The new jetty in Vaikom borders on the old one. People bustle around and wait for their boats to the nearby islands, while the old one, with an overwhelming smell of motor fuel, is more of a work shed for boat crews and technicians. But this footbridge is of historical importance. On March 9, 1925, Mahatma Gandhi got out here when he attended Vaikom Satyagraha (1924-25). A few meters away, across the street, is the recently inaugurated Vaikom Satyagraha Memorial Gandhi Museum (January 21), which was built to commemorate the event. There is a bronze statue of Gandhi outside.
Vaikom Satyagraha started as a regional, localized protest against untouchability. However, it gained importance and is viewed by historians as a central event in Kerala's history, which even led to the proclamation of the temple entry in 1936. At the heart of this protest was the Vaikom Mahadeva Temple, in which the upper caste was allowed to use a public road around it, but the others were not.
Signs were posted to warn against the use of the street by people belonging to a lower caste. A replica of such a tablet is in the museum to commemorate the depressing socio-political climate of the time.
In contrast to conventional museums, there are no historical artifacts or exhibits. “These are considered the life of a museum. There are no exhibits for this movement. If it were a war, there would have been weapons. This was a peaceful Gandhian protest. The absence [of exhibits] was a challenge in curating the museum, ”said R Chandran Pillai of the Keralam Museum who carried out the project. The documentation and the archive material compensate for what the project lacks in exhibits.
Museum of history
- The Interactive Museum of Cultural History of Kerala, also known as the "Keralam Museum", was founded in 2011 by the government of Kerala as an autonomous institution under the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. Various aspects of the culture and heritage of the state are presented.
- The Keralam Museum has used modern techniques to renovate archaeological museums in the Koyikkal Palace (Nedumangad), the Hill Palace (Tripunithura) and the Pazhassi Raja Museum (Kozhikode). It has played an important role in the establishment of district museums – District Heritage Museum, Thiruvananthapuram in Sreepadam Palace, Ernakulam District Heritage Museum in Bastion Bungalow, Wayanad District Heritage Museum in Pazhassikudeeram, Pathanamthitta District Heritage Museum, Konni and Thrissur District Kollencode Palace.
The story of the protest, which lasted 604 days from March 30, 1924 to November 23, 1925, is told through illustrative stories: images, documents and interactive audiovisual content. “We have a huge collection of original Vaikom Satyagraha records and documents that have proven to be a valuable source of information for the museum. Since there are no artifacts, the story was developed based on the facts we have in our records, ”said J Rejikumar, director of the State Archives.
The visual narrative in text form and illustrations takes place through the eyes of a boy who would have been discriminated against because of his caste. The visitor is first introduced to untouchability; its practice and imposition is a rude awakening for those who are not fully aware of its full extent. A miniature replica of the Vaikom Temple shows the temple and the streets around it.
The introductory gallery shows the prescribed distance that each caste should keep from the other. To reinforce how untouchability was imposed, life-size laws by three men – the first to break the rule – protest in front of a picket fence and board that prohibits them from using the street.
The museum is divided into five areas and includes a gallery for Gandhi, other guides of Satyagraha and a theater for an audiovisual show. “In order to tell the story of Satyagraha, we want the audience to be a partner in the story. We kept it interactive to arouse curiosity, ”says Chandran Pillai.
The museum highlights lesser-known aspects of how the ban came into being, especially since the Maharaja of Travancore, Ayilyam Thirunal, issued a proclamation in 1865 that public roads in Travancore were open to everyone. When the first body to ban access was established in 1905 and by those who waged the fight regardless of belief or caste.
The Vaikom Satyagraha
- In February 1924, the Anti-untouchability Committee held a public meeting in Vaikom that decided that a group of Satyagrahis should violate the rule prohibiting temple castles for low castes. On March 30, volunteers from various parts of Travancore arrived in Vaikom. A message from Mahatama Gandhi was read that three men from different castes marched on the forbidden street. When stopped by the police, they refused to turn around and squatted on the street. Three more followed and violated the law for which they were arrested. Leaders wooed arrest, the streets barricaded by police, demonstrators sat on the street in front of the barricades at the four entrances to the temple.
Mahatma Gandhi met Sree Narayana Guru for the first time during Satyagraha. The information is precise and detailed.
What makes the museum interesting is that it focuses on one event and shows all the important details that go with it.
The Interactive Museum of Cultural History of Kerala, also known as the Keralam Museum, implemented the project for the archive department. Part of the funds for the projects came from the Gandhi Heritage and Sites Mission, which is under the Ministry of Culture, and the rest from the state government.
The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission is free and opening times are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.