When visiting a foreign land, one of the most helpful places to see in order to truly understand the country is its national museum. The National Museum of the Maldives is located in the capital city of Male. A few years back it was at the corner of Sultan Park, which used to be where the Sultan Palace stood. The 3-storey building is the only remnant of the original palace which was demolished in 1968. Today, the National Museum is in a new house located near Chandanee Magu, not far from Sultan Park.
The first National Museum was established on November 11, 1952 during the National Day of the Maldives. Mohamed Amin Didi, the prime minister in that year, thought of establishing a museum in order to preserve Maldivian history and call upon the people to love their country and develop a sense of patriotism. The Maldivian people have gone through a lot of political and religious power struggles in the past, and a museum is necessary to encapsulate all the struggles and victories they have had as a people.
What’s inside the museum?
The museum is home to a large collection of archeological items such as stone objects, throne fragments, pieces of royal furniture, royal sunshades, shoes, coins, ornaments, and pieces of armor from pre-Islamic Maldives to the reign of the sultans. Also featured are ancient textiles such as ceremonial dresses, fancy slippers, turbans, belts, reed mats, photographs, manuscripts and pieces creative embroidery.
The real stars of the show are an 11th-Century coral stone head of the Buddha, a 13th-Century wooden plank from the Hukuru Miskii mosque, and a 16th-Century piece of cloth, the Feyli Kolhu that was worn by Sultan Ghaazee Mohammed Thakurufaanu-al-A”z”am.
The Maldivian Centre for Linguistic and Historical Research has hoped to have a bigger museum since its original home at Sultan Park has very limited space. On July 26, 2010, Independence Day, the new National Museum of the Maldives was opened. Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, with help from the Chinese Government, built this new venue that is worth over US$7.8 million, the newest repository of Maldivian history and treasures. The original displays from the old building will still be showcased but this time with a 9th-Century six-faced coral-stone stele, 8th-Century tantric symbol, large 9th-Century food container lacquer ware, 9th-Century dark demon coral stone, and 10th-Century head sculpture.
Also to be developed is a garden within the Sultan Park. The idea of the garden, which shall be called Eden, is “to produce something … that (will play) a key role in their cultural identity. It will become a place for children to understand what it means to be a Maldivian. It can’t be boring, it has to be entertaining, and something they won’t be able to find anywhere else,” said the official curator.
However, demolishing the old building at Sultan Park is definitely not an option. The building that used to host the national museum is also an artifact in itself. It was built in the 17th Century and is now the only remaining portion of the Maldivian Royal Palace that used to stand majestically in this corner of Male. The interior is an eerie reminder of how things were during the reign of the sultans. Preserved also is an original handwritten Qur’an engraved on the building wall.