September 2, 2021
Being a Mangalurean living away from Mangaluru most of my life, I had little idea about the rich traditions, culture and folk history of our region called Tulunadu.
So it was with curiosity and interest that we went searching for the Tulu museum at Bantwal which is also a Study Centre.
Thinking it was closed due to the weekend curfew, we almost left the place, yet we were extremely lucky to interact with the genius behind this project Dr Thukaram Poojary. Since 1993 he has passionately travelled across the Tulunadu region to collect over 4000 exhibits like, folklore material artefacts, tools, utensils, books, manuscripts, instruments etc. Moreover, he has undertaken countless research projects using these material objects and oral traditions to reconstruct the rich folk history of this Tulunadu region.
The centre continues to document the significance of the daily lifestyle of the indigenous people of coastal Karnataka and attempts to bring alive the rich cultural history and heritage of the Tulunadu region, which otherwise is in danger of being forgotten by the next set of modern generations!
And they have fittingly named the museum after the almost forgotten 17th century brave Chouta dynasty Queen of Ullal - Rani Abbakka II, whose status as the first women freedom fighter against the Portuguese rulers has still not been depicted fairly in most history textbooks.
Italian traveler Pietro of that era was asked by the Shah of Iran to come to India specially to meet this heroic woman, who had repeatedly fought against the Portuguese Rulers of Mangaluru. Pietro has described her personality and exploits in detail, which was used to portray the life of Rani Abbakka through vivid depictions on canvas at the painting gallery on the first floor. Her promise to fight for freedom to her mother, her tumultuous marriage, her continuous civil development works, her oversees trade relations, her simple coronation ritual, her persistent Guerilla like warfare battle wins against the mighty Portuguese army, all reflect her daring spirit that was very rare among women rulers of that era. Rani Abbakka strived for the freedom of not just her Ullal region, but also for the whole Karavalli region, yet she is not as well-known as Rani Laxmibai who fought for the freedom of Jhansi, more than a century later.
Poojary's family have single handedly worked to spread awareness and understanding of the intangible beauty of oral traditions, myths, folklore combined with the study of the various tangible objects displayed in the museum like arts, crafts, furniture, jewellery, books, spirit worship masks, instruments, tools, vessels, toddy tapping items, pickle jars, pooja items etc
Every object has a great story to tell about the past and the simple lifestyle of the locals which this museum attempts to reconstruct today and to show their importance and connection to future generations. Tulunadu region used to be a dense jungle land inhabited with snakes and tigers and simple hard working local communities like Koragas, Billavas, Mogaveeras, or Bunts.
Eg, We saw different types of rice vermicelli making instruments which were an influence from Arab traders. We saw a tiger chasing instrument that makes a loud shrill noise to keep the tigers away from the cattle. Since this region was ruled by Jain dynasties, nonviolence was practiced by most of the subjects, and hunting was mostly for food and not as a sport..
We saw the different kinds of earthen ware steam pots, evolve from having a hole at the bottom to the recent one with a detachable plate inside. We saw different kinds of combs including one made from a used coconut stick broom which is a reflection of the exploited conditions and the state of poverty that most of the people lived in, at that era!
We saw artefacts from the ruins of a nearby Megalithic period archeological discovery site at Badagakajekar, which still has not been given the historical importance and protection due to it.
We admired the vast creativity of the local so called uneducated people of those times, who produced brilliant varieties of items for use in the kitchen, house, fields or festivals to fulfill their changing needs.
Of particular interest was a child's cradle made up of nine types of wood or a skill testing instrument to check if a simple thread could be released from it or not.
We saw a water clock item used to measure time in those days, and got a fresh insight about a certain old colloquial term called 'galiges'. We understood the stories behind the popular Kannada proverbs that we had heard as a child.
We admired the replica of a cozy thatched home with its simple farming implements, the stored rice bundles, the Cock enclosure etc. The replica of the grand 'Guthu' community home was a treat to the senses along with a story that in the heavy rainy season fishes could swim upstream to great heights and would sometimes be found on the bed itself!
The Tulu culture depicting book library and numismatic collections were recent additions to the museum.
Instead of just wandering among the exhibits and taking photographs, we got a priceless knowledge tour of the museum along with the greatly admirable enthusiasm of Dr Poojary. Even a whole day would not be enough to listen to his amazing stories behind every exhibit that he has so painstakingly collected and researched over his lifetime.
In a society that is unleashed with western influences, we are very grateful to the passion of rare people like Poojary, who with his Tulunadu museum gives us a kaleidoscopic view of Tulunadu and has ensured that our foundation life of yesteryears would never be forgotten by next generations.
So where did you find smiles and make smiles today? Do visit this Rani Abbakka Tulunadu Museum at Bantwal and become a smilemaker please.