of change through the colonial rule to the present, its restoration will be of historic importance.

A venture by the ASI, Dr Murugan explains that the restoration aims at raising the standard of the structure, restoring it to its original state but without any additional structures of any form. Much of the restoration, which is underway, is taking place within the palace.

Its old wood flooring is being recovered from layers of paint and additional cement is being peeled off the walls. The opening of rooms through removal of unwanted partitions will restore it to its original grandeur.

Dr Murugan adds that the work that started this year is scheduled to be completed by 2009, the greatest challenge being in maintaining the originality of the building and at the same time raising it to a museum of great standard. “For this new lighting and security systems will be introduced as we have decided to opt for new showcasing methods. In addition, we will introduce new exhibits, additional galleries and better signage.” More over, the walls have been stripped of all dead plaster and new lime plaster added in addition to a lime wash. Monalitha of Design Combine, an architectural firm in Kochi, which has been assigned the task, explains that the palace is an architectural masterpiece showcasing the blend between colonial and Kerala architecture. “Sufficient justice has not been done to highlight this aspect, so we want to showcase its true grandeur.

The idea is to insert a modern museum into an old structure by reorganising the entire exhibition in a chronological manner that would not just be of interest to tourists alone but Kochiites as well, who would be able to obtain an informative account of their city’s past.”

Monalitha adds that they eventually want to open up the women’s chambers that house some beautiful wall paintings, “much of which have been subject to neglect where there occurs the urgent need for proper air conditioning to combat moisture to ensure preservation.”

Art on the walls

In addition, the walls of the palace which have been decorated with exotic paintings as part of Kerala art, introduced in the palace by the Dutch to please the king, are being preserved by recreating them on paper.

Talented artists and masters in the field will be called in to do it. Dr Murugan says this is part of an on going documentation process where line drawings of traditional art are reproduced on paper for future reference, a procedure that is extremely laborious.

Often referred to as a worthy aspect of traditional Kerala art, the paintings, extreme in detail and portraying images of Vishnu (a replica of that found in the Tripunithura temple), and Uma and Shiva described in Kalidasa’s ‘Kumara Sambhava’ to mention two types, these fall under an art form that traces its historical evidence back to the 10th century AD.

And with the building housing so much of historic value including objects from the royal household, old photographs that have been given by its present day members, prints and ancient maps, it is only natural that this preservation would mean keeping intact more than just pages of history books but of facts that reveal much more.

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