Dr. A. Aiyappan - Pioneer of Post Independence Museum Movement in Orissa

Dr. Rabi Narayan Dash

Dr. A. Aiyappan joined the Utkal University in 1958 as the Professor of Anthropology, then a newly created postgraduate department, after his retirement from the service as head of the Madras Museum. His stepping into this department was not restricted to teaching alone. He introduced the Museology as a practical paper in the Anthropology curriculum. His long expertise in Madras museum enabled him to organize this course in no time. Not only he stressed on the study of ethnological materials, which were to be preserved in a scientific way, his experiences in the Madras Museum were imparted to the students in a very simple way. These objects were at first stored and then displayed in a hall where the students got the facility of handling them, repair the broken pieces and applied insecticides or/and chemicals to prevent the object from being destroyed. Thus the lessons of the collection through field exploration, preservation in the store and conservation of the broken objects were imparted to the students, the essential items of the Museology study.

Prof A. Aiyappan got involved in the planning of the tribal welfare and activated the Tribal Research Bureau, which at present is re-christened as Tribal and Harijan Research and Training Institute (THRTI). He caused a museum to be built in that institution which now houses many more objects of the Orissan tribes. Prof. A. Aiyappan’s students with Museology training in its rudimentary form collected, proliferated and preserved the objects of the most primitive tribes of Orissa like Banda, Gadaba, Juang, Dongria, Kond, and Paudi Bhuinyas. Such objects, with additions every year, have enriched the THRTI museum. Prof. Aiyappan remained the advisor of this institution and helped in the publication of the journal ‘Adivasi’ in which the research findings were published. In this each employed student was given topics and helped by Prof. Aiyappan to make the journal reader and research oriented while giving ideas to the government which line to be followed for the upliftment of the individual tribal group and planning of a common program for the purpose. Probably the tribal development co-operatives guided by his student employees helped in economic enhancement of different tribal groups who could market their commodities direct to the government instead of middlemen. Probably Prof. Aiyappan’s earlier work among the Ezavas helped him to reflect upon the Orissan Tribal problems.

Another important contribution of Prof. Aiyappan was the reorganisation of the Orissa State Museum as a multipurpose museum with the addition of natural history, mining and geology and anthropology galleries. This plan linked earlier history and archeology subjects with the earlier pre and proto-historic cultural phases. Aspects relating to man and archeology were linked in the planning of Anthropology galleries, which were again linked with the zoological evolutions on the basis of Darwin’s theory to link up human evolution with human culture in this part of India. The preparation of the dioramas for display purposes was the mental child of Prof. Aiyappan and was undertaken in consultation with Prof. Cora-du-boys, the American professor of Anthropology. His knowledge in Madras Museum at Chennai, where Robert Bruce Foote, the father of Indian prehistoric archeology, once laid his hands on, proved quite useful in this venture. The contribution of Prof. Aiyappan to the organizational set up of Orissa State Museum was to link Natural History with history and culture via Anthropology, - consisting of pre, proto and early history on the one hand and the ethnographic links through the living people and their cultural traits encased in dioramas on the other. It will not be the out of place to mention how the dioramas were planned with the existing museum building in three halls of projecting corners. One hall was exclusively marked for the display of tribes with their costumes and ornaments wrapped in life-size models. Orissa was a maritime power with a sizable and dominant fishing community spreading from the coast of Bengal border to that of Andhra. The catamaran and fishing nets on the sandy beach with the blue sea breaking waves at the background was depicted in an open diorama, which is certainly a novel way of conveying the cultural message to others as to how the past is linked with the present. Such linkage is also displayed by the costumes on wire models and the raw keranga birk on the one hand and the finished clothe woven by the Bondos and Panos for the Godabas, on the other. Even the display of ornaments used by the tribes and folk in succession from birk, lead and metal ornaments were instructed by him.

The display of prehistory objects in the Orissa State Museum was due to his association with Paramananda Acharya, the earliest prehistoric researcher of Orissa after V.Ball. With the association of Aiyappan, Acharya arranged transfer of prehistoric objects kept in the Baripada Museum to the Orissa State Museum. These objects were recovered from the Calcutta University Museum in the department of Anthropology and were kept in the Baripada Museum. With his instructions we have planned the display of stone weapons and artifacts, metal objects and pottery objects in wall and table show cases. From the tips given by Acharya we could collect photographs of different types of pottery belonging to the Neolithic phase.

Prof. Aiyappan’s activities were not confined to the Utkal University, Tribal Research Bureau and Orissa State Museum only. He was instrumental in opening Anthropology Departments in the B.J.B. College and Khallikote College where he laid stress on opening of museums. These museums procured objects from the local and regional environments with occasional acquisition of state based objects. The State Museum was intended to acquire specimens from state jurisdiction and also from the national context to facilitate comparative studies with the state and East Indian regional extent.

Prof. Aiyappan was keen to see the subject of Anthropology flourishing in educational centers of Orissa. He made it a mission to open Anthropology in different colleges like B.J.B. Khallikote etc. His students also took lead in forwarding his mission. Mention may be made about the colleges at Rairangpur, Talcher and such other destinations having a thick tribal population around them. He knew the rich cultural heritage of Orissa visible in her monuments and was aware of her rich and glorious history based on fierce military strength. So he wanted to infuse among the underdeveloped tribals awareness about the continued cultural traits since Stone Age. He also wanted them to be aware of the autochthonous indigenous colorful and unique culture complexes reflected in their ways of life. Since these tribals were losing their cultural traits etc, at a very fast rate, the traits in the form of material objects, the manner of their faithful preservation in the garb of social and religious tenets should be available in the museums and higher educational institutions for their easy and at hand references in the absence of which their significance would remain unknown. So museums in historical and anthropological subjects became a priority in Prof. Aiyappan’s agenda.

Prof. Aiyapan had a great liking for his students. He tried to see his students well placed in stations of life. It would not be out of place to mention a few lines relating my experiences with him. He was very kind to me when he admitted me into the Dept. of Anthropology. He was also kind to me when he gave his opinion on my character certificate after I got through the M.A. examination. In the same he wrote that "His behavior is always faultless, with some encouragement he will do well." Thus he had faith on me and on my character. But I could not say how far I have projected myself to his expectations. After I passed M.A. I went home and joined as a teacher in a high school near my village. During this period neither did I visit the University nor I met Prof. Aiyappan. But he sent a letter through one of my friends to meet him immediately. I rushed to meet him on the very next Sunday at his quarters. He asked me, "Why have you read Anthropology?". I could not answer since he looked at me critically. Then he asked me if I wanted a better job and that too a stationary one in a research oriented situation. He informed me that there was a post in the Orissa state Museum and asked me to apply for the same. He typed the application by himself and handed over the same to me to put my signature in his presence. Then I met Haish Chandra Das, the Curator of Anthropology of the State Museum and mentioned him the intention of Prof. Aiyappan. I joined the State Museum and spent my entire service period in this institution. For me, my career in the museum has been quite satisfying as I could engage myself in learning and writing on issues demanding deeper insight and analysis It is still continuing despite many constraints due to retirement. Yet I am not sure if I have risen to the expectations of my revered god like teacher whose memory I shall cherish till the end of my life.

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