KOCHI: The Central Archives at Fort was once Travancore’s first jail. It became a part of the erstwhile Travancore state ‘Husoor Central Vernacular Records’ in 1887. Now, under the State Archives Department, the two-storeyed building is being turned into a repository of records. Touted to be the largest in Asia with a mammoth collection of palm leaf manuscripts, the Central Archives is all set to have a palm-leaf manuscript museum throwing light on the ancient history of Travancore, including boundary disputes, harbour-related notes, books and High Court writs.
Currently, the Archives Department has a collection of over one crore palm-leaf manuscripts which include the administrative documents dating back to the 14th century. From the Venad era to modern Travancore, the manuscripts have been rolled up into more than 10,000-odd bundles and conserved with grass oil. “The manuscript museum will help in creating awareness among the public about our rich heritage. Most of the manuscripts are administrative documents which include orders and court documents,” said Shibu N, superintendent of Archives Department.
He also added that the museum is being designed by Kerala Museum, the nodal agency of museums in the state. Shibu said, “The museum will be set up according to the history of documents and will be recreated with visual effects to create an additional element f interest among students.”
An expert team consisting of Smitha K G, Maya Santhosh and Jaseela are involved in the transliteration of the manuscripts featuring ancient scripts such as Vattezhuthu, Kolezhuthu, Malayanma, Grantha, Tamil to Malayalam language.
“The experts are involved in transliteration which is a type of conversion of a text from one script to another that involves swapping letters in predictable ways without translating it. The process is in progress and the experts have already completed about 60 per cent of transliteration. While some palm-leaf manuscripts feature ancient scripts such as Vattezhuthu, the majority of the scripts are in Tamil,” said the department official.
Conservation of manuscripts
A palm leaf manuscript is conserved by applying grass oil. A metal stylus is used to write on the palm leaves and carbon powder is spread over the letters to increase visibility. Other chemical procedures are followed to keep the palm leaf manuscripts safe from insects, termites and microbes. Officials said the palm leaf museum will be completed in six months.