Swords and fire power add to new-look museum

By Dhananjani Silva, Pix by J. Weerasekera

A spectacular Arms and Armaments Gallery is the latest addition to the National Museum of Colombo, under its ambitious refurbishment programme.

With the completion of the second phase of the refurbishment project undertaken by HSBC, the Arts and Crafts, Arms and Armaments, Coins and Flags Galleries of the Museum were declared open by the Minister of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena earlier this month.

Firearms used in ancient times such as Gal vedi, Gini Vedi and Dum Vedi; guard weapons –or what is known in Sinhala as Mura Ayudha; historic age bows and arrows; different types of swords be it war or ceremonial, local or foreign; a collection of knives, shields and javelins, European style guns, pistols and canons are among a host of other objects on display. Significant among the collection of spears is a lacquer painted long bow with an arrow- a possible ritual object connected to the Ramayana legend, gold and silver studded swords and swords used for anganpora. A collection of Portuguese to British period/Anuradhapura to Kandy period arms and armaments and foreign weapons such as Japanese, Malay, Indian arms etc are also displayed at this gallery, says Museum Keeper Ranjith Hewage.

Following the refurbishment programme, a state of the art lighting system has been installed and informative display boards put up providing details on the artefacts with maps and pictures etc. These are in Sinhala, Tamil and English languages.

“A museum has to be renovated and rearranged from time to time. As such in 2004, it was decided to revamp the exhibition galleries of the National Museum. HSBC offered to financially support the initiative while the Museum authorities monitored the project with the expertise based on the rules and concepts that go with the institution. The ground floor was allocated to display the historical sequences of the country which is composed of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa / post Polonnaruwa and Kandy periods. The upper floor was allocated for thematic wise creations,” explained Mr. Hewage adding that a full renovation project was carried out after 40 years.

The first stage of the project was completed in 2005, and the revamping of the second floor galleries commenced in 2007, according to Mr Hewage.

The Arts and Crafts gallery consists of a collection of nearly 1200 small objects such as ivory, brass and wood carvings, tortoise shell objects, jewellery, etc. The pedestal and hanging oil lamps some being of South Indian origin used in Hindu shrines, ivory combs, ornaments sculptures and utility material are some of the highlights of this section.

The Coins and Currency Gallery which has also undergone a facelift displays local and foreign coins and currency used in Sri Lanka from the 3rd Century BC to contemporary times – covering different periods such as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya and Kotte as well as the currency of Portuguese, Dutch and British administrative periods. This features the country’s oldest currency known as punch-marked coins. Lakshmi and Swastika coins used in the Anuradhapura period, Lankeshvara coin- the oldest Sinhalese gold coin type belonging to the 10th century AD, Roman coins of the 3rd and 6th Century AD periods, Chola, Pandya, Chinese and Arabic coins used in early periods, Sinhalese coins with the rulers’ names minted on them etc, are included in the coins collection. The items in this gallery are arranged in chronological order as the currency usage process evolved in Sri Lanka, Mr Hewage said.

Information on coin technology and archaeological evidence are also provided on gallery panels, he added. The Banners and Standard Gallery exhibits the provincial flags and banners used in the early Anuradhapura times and the Lion flag that was subjected to variations and gradually modified with time.
As a result of this Rs. 30 million project initiated by the HSBC, so far nine galleries - Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kandy, Transitional, Stone, Arts and Crafts, Arms and Armaments, Coins and Currency and Flags and Banners have been revamped. The next to be refurbished will be the Painting Gallery. “This is one of the most precious galleries. A large number of paintings of Sigiriya, Lankathilaka are on display here as well as fabric paintings belonging to the Kandy period and a collection of folk arts and crafts,” Mr. Hewage said.

With work on all the galleries due to be completed in two-three years depending on the assistance they receive, their next objective is to enhance the facilities available to the public to attract more visitors to the Colombo Museum - the centre of our traditional heritage.

History of the Museum

The oldest and the largest Museum in Sri Lanka, the National Museum was founded on January 1, 1877 during Governor Sir William Henry Gregory’s time.

The two-storied building built in the Italian style was designed by James G. Smither, architect of the Public Works Department.

When it was first opened, the National Museum of Colombo had a collection of 800 artefacts.

What’s on offer

Workshops, seminars, audio visual programmes, guided tours and lectures are offered for visitors of all ages. The Reference Library has over nine million titles including a number of rare books and periodicals. The Library also possesses the largest collection of palm leaf manuscripts in the country including the oldest, namely the Chullavagga Ola Leaf manuscripts of the 13th century.

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