ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 45

Artefacts get drenched as officials squabble

By Nadia Fazlulhaq

Two priceless artefacts are among those that have been damaged at the National Museum due to the recent rains, when carrying out renovations which apparently were neither supervised nor planned.

Some of the gutters that had been removed

Museum keeper Ranjith Hewage, said the two artefacts, dating back to the Kandyan period were paintings of “Mara Yuddaya, Daham Sonda Jatake, Wessantara Jatake” from the 17-19 century and “Sujatha offering kiripindu and Naga Damanaya” belonging to the 8-12 century. Both paintings were from the Dambava Vihara in Matale. He said these paintings called “Pethikada art” were done by Buddhist monks on cloth or canvas.

Anura Bandaranaike inspects one of the damaged paintings. Pix by Saman Kariyawasam

An untimely removal of the roof and cutting down 40 gutter-pipes on one day had led to the water seeping into the Museum, The Sunday Times learns. Although some of the paintings had been removed from the art gallery before the repairs had begun others including the two works that had been damaged had not been shifted. These included some priceless works such as the floral design with a scroll pattern at Dandirigala (17-19 Century) and scenes from the Kusa Jatake. Although these had luckily escaped the rains, some of the paintings of the Dimbulagala caves had been slightly damaged.

The art gallery is not the only section that is under threat. The rain water has seeped in to the museum’s library too and valuable books and scripts are at the risk of getting damaged.

The National Museum was established in 1877 and some of the most priceless artefacts are seen at the art gallery. For more than 30 years the museum has been getting flooded every rainy season, Many of the galleries in the upper floor which are made of wood have been getting soaked. Last November it was decided to repair the gutter system.

The State Engineering Corporation (SEC) had agreed to do the renovations but placing the gutters had been given to a sub contractor. But a supervisor or a technical assistant from the National Museum had not been appointed to oversee the renovations, The Sunday Times learns.

Water that has collected in a corridor upstairs

The Sunday Times also learns that the renovation of the roof had begun with the rainy season around the corner.

With some priceless artefacts now being damaged, museum officials and SEC officials are trading charges and counter charges.
Director National Museum, Nanda Wickremasinghe said she had informed SEC to take precautionary measures and make sure that the paintings aren’t damaged before renovations started.

“The paintings are done by using a gum, so once the artefacts get wet they cannot be touched as the colours might get smudged. The State Engineering Corporation didn’t inform us that they were doing the construction in the art gallery. We were not informed that they were removing all the gutters on one day,” she complained.

Meanwhile SEC General Manager, Rohan de Silva said that the contractors have no idea of the value of the artefacts and the Museum officials should have made arrangements to protect them.

Some of the paintings now covered by polythene

“It was only last week that Museum officials took measures to cover the artefacts with polythene. That should have been done when construction work was started in the art gallery – which was in mid January. The gutters had to be replaced for a one km long stretch so we gave it out to a subcontractor.

According to Manager (Constructions) SEC, Priya Karavita the rate was approved as Rs. 5.4 million for the renovation of one roof.

Meanwhile, following a visit to the Museum on Thursday, Minister of National Heritage, Anura Bandaranaike said, “I will come up with a cabinet memorandum to appoint a permanent technical/engineering officer to the National Museum who will look in to the constructions and renovations.

“The first time I visited the Museum was when I was at the primary class at Royal College. This is only the second time and it has changed a lot since those days. We should make sure that such things never happen again,” he added.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.