the advent of paper in India, palm leaves were the main material on which
writing was done particularly in the costal areas. Palm leaves as writing
materials was also in use in several other Asian countries like Srilanka,
Thailand, Burma etc. As a result thousands of palm leaf documents have
come down to us, which formed an important relic of our ancient heritage.
It is our duty to preserve this price-less specimen of heritage, for the
future generation. Palm leaf records are generally classified into two
groups viz. Churunas and Grandhas.
The Churunas are scrolls of cadjan (palm-leaf) manuscripts kept in a bundle of loose leaves. At out Central Archives Trivandrum we have a collection of 11100 churunas. Apart from this the Regional Archives, Kozhikode has in its repository a collection of 200 churunas. Altogether our collection of more than 14000 churunas with an average of 1000 leaves in each amounts to more than 1,40,00,000 leaves. This collection of churunas is perhaps the largest collection of palm-leaf manuscripts in the whole world. Each churuna consist of an average of 1000 cadjan leaves of about 90 cm long and 2.5m cm wide on an average and both side of the leaf is used for recording events. They are written in different ancient scripts of Kerala like Vattezhuthu, Kolezhuthu, Malayanma, Tamil and also in Malayalam. Each bundle of churunas deals with different subjects, not necessarily connected to each other.
Churunas – Central Archives
A brief note on the Central Archives, Thiruvananthapuram
The Shri. Padmanabha Swamy Temple was the centre of administration in Travancore. Even after the formation of Huzur Kacheri, records relating to important political events, like the waging of war, conclusion of traties, employment of diplomatic tactics and the like began to be preserved in the palace itself. These records are known as Chellam Vaka records.
The Huzur Kacheri was first organised during the priod of Dharma raja. It was in 1865 A.D that design for the present Secretariate building (old block) was prepared.
In 1887, the Central repository of the erstwhile state of Travancore was established in the quadrangular two-storaged building inside the North Western corner of the Fort and the present Central Archives is the successor of this old institution. Majority of the records preserved here are in cadjan (palm leaves) and relates to the period from 1500 1900 A.D.
The records preserved in this Archives grouped to four groups-cadjan leaves,
bamboo splint records, copper plates and paper records. The cadjan records
are classified into three; cadjan churnas, cadjan grandhas and loose leaves.
The churunas which run to more than ten thousand in number forms the bulk
of the record holdings in the Central Archives, Thiruvananthapuram. Mostly
they consist of pre-settlement land revenues records and are written in
Tamil and Malayalam, the scripts popular in earlier days. A brief description
of some important records are given below.
Boundary disputes :- A collection of churunas relating to the boundary
disputes that existed between Travancore and Kochi and other neighbouring
States. They contain correspondence passed between the Diwans of Travancore
and Kochi on the issue. These are also a few communications from the Diwan
to the British Resident on the subject
A collection of churunas dealing with Adalam decisions (judgements in
cases) and also matters relating to family pension to the Rajas including
adoptions to the Royal Family. (The Rajas were being paid family pension
in earlier days as composition for the lands over from them by the Govt.)
A collection of churunas containing proclamations and orders issued mostly to the Heads of Departments from time to time on administrative and other matters of importance.
The old records possessed by the celebrated temple of Sri.Padmanabha Swami in Thiruvananthapuram, the tutelary deity of the Royal House of Tavancore is popularly known by the name””Mathilakam Records” because the temple establishment is known in common parlance as “Mathilakom”. This collection consists of about 3000 churunas.
Settlement records of Travancore State :- The survey and settlement of
Travancore commenced in 1885 A.D during the reign of Sri.Moolam Thirunal
was finalised in the year 1910. The collection consists of settlement
registers of the various villages in the state.
CHURUNAS ----SCROLLS OF PALM—LEAF MANUSCRIPTS
About a century ago when paper was very scarce,processed palm-leaf was the chief material largely used in Kerala for correspondence.So records in cadjan form the bulk of ancient record wealth of Kerala for the sake of convenience and better preservation .It was the practice in earlier days to keep loose sheets of palm-leaves scrolled in bundles of convenient sizes passing a cord (string) through the holes provided in the leaves as in the case of present day tagging of sheets of paper.These scrolls are known as Churunas.The number of leaves in each bundle varies from 500-1000.
Granthas---A collection of Palm-leaf manuscripts preserved within wooden flaps.
Loose cadjan leaves written on both sides kept in wooden flaps are known as grandhas. The collection of grandhas we have in our custody can be grouped in to two i.e. Oluku grandhas and historical grandhas. Oluku grandhas are the reproduction of oluku churunas as the historical grandhas deal with the political, social and cultural history of ancient Kerala. Each grandha contains an average of 100 loose palm leaves. These records are date back to 15th century. Like Churunas, Grandhas are also written in old scripts like Vattezhuthu, Kolezhuthu, Malayanma, Tamil etc. A total collection of about 500 grandhas are available in our department. At present we do not have any proper reference media such index, subject list etc. to these records. However, only some lists are available to them.
The present physical condition
This large mass of cadjan (palm leaf) manuscripts, now kept mainly in the Central Archives Trivandrum needs special care and attention. We are adopting traditional methods of fumigation by using para dichlorobenzene and apply lemon grass oil on the dust free surface of the palm leaf. Lemon grass oil is an insect repellent and it imports strength and increase the flexibility of the palm leaf. The churunas are kept in racks made of wood in the non-A/c repositories. At present we have prepared list for more than 90% of these manuscripts. But we have index only for the Neetus or Proclamations. Efforts are being made to complete the listing and indexing of manuscripts. With the limited financial, technical and human resources, the preservation and conservation process is going at a slow pace.
With a view to preserve these valuable manuscripts, the department is also preparing a project proposal for scientific preservation and digitalization of the manuscripts.
The Subject matter of cadjan (palm Leaf) Manuscripts
The palm leaf manuscripts deal with diverse subjects. ‘These manuscripts contain accounts about ore-settlement land revenue system on the various functions and events in the temples on pujas, festivals and on the transactions of business by the yogam or temple councils grants and donation to temples by Royal family; visits of the rulers to temples, etc. There are also churunas dealing with administration, treasury accounts; land taxation. High Court judgements and decrees and the Royal Neetus or Proclamations and Orders by the Kings of Travancore. These manuscripts have opened up many new vistas of research and have led to the discovery of several historical facts hitherto unknown. The manuscripts are indispensable to the study of the socio-economic, political, cultural and religious life of Kerala.
But one major difficulty facing the researcher is the problem of understanding the ancient scripts in which the whole materials is written. A working proficiency in the ancient scripts of Vattezhuthu, Kolezhuthu, Malayanma and Tamil is needed for a proper understanding of the manuscripts.