Before 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.

1.  Churunas

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.

1. Ozhukus :- They contain detailed information in respect of landed properties and cover the period from 1802 to 1837 A.D. An ozhukus record contain the following information.

 ‘Lakkam’ No (ie, the serial No. allotted to each property in lien of the present day survey no.)

  1. Name and extent of the property indicating details of the boundaries.
  2. No. of yielding trees in the property and tax assessed.
  3. Name and address of the assignees.

    2. Vilangipper records :- These records resemble ‘ozhuku’ in every respect except for the prominence given to the name of the person to whom the property stands assigned. In rare cases it also indicates the source through which the property has been inherital by the assignee.

    3. Huzur Khajana Eredavu: - These are a collection of 445 churunas relating to treasury accounts.

4. 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

5. High Court records :- Churnunas containing judgements, decrees, decisions etc. of the High Court of the erstwhile state of Travancore.
6. Records of the office of the Head Sirker Vakkeel:-

            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.)

Neettus:- (Royal commands)

            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.

Mathilakom records

            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.

Paper Records

1. 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.

Printed materials

Travancore Govt. Gazettes

Kochi Govt. Gazettes
Kerala Govt. Gazettes
Fort St.George Gazette
Census reports

Show case records

            There is a small building attached to the Archives, wherein more important items of records (both in cadjan and papers) are displayed in show-case. These include records of political, cultural and administrative importance.



 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.

2.  Grandhas

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.