Exhibit Of The Month 43

Ola Palm book shut

As Mythstories' core story collection is intangible most of the artefacts in the museum form a handling collection. Only two objects are kept under glass away from our visitors' touch, and they are both Ola Palm books from Trivandrum in Kerala in Southern India.

Both picture the Avatars of Vishnu, and a lot more besides. On the book below you can see the birth of Krishna (one of Vishnu's avatars) depicted upon the roundels at the top of the book. Around the rest of the book you can see the other Avatars of Vishnu; the second from the top on the left is Matsya the fish that led Manu to survive the great flood; below that you can see Kurma the turtle who helped to churn the sea of milk in the creation story and then Varaha, the boar who rescued the earth from the ocean.

The ninth avatar Guatama Buddha is easily recognised third up on the right hand side, but recognition of some of the others is slightly problematic as the number of avatars can vary from ten to infinity.

As you can see below on the right each roundel can be flipped down to reveal a line drawing of an animal. Each roundel can also be flipped up to show a line diagram of a position from the Kama Sutra (not shown), and this is the reason the ola palm books are kept under glass in a secure cabinet to avoid blushes and embarrassing conversations with our youngest visitors.

The ola palm leaves are dried and cured, stitched together and finally decorated. They are inscribed, or etched with a stylus and the indentations are filled with lamp black and gum to form reservoirs to enclose natural dyes and stains which give the books their bright colours.

The Ola Palm book below was acquired by the museum by storytellers Helen East and Rick Wilson during a trip to India in 2008. While the ola palm book above, shown closed, was bought and donated to the museum by museum curatorial advisor and storyteller Fiona Collins.

Ola Palm book open
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