The establishment of archaeological museums in Sri Lanka, which began in the 1940s, has undergone a radical transformation towards high technology, with the opening of the new and modern Ancient Technology Museum in Polonnaruwa on Wednesday (July 3). President Maithripala Sirisena heralded the new milestone in archaeological museums in the country when he opened the new Technology Museum in his hometown, Polonnaruwa.
This is the first such museum which showcases indigenous technology of the last 150 years. This museum also highlights the significant milestones of state patronage through the ages. This museum accommodates modern auditorium and an observation cabin.
High tech facilities
The purpose of the museum is for local and foreign tourists and students to gain an understanding of the country’s technology history and traditions. When much of the world was engulfed in ignorance and darkness, the land then known as Heladiva flourished with the light of the knowledge of irrigation, architecture and other sciences. The country had a multi-faceted and well-balanced civilization endowed with its unique features. The Ancient Technology Museum of Polonnaruwa provides the knowledge to students about Sri Lanka’s ancient heritage through modern state of art high tech facilities.
The citation of the Museum states, “in pursuit of the goal of sustainable development, this Ancient Technology Museum of Polonnaruwa was bestowed to the nation by President Maithripala Sirisena, thus making a reality the concept spiritually held close to his heart”.
After inaugurating the museum, the President made an observation tour of the Museum. Speaking on the occasion, President Sirisena said that modern technology should be used for the betterment of humans not for the destruction. He urged the younger generation to use modern technology to create a world full of intellectuals armed with knowledge. The President said that all those facilities are given to the children to open the doors of the modern world to them. He said that his aim is to see a generation of children who have won the world by using only positive aspects of modern technology.
The museum will be a centre for educating the public, especially the schoolchildren and university students about Sri Lanka’s rich culture. It displays antiquities, ancient coins, stone carvings, and clay items of Polonnaruwa era.
Establishment of archaeological museums took place in the 1940s. Their peak period started in 1950. At the inception, they were known by the term Puravidu Bhavana (Archaeological Mansion). From the inception of the department up to 1940, the number of antiquities discovered by the department was very large. Until the establishment of the Archaeological Museum at Anuradhapura more elegant antiquities were handed over to the National Museum and the other antiquities were kept in the archaeological laboratory and stores while some others were haphazardly heaped at the sites where they were found. Hence, in 1947, Dr. Senarat Paranavithana pioneered the establishment of Puravidu Bhavana in Anuradhapura.
The term “Puravidu Bhavana” was in use up to 1952 when it was changed to Archaeological Museum. The Archaeological Museum at Dedigama bears testimony to the justification of exhibiting antiquities in the sites they were found which is the policy currently followed by the Department against the previous policy of exhibiting them in one centre removing them from their original sites.
Regional archaeological museums
With the inauguration of Archaeological museums, the concept of regional archaeological museums evolved. Accordingly, in 1962, the Ruwanweli Seya Museum was established under the title Naranwita Sumanasara Museum of Stone Carvings. The Polonnaruwa Museum was established in the Public Services Sports Club Hall at Polonnaruwa in 1962. The Jaffna Museum which was maintained by the Department of National Museums was handed over to the Department of Archaeology which maintains it now.
Subsequently, the Kandy Museum was established in 1965, Sigiriya Museum in 1966 whereas the Yapahuwa Museum had been initiated in 1966. The establishment of the Archaeological Museum for the Eastern Province took place in 1970. By 1979, archaeological museums were scattered all over Ampara, Isurumuniya, Mahiyangana, Kataragama and Ambalantota. Up to now, there has been a rapid increase in the number of museums which are under control of the Department of Archaeology.
The main objective of this exercise is to provide facilities for the public to gain knowledge and entertainment by following the principles of conservation, preservation, documentation and maintenance of antiquities of cultural value discovered by explorations, excavations and by communicating truly and actively to the public the knowledge, education and entertainment by means of preserving the objects, events and activities of the past.
New Museum will serve as a centre for education on the rich heritage of Polonnaruwa, the ancient capital proud of its monasteries and the Buddha statues such as Gal Vihara where four Buddha statues and attendant sculptures cut from a single rock represent the finest achievement of the local sculptor. The Polonnaruwa kingdom did not last long ending with Magha (1215-36). Threatened invasions from South India forced the kings to abandon Polonnaruwa and move to Dambadeniya.
Since then, it was a sad tale of decline and neglect. After several centuries, Polonnaruwa is reawakening today under the development programme, Pibidena Polonnaruwa. President Sirisena, a son of Polonnaruwa, stated that the government has started the programme to uplift all people economically and socially.
In addition to opening the largest and high technology Museum in the country, President Sirisena also opened the market complex in Polonnaruwa town built by the Central Cultural Fund last month. It has been built as a fully equipped trade complex with 18 shops at a cost of Rs. 44 million. The building which cannot be demolished as a cultural property which was used by the former government agent of Thamankaduwa has been taken over by the Central Cultural Fund and preserved protecting the cultural identity and turned into a trade complex after renovations.
By Sugeeswara Senadhira