Heritage museum showcasing history of Arakkal royal house getting ready

REMNANTS OF MUSLIM PRINCIPALITY: The renovated building of the Arakkal palace complex in Kannur.

REMNANTS OF MUSLIM PRINCIPALITY: The renovated building of the Arakkal palace complex in Kannur.  

Mohamed Nazeer

KANNUR: The remnants of the erstwhile Muslim principality here that still testify the bygone power it wielded in the region will be on permanent display as efforts for their conservation are nearing completion.

The renovation of the 200-year-old building, which forms part of the Arakkal `Kettu' (complex), the seat of the Arakkal royal house, has been completed. What now remains is the work to set up a heritage museum that showcases the history of the Arakkal house and of the regional influence of the Arakkal `Rajas' and `Beevis' in its heydays of its authority. Work to develop the museum at the renovated building in the palace complex is in the last phase and the museum is expected to be formally opened to the public in the third week of July.

The work has been fully funded by the Tourism Department which has sanctioned Rs.96 lakhs for the renovation project. As some of the structures in the `kettu' are in a state of disrepair, the project to renovate what was once the administrative building of the royal house, has given a facelift to the entire complex, a cluster of decaying buildings around the large open ground, including residential structures, mosques, and `pandikasalas,' the old storehouses of the Arakkal family.

"Arakkal palace can be developed into a place of tourist attraction and the museum being developed there can showcase the history of this erstwhile principality,'' Tourism Minister K. C. Venugopal told The Hindu. The legacy of the royal house that contributed to the cultural heritage of the region and religious harmony and strengthened maritime activities here had to be conserved for the posterity, he said.

The building overlooking the sea is one of the least damaged structures in the complex. Renovation work has been done by Ravi Gundu Rao and Associates, a Mumbai-based company providing heritage building conservation services around the country.

"We have taken great care in our conservation strategy to ensure a sense of cultural heritage, the legends and the history of this unique royal house,'' Ravi Gundu Rao, the chief of the company, said. The building that has now been conserved had virtually been written off before it was identified for renovation, he said.

The conservation work began with the removal of the wall plaster of the dilapidated building. The building's exterior and interior walls have been plastered afresh with lime plaster. The old windows have been re-fixed, new wooden flooring has replaced the old. The traditional pot tiles have been used for the roof.

"Except the aluminium sheeting attached below the roof tiles to prevent water seepage, the materials used for the conservation are all traditional ones,'' said Rejy Varkey, the project manager of the company. All materials were recycled and used for the renovation of the building, he added.

There are different legends, all having doubtful historical value, as to the origin of this royal family which still exists. One traces the family's history to Cheraman Perumal's nephew, Muhammed Ali, who was believed to have founded the principality in the first century of the Muslim era. Another version links it to a matrimonial alliance between a princess of the powerful Kolathiri dynasty here and a Muslim youth. Another one says that it was founded by Arayankulangara Nair, one of the ministers of the Kolathiri court.

The Arakkal family followed a matrilineal system of descent. The elder- most member of the family, male or female, was its head and ruler. Male rulers were called Ali Rajas and female rulers Arakkal Beevis.

The museum will display the old records, maps and drawings of surveys and many other manuscripts that will throw light on the maritime activities of the family, its monopoly on spices trade and its relationship with European colonial powers. The family once controlled the Maldives and Lakshadweep. The kingdom had good relations with Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan, the Dutch and the Bijapur Sultan. By the end of the third Mysore war, Mysore fell to the hands of British. That marked the beginning of the decline of the Arakkal family.

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