It was a place where the dreams of the kids got wings long before the advent of amusement parks.
The decades-old Dolls Museum in Kerala's capital city, though may have lost its old sheen now with competition from mobile games and TV cartoons, still offers a space for children especially the underprivileged to entertain themselves at an affordable rate.
Named after the country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the museum, set up in the 1980s, has more than 3,000 dolls, made of China clay, papier mache, cloth, coir, wood, rubber, ceramics, mud and plastic. The dolls, displayed in six rooms of the museum, not only kindle dreams in the minds of children but also teach them the first lessons about India's culture and heritage.
Set up on the lines of Shankars International Dolls Museum in New Delhi, the state-run Chacha Nehru Childrens Museum at Thycaud in Thiruvananthapuram is one of the two such facilities in the country recognised by the Museums Association of India, official sources say.
Government schools in the city and outskirts, which cannot afford tours to expensive amusement parks, bring their students to this low-key museum which take them down a wonderland of dolls, ranging from ordinary festival puppets to rare ethic figurines, in different sizes, shapes, costumes and expressions.
One inch to six feet tall dolls, decked up in traditional attires of various Indian states, give the children a glimpse of the country's rare cultural diversity.
Besides dolls, the museum houses an impressive collection of stamps and ethnic masks also. A science museum, set up in a separate room with various theory-based exhibits, is also an attraction.
Besides, government schools, some private kindergarten schools also bring the children to the museum as part of their annual tours.
Tucked away on the first floor of the headquarters of Kerala State Council for Child Welfare (KSCCW) at Thycaud, the museum had been a hotspot of city children once when amusement parks and TV cartoons were just hearsay. The museum is also a solace for the underprivileged inmates of KSCCW.
"Even children from remote village schools come in large numbers here as part of their annual tour. There were days we had welcomed up to 300 children at one go," Anju, a KSCCW staff, told PTI.
The entrance fee is ₹5 per child. But, it may be reduced further on occasions based on the request of school authorities, she said.
The variety and simplicity of Dolls Museum at times also attract senior citizens and foreigners. "Recently, a senior couple from Nilambur in north Kerala came here. They said they came to know about the dolls museum from some of their friends in the city. They spent around an hour here watching each doll," she said.
"It was really nice to see how the dolls brought a smile on the face on the senior citizens," she said.
Museum curator Sumod C R said it had been designed in a way to provide entertainment as well as impart knowledge and information to children. "We have a total of 3,200 dolls at our museum. Ours is not at all a profit motive institution. Many people express doubt that whether today's children are interested in visiting a dolls museum at a time when a variety of entertainments are on offer at their fingertip," he said.
"But, there are a large number of underprivileged children also in our society. And our humble museum is still a hope for them," he said.
Detailing features of the museum, the official said children would get a clear picture of the lifestyle of people in various states of the country without going there through the dolls here. "There are a large collection of dolls decked in traditional attires of each state with glittering jewellery and in the typical costumes of the respective places. Puppets, displaying cultural forms of various states, can also be seen in our museum," he said.
Besides Indian men and women, the facility also displays models of English people, cartoon characters and figurines of Hindu gods and animals and birds.
The museum has got a new look after the recent renovation undertaken as part of the silver jubilee celebrations of KSCCW.