Once we step into the premises of the heritage museum at Chembukkavu, Thrissur, otherwise known as Kollamkode palace, from the busy and outside world, we just melt into the legacy of Thrissur or in general- Kerala. The last king of Kollamkode dynasty Vasudeva Raja constructed the palace building for his daughter in 1904. In 1975, this property was acquired by the Department of Archaeology and declared as a protected monument by Govt. of Kerala under the provisions of Kerala Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1968 and converted this into a museum.
The lion's share of exhibits in this museum then was the excavated archaeological items from the then Kochi. Also, once this museum had the maximum collection exhibits in comparison with any other museum under the department. Now, these items have been shifted to the Shakthan Thampuran Palace.
The first thing which attracts us as we enter, keeping the marvellous building aside, is the beautifully kept lawns and gardens with benches for visitors to sit, a collection of some of the stone archaeological items, and the children's park. Apart from this, the wall has 51 paintings, some are solo works and others are group works, which has its theme picked from almost every aspect of the rich culture of Thrissur and even the whole of Kerala.
The ‘Nagakkalam’, ‘Onathallu’, ‘Tholpaavakoothu’ (Shadow puppetry), ‘Dhyanam’, ‘Ayurveda’, ‘Arnose Pathiri’, and ‘Dance and Music’. Some of the important events during Thrissur pooram like ‘Ilanjithara melam’ is also portrayed. Other images are of Kerala folklore like ‘Poothavum Thirayum’ and ‘Krishnanattan’. A striking image among these 51 is of Kannaki in ‘Chilappathikaram’.
As we go inside, before noticing any of the exhibits there, what we notice is the floor and ceiling of the palace. The traditional style of Kerala shows some signs of the change happening in the style of architecture at that point in time. The floor has the imported ‘Tharayod’ (tiles made of mud using a special technique) and the ceiling is wood which would keep the atmosphere comfortable inside, no matter what the weather outside is.
The ground floor is completely dedicated to the exhibition of excavated articles from the area, belonging to the Megalithic age and also those pictures and models of traditional Kerala culture. Some of these are masks and pictures of ‘Kummatti’, ‘Poothavum Thirayum’, ‘Kaalakali’, ‘Marapeeppi’ (whistle made of wood), ‘Olapeeppi’ (whistle made of palm leaves), ‘Kalamezhuth’, ‘Pallival’ (ceremonial sword), ‘KaalChilambu’ (Ceremonial anklet), and ‘Aramani’ (jingling bells worn around waist as an ornament).
This floor also has two rooms fully dedicated to early Kerala household and daily use items. This includes things used in home and kitchen, tools for fishing and agriculture, also the hat worn by farmers. The models of some of the temples in Kerala like that of Lord Krishna Temple, Tirukkulasekharapuram are also exhibited here.
Once we go through all these items and their details, we can move to the first floor of the palace, which has the same type of floor and ceiling as the ground floor. But the first floor differs from the ground floor in the type of windows. The windows here are bigger and are glass panelled to allow maximum light to enter the beautiful structure. Also, it ensures air circulation and the availability of fresh air inside the palace throughout the day. The items which are housed there are also different from those on the ground floor. The floor is entirely dedicated to the murals and is now a mural art museum and study centre.
This is the only Mural Art Museum under the department. In 2005 the archaeological museum which was there in the Kollamkode Palace was shifted to the Shakthan Thampuran Palace and Kollamkode House became a place dedicated mainly for mural arts. The then government also shifted to this palace the Mural Art Centre under the department. Here the murals exhibited are those which decorated the walls of not just Kerala temples and palaces but also those on church walls and caves like Ajanta.
The themes of these drawings vary from Ramayana and Mahabharata to Catholic and Buddhist stories. The source of these pictures also varies from Ajanta caves in Maharashtra to Mattancherry Palace. Some of the notable examples of these murals are the indirect depiction of Lord Krishna lifting Govardhana hill, Lord Ram and Sita in hermitage of Panchavadi with Laxmana, three Magi from the east arriving at the news of divine birth, depiction of aquatic animals, the family deity of Thripunithura Kovilakam- The Santhana Gopalakrishnan on Anandasana and Padma Pani Bodhisattva.
This floor has also a room dedicated to Vasudeva Raja. The room has photographs of Vasudeva Raja and mirror paintings of Vasudeva Raja and Lady Vasudeva Raja. It also has the Royal Coat, Methiyadi and Turban of Vasudeva Raja. These are items which were handed over to the government by the Royal family.
As a part of creating awareness among the masses and also to popularize the rich Kerala culture, the museum authority now comes up with plans to take the museum en masse to the general public. They now allow photo shoot and even videos outside the palace, in the beautifully managed gardens. Though the aim of popularizing the ancient culture and rich past has not been fully achieved yet, people are now interested to come here and feel the tradition of the glorious past. They take the beauty of this alluring palace and its premises to the outside world through photos and videos.