Abdul Rahiman Sahib Museum: The Freedom Fighter’s Home
The Muziris Heritage Project narrates the stories from different timelines. From the first mosque in India to the Study Centre for the present and future generations to research on Muziris, they correlate with the past of Muziris. Despite the era, they have similar character and are easily distinguishable from buildings in other parts of Kerala.
In the small village of Azhikode in Thrissur district, an unsung hero by the name of Muhammad Abdul Rahiman Sahib lived in the humble Nalukettu. The museum is close to the Marthoma Church, Azhikode Beach, the archaeological site Cheraman Parambu, and Kodungallur Bhagavathy Temple. The museum is at a distance of about seven kilometres west of the Cheraman Juma Masjid, the first and one of the most renowned Muslim mosques in India.
The project reached the hands of Benny Kuriakose and Associates and was taken up as part of Muziris Heritage Project. The proposal to give a new use to the residence by turning it into a museum for the freedom struggle is unlike any other project. It signifies the life of a common man and how he was able to make an impact on society in those days.
List of Contents
1. Who was Abdul Rahiman Sahib?
Abdul Rahiman Sahib was a freedom fighter from the Thrissur district in Kerala who made several sacrifices for the freedom of the country. Although he lived a short life, his service could not have been done in one lifetime.
Muhammad Abdul Rahiman was born in 1898 in Azhikode, Kodungallur. He was the first son of Karkappadathu Punnachalil Abdurahman. His parents called him Kunjumuhammad. It was after he left Kerala for studies that he became known as Muhammad Abdul Rahiman.
During his college years, Abdul Rahiman was drawn into the freedom struggle when the Mappilas of Malabar fought the powerful British in 1921. He rushed back from Jamia Millia Islamia to Malabar. The Khilafat Movement was strong, and the Congress leaders found it difficult to control the Mappilas. The Mapillas needed a leader with whom they could easily communicate. This responsibility fell on Abdul Rahiman. His efforts to pacify were not successful. The long and painful rebellion ended when thousands died and many were rendered homeless. Unfortunately, he was sent to prison for two years.
He founded Al Ameen, and the first issue was published on October 12, 1924. The first editorial was critical of the Andaman scheme. Launching the paper was easier than running it. The daily newspaper was made tri-weekly due to financial crises. It kept changing back and forth until its banning by the Madras government in August 1930.
Abdul Rahiman Sahib led the Salt Satyagraha in Beypore on May 12, 1930, which was a turning point in the history of the freedom struggle in Kerala. He was imprisoned for nine months and brutally assaulted, along with other leaders, by the police, as they refused to give up on the national flag and the salt they made. When various factions that went against Al Ameen started to rise within the community, the Muslim League was born.
Abdul Rahiman Sahib came to Kerala’s public life in a similar situation when the great rebellion was about to happen. His public life, which spanned about a quarter of a century, came to an abrupt end at a critical juncture, in the midst of a great struggle, just months ahead of the dawn of freedom.
2. Architecture and Spatial Arrangement
A nalukettu is a traditional homestead in ancient Kerala. Abdul Rahiman Sahib's home is a double-storied building that consists of a courtyard, an open verandah, and a number of rooms. There are three openings; one is positioned to the west, and the rest are on the eastern side. The ground floor has four rooms that surround an open-to-the sky central courtyard. The northern side of the central courtyard has a staircase that leads to the first floor, and the first floor consists of two smaller rooms.
3. Proposal for Conservation
The Muziris Heritage Project, which was initiated by the Government of Kerala, aims to conserve the rich culture of Muziris, which is at least 3000 years old. The Abdul Rehman Sahib Museum, which is proposed as a part of the heritage project, would deliver information and familiarise people with Abdul Rahman Sahib and his contribution to the freedom struggle. This museum showcases the sacrifices and achievements of Mohammed Abdul Rahiman Sahib as a social reformer as well as a freedom fighter. It pays tribute to the leaders and unsung heroes of national movements. It is also informative through video displays and information boards. The multimedia system in the museum projects documentaries that provide ample knowledge regarding Abdul Rahman Sahib and his contribution to the freedom struggle.
The refurbishment of the museum has been proposed with the objective of making it more inviting and interactive. The design would explore various aspects of the museum and would be used as a directory of information through various galleries in the form of exhibits.
4. Before Conservation
The nalukettu did not fortunately require much renovation as it was almost in perfect condition. Yet, there were some defects in the structure, thus requiring a makeover. As with any of the buildings that were conserved as part of the Muziris Heritage Project, a stage of renovation was previously done in a careless manner that did not understand the importance of the heritage building. As a result, during the inspection, it was noticed that there was a lot of improper finishing done on the floor and walls. These include undulating or uneven wall plastering, algae growth, peeled paint from walls, cracks, joint finishing, etc. Glass panes on the shelf, switch boards, electrical connections, and cladding from the plinth rise were missing. The holes and gaps had to be filled.
Termite attacks were also a common sight, mainly infesting the lintels, beams, walls, and ceilings. Most of the defects were due to negligence and a lack of maintenance, which resulted in the doors collapsing. The roof tiles were completely damaged and were leaking. Moreover, the tiles were broken and fell inside the room. Rafters, wall plates, and purlins were also in bad shape.
5. Conservation Strategy
After a meticulous study of the defects on the building, a strategic plan was made on how to resolve these defects and bring the structure back to its original glory. The algae growth on the walls was cleaned. The cracks were filled with sealant and polished. Areas where the paint was peeling off were scraped and repainted. The damaged ridge tiles on the gable roof were replaced. The electrical panel board had to be shifted from the front entrance. Exposed conduiting on the walls was concealed. The damaged timber railing was repaired. Areas with termite attacks were scraped and given anti-termite treatment to reduce any future interventions. The ground had to be sloped away from the building due to fungus growth on the outside wall. The outside ground level had to be lowered so that there is a difference in level between the outside and inside of at least 45 centimetres. The compound wall, which was in bad condition due to lack of maintenance, had to be redone from scratch after removing the vegetation growth. The stained flooring was replaced with oxide flooring, followed by an anti-termite treatment.
Abdul Rahiman Sahib was an important figure in the history of the struggle against British rule in Kerala and deserved to be known by all. Sadly, his glorious past is slowly fading away from the faces of the future. Fortunately, his home is all we have to remind present and future generations of his legacy. Thus, conservation must involve two aspects: one being the story, and the other being the architecture. A blend of the two can give an overall experience that is filled with knowledge and pride for one’s nation.
The project was completed and opened to the public in 2017. The museum evokes a walk inside an illustrated pop-up book. It profusely uses art, typography, and photographs as illustrations. Moving images from existing documentaries, period dramatisations or songs borrowed from cinema, and graphic animations serve as devices to support narrative. The storytelling is simple, linear, and clear. It will engage the viewer in a compelling narrative through pages from the 20th-century political history of Malabar, a history that does not exist without Abdul Rahiman Sahib.