Historical Bastion Bungalow with Dutch influence and first heritage museum, Kochi

 The colossal Bastion Bungalow represents a crucial landmark with regard to Kochi’s colonial and maritime history.  Because if its popular and superior quality spices, during past era  the imperial powers had their eyes set on the coastal Kerala and it became  the seat of power struggle among all three imperial powers who ruled over the island town.  

kitchen at Bastion bungalow, Kochi. .newindianexpress.com

Above image: The kitchen at Bastion Bungalow which has been converted into Hortus room depicting botanical paintings

Bastion bungalow, Kochi, Kerala. webindia123.com

Bastion Bungalow, once the official residence of the Sub-Collector, is an impressive building of Dutch architecture and is a state protected monument (since 1990s). Located on River Road in Fort Kochi (Ernakulam district), it was built in 1667. During the colonial days the  power struggle among the European countries - to establish their monopoly in this island region became unabated.

Bastion bungalow, Kochi. tourtravelworld.com

In the early party of the 16th century, the Portuguese who discovered the first sea route to India in 1499, had considerable control along the coastal Malabar and had a fort built (1505) called  Fort Immanuel named after the Portuguese king Immanuel  to safeguard their trading activities, their go downs and troops. The fort was a big and strong one with  seven bastions, watch towers and ramparts. Besides, there were many buildings inside the fort.  

before renovation, Bastion bungalow, Kochi. commons.wikimedia.org

When the Dutch captured Kochi in 1663, they destroyed  almost  one third its size and, it is said, the Dutch were more interested in trading activities than land grabbing and expanding their empire unlike the Portuguese or the greedy British. The Dutch destroyed 6 bastions leaving the 7th one - the Stormberg bastion untouched. It was later  converted to the Bastion Bungalow (the name was given by the British).  Under the British  most part of the fort had been lost except the northernmost Bastian that was kept intact.

The bungalow was built with a combination of laterite stones, bricks and wood. The impressive features of the bungalow that is built into a wall of the original fort, are the open verandahs and a tiled roof in geometric patterns. The first floor verandah can be accessed and it is made entirely of  quality  wood with a unique view. Bastion Bungalow, served as  a residential building during the British period. Colonel Macaulay, the Resident of Cochin during the early decade of the 19th century stayed in this building.

The heritage museum at Bastion Bungalow in Fort Kochi was first thrown open to public in February, 2016 by Minister for Culture K C Joseph. It is the first heritage museum in the district of Ernakulam. Initially just Rs.1 crore was allotted for the museum and the government had a proposal to spend  a few crore of rupees  for expansion of the heritage museum later. 

This historical Bastian Bungalow under went major modification at the initiative of the Kerala government and it has become a popular cultural center of Kerala  to preserve the cultural ethos of the maritime history of this region and its impact on the land. In the recent past the museum was renovated  at the cost of `Rs. 3.58 crore and it was open to public in February 2021. 

Named the ‘district heritage museum’  it showcases the Kochi's growth as a mercantile trading center  vis-à-vis  its colonial  maritime history to the present. Department of Archaeology, Archives and Museums wanted the museum to be dynamic and thought -provoking, besides, instructive and educative. Whatever is on display must reach the visitors and be useful to them. The museum in the  Bastion Bungalow acts as a platform to achieve their aspiration with a unique approach.    

The curators took much pain and selectively sourced copies of rare documents, maps, photographs and paintings (that had historical connection with Kochi) in the possession of the Portuguese, Dutch and British organizations and displayed the narratives of a well-chronicled colonial history of Kochi in the halls of the museum.  They were sourced from all over Europe and with a timeline of the global  interaction with Fort Kochi. It is quite clear that the museum will be a thematic one highlighting the story of Kochi, mostly through copies of nearly 120 archival records procured from many sources in particular  from museums in London, Chennai, Kolkata, and others, 

There  are proposals to put on display rare school paintings of  various  communities that lived here. Many of them were commissioned by the imperial masters to depict the lives of various communities here. The museum has  another proposal to produce short documentaries on the 35 odd different communities who live in Kochi. Another ambitious project on the anvil is the display of flora of this island  region  charted by the Dutch.

An interesting fact is “since it is a protected monument, structural changes cannot be made to it. The exhibits will all be standalone ones that will not alter the existing building in any way.” It meant no tampering with walls or wooden structures or driving nails, etc.