Libmonster ID: IN-1359
Author(s) of the publication: I. Y. KOTIN
Educational Institution \ Organization: MAE RAS (Kunstkamera, Saint Petersburg)

Keywords: expedition to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), A. M. and L. A. Mervart, Colombo, Galle

The collections of the world's most famous museums, which rightly include the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (MAE RAS), were not created at the same time. The first museum of Russia, established by Peter I in St. Petersburg in 1714, was based on the collection collected by the emperor himself. Over the centuries, the museum's collection has been replenished by the efforts of enthusiastic scientists who have made long and often dangerous expeditions to collect samples of the cultures of the peoples of the world. Such enthusiasts include Alexander Mikhailovich Mervart and Lyudmila Alexandrovna Mervart, who a hundred years ago undertook an ethnographic expedition to Ceylon / Sri Lanka and significantly expanded the museum's Indian collection.

A century later, scientists of the MAE RAS organized an expedition in the footsteps of the Mervarts.

In May 1914, great enthusiasts of Russian science A. M. Mervart and L. A. Mervart went on a large ethnographic expedition to Ceylon and India.

Both Ceylon and most of India were ruled by the British colonial administration at that time. Cultural ties between Ceylon and India have been strong since time immemorial. Not surprisingly, the Mervarts saw their trip to Ceylon as a prelude to a further expedition to India.

Their trip was preceded by serious preparatory work. They studied the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. A. M. Mervart studied the Indian collections of German museums, especially the ethnographic collections of Munich and Berlin. In St. Petersburg, the participants of the future expedition consulted with prominent Russian scientists-S. F. Oldenburg and F. I. Shcherbatsky.

Energetic director of the Imperial Kunstkamera - Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. V. V. Radlov was looking for sponsors of the expedition and found them in the person of entrepreneurs and patrons Scheibler and Ignatiev.

A. M. Mervart and L. A. Mervart arrived in Colombo on May 25, 1914. Researchers first began to study the collections of the Colombo Museum. At the same time, they also began studying the two main languages of the island's population. L. A. Mervart studied Sinhala, and A. M. Mervart studied Tamil. From Colombo, they went to Galle, Negombo, and later to Kandy. Not far from this town in the village of Ampitiya, L. A. Mervart settled in the house of the local headman, a large landowner, which allowed her to better study the traditional life and culture of the Sinhalese.

At the end of January 1915, the Mervarts moved to India, where they continued to collect collections and study local languages and cultures. They were in India until 1918. From there, they sent their collections to St. Petersburg/Petrograd by sea, and then they themselves, with the most valuable ethnographic collections collected in Ceylon and India, a scientific library and photographic materials, went to Russia on the Russian cargo ship Yevgenia.

Not without incident (in Rangoon, the ship and crew were arrested) scientists reached Vladivostok, but due to the difficulties of the civil war period, Russian researchers did not get to Leningrad until 1923.

According to the Mervarts themselves, they managed to bring 5,575 ethnographic objects, 975 positives, 1,500 negatives, and about 800 volumes of books to Leningrad. The collection they collected formed the basis of the modern exhibition of the MAE (Kunstkamera) "Peoples of South Asia". Their contribution to Russian indology and ethnography is difficult to overestimate.

On the occasion of the centenary of the Mervart ethnographic expedition, the MAHE RAS staff, with the support of the RGNF, has started a research project-

The work was carried out with the financial support of the RGNF, grant N 13 - 01 - 00168.

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project " MAHE's Expedition to Ceylon and India in 1914-1918: History, Collections. Scientific Heritage", which was supposed to visit the locations in Sri Lanka and India that the Mervarts visited, comparing, if possible, what they saw and the participants of the research project.

N. G. Krasnodembskaya, E. S. Soboleva and the author of the article began by studying the collections of the National Museum of Sri Lanka (formerly the Colombo Museum). Then each of the project participants began to study individual cities and sites once explored by the Mervarts. The author was looking for traces of the Mervarts in Colombo and Galle.


Finding the Mervartts ' first address in Colombo was not difficult. At the time of their arrival in Colombo, Europeans were served only by two hotels in the main city of Ceylon: the Galle Face (founded in 1864) and the Grand Oriental, rebuilt in 1875 from a colonial barracks and located directly opposite the port of Colombo. It was originally occupied by the Mervarts. The oldest hotel in the city, Galle Face, had a certain attraction for them, it was a kind of club with a library, a meeting place for travelers, they visited there.

There were many foreigners in Colombo at the beginning of the 20th century. A. P. Chekhov and I. A. Bunin stayed in these hotels. Other famous travelers have also been here. Colombo at that time was a port where Russian ships called on their way from the European part to the Far East and back. According to the report of the Russian Vice-Consul V. K. Schneider, at the beginning of the XX century, up to 2 thousand Russians passed through Colombo every week.

Almost immediately, the Mervarts began exploring the local museum collections. In their report on the trip, they note that the choice of Colombo as the starting point of the expedition was determined by the "richness of the non-systematic collections of the Colombo Museum". Now the former Colombo Museum (or "Colombo Museum" in the Mervart letters) is divided into two parts - the National Museum and the Natural History Museum.

The National Museum has retained the premises and main expositions of the Colombo Museum, being considered its heir. Thus, the modern National Museum is the oldest and largest museum in Sri Lanka. Its exposition attempts to give an idea of all the cultural richness and history of this island state.

That's where the expedition members went, following in the footsteps of the Mervarts. The National Museum in Colombo is now part of the national museum system, which consists of two dozen institutions across the country, and the natural science collections that once gave the museum the nickname "Katuge" - "House of the Skeleton" - are now located in a modern building next door, so that the large whitewashed building of colonial architecture now stores only archaeological materials., ethnographic and numismatic collections.

In a letter from Colombo to MAHE Director V. V. Radlov dated June 3, 1914, L. A. Mervart writes: "We arrived here on May 16/29, and during these five days we have been here thanks to the caring courtesy of our local consul B. P. Kadomtsev and the courtesy with which the director and especially the museum employees meet our wishes, it is a matter of time it's starting to get better. We spend the morning at the museum from eight to twelve. Here, two guardians (one Sinhalese, the other Tamil) are relieved of all duties by the director for the duration of our stay here and assigned to us. " 1

A little later, L. A. Mervart went to study traditional family life in the village of Ampitiya near Kandy in the center of the island, and A. M. Mervart began studying Hinayana Buddhism under the guidance of the learned monk Sri Nanisser Thero, while continuing to work at the Colombo Museum. According to the authors of the cited report, "at the request of the Director of the Museum, Dr. Pearson, a review of the state of the Ethnographic Department of the Colombo Museum was compiled for submission to the government." 2

It is not surprising that the project participants were also very interested in visiting the National Museum of Colombo. It should be noted at once that the report of A. M. Mervart on the state of the Ethnographic Department of the Colombo Museum was not found in the archives and libraries of Colombo. But visiting the museum, working on its expositions and in the library were very useful.

A huge white building in the style of colonial architecture, the creation of J. R. R. Tolkien.Smither, one of the most talented architects in colonial Ceylon, turned out to be a real treasure trove of Ceylon and Indian art. The organization of its exposition retains, despite later changes, the spirit of exposition techniques common in the museum culture of Britain and its colonies.

Unfortunately, due to the collapse of the central staircase that occurred shortly before our visit, some halls that represented ethno collections on the second floor were closed-

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graphic arts and decorative and applied arts of Sri Lanka. It was possible to get an idea of these collections thanks to the guide to the museum published in 1912.


The Colombo Museum, or Colombo Museum, which was succeeded by the National Museum in the capital of Sri Lanka, was opened on 1 January 1877 at the request of the local branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, with the active support of the then Governor, William Henry Gregory. Founded as a colonial institution, the museum received a number of advantages - it was here that interesting finds came from all over the island, from the sites of the ancient Sri Lankan capitals-Anuradharura, Pollonaruwa, Kandy, from ancient monasteries and temples.

Since the end of the 17th century, when the entire territory of Ceylon was under the rule of the British, the colonialists actively plundered the cultural heritage of the island and exported Ceylon treasures to their homeland. At the same time, the priority in receiving trophies remained with the main metropolitan museum - this is how the statue of the goddess Pattini Devi, bronze images of the Buddha, an ivory box, and palm-leaf manuscripts turned out to be in the British Museum in London.

By the time the museum was created, Albion already had a wide variety of treasures from South Asia, but the real interest in the culture of the captured region, initially fueled by the exoticism of the collections and their status as trophies, i.e. values taken from battles, did not increase with the establishment of peace in British India and Ceylon. In 1874, the Ministerial Indian Museum in London closed, and even earlier, in 1870, the metropolitan Royal Asiatic Society, which moved to a new smaller building, also refused to exhibit Indian collections.

Since the 1870s, both the collection center and the place of exhibition of South Asian cultural works have been transferred to British colonial museums, such as the Colombo Museum, the Indian Museum in Calcutta (from 1814-in Serampore, then from 1814 to 1878 - in the building of the Asian Society, from 1878 - in a special building in the center Calcutta), Madras State Museum (1846), Prince of Wales Museum in Bombay (1922).

By the time A. M. Mervart visited the museum, the exposition had already existed for 37 years. The guidebooks reviewed (three guidebooks on the museum have been published) allow us to judge the layout of the expositions. It was a series of halls that consistently taught the history and culture of the peoples of Ceylon, from the prehistoric period to the British conquest, with special attention paid to the culture of Ceylon during the Anuradhapura (IV century BC - X century AD) and Pollonaruwa (X - XIII century AD), i.e. a kind of "to the golden age" in the country's history.

The hall dedicated to Hindu sculpture was one of the gems of the museum's collection from the very beginning. He couldn't help but attract the attention of A. M. Mervart. In addition, the sculptures displayed in the hall, mostly from excavations conducted by the Ceylon Archaeological Service in Pollonaruwa, the second capital of the island state, which flourished during the period of significant South Indian presence on the island, are close to Indian, and possibly created in south India.

It is no coincidence that the first specialized catalog of the Museum (1914) was devoted mainly to bronze products, mainly to cult sculpture, and it was compiled by the famous Ceylon art critic A. K. Coomaraswamy 4 and was undoubtedly familiar to A. M. Mervart.

Today, a comparison of the exhibited collections with the descriptions of the expositions of the time of the Mervart expedition's stay in Ceylon indicates that many expositions and the principles of exhibiting remain almost unchanged. Note the excellent quality of the exhibits displayed in the halls devoted mainly to Hindu cult sculpture and described by Coomaraswamy in the mentioned catalog. The exposition of the hall of Indian sculpture has remained, apparently, almost unchanged to this day.

The next hall, which invites you to explore the culture of central Ceylon during the period of the Kandyan kingdom (late 16th century-1815), is unique, as are its exhibits: the throne of the ruler of Kandy, his crown, the precious clothes of the king, images of the Buddha, made in a local, somewhat different from the previous ones, manner.

From the Kandyan art Hall, the path leads through the galleries where memorial steles and tombstones from the periods of Portuguese (XVI - XVII centuries) and Dutch (XVII - XVIII centuries) occupation of the island are displayed. The painting halls on the second floor galleries are mostly copies of the original murals of Sigiriya and other Sri Lankan palace and temple complexes.

The currently closed halls of the Ethnographic Department on the second floor house priceless collections of flags and standards from various regions of Ceylon. This collection was already included in the first guidebooks to the museum, and A. M. and L. A. Mervart should have been familiar with it.

In 1988, this part of the exhibition was visited by an employee of-

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ku of our museum, leading Russian lankologist N. G. Krasnodembskaya 5. There are also samples of traditional Sinhalese and Tamil clothing, as well as a numismatic collection.

Having emerged as a universal and functioning as the country's largest local history museum, the Colombo National Museum is a unique hallmark of the city and country, a treasure trove of Sri Lankan culture, acquaintance with the riches of which helped A. M. and L. A. Mervart implement an extremely competent and successful program of collecting ethnographic collections in Ceylon.

They also created a photo archive of the Colombo Museum's collections. Unfortunately, the fate of these photographs is not known to us, unlike other photo-illustrative collections, for example, those representing the collections of the Lahore Museum, preserved in MAHE.


Already in the first days of their stay in Ceylon, the Mervarts decided to visit the second important city - Galle, or Point de Galle, which for a long time was the main port and capital of the Portuguese, Dutch, and then English possessions on the island.

A. M. Mervart writes in his letter to V. V. Radlov :" On the 11th we went with him (a Buddhist monk who taught A. M. Mervart Pali-Yu. K.) to Point de Galle, the main city of the southern provinces. There was a very interesting ceremony of consecration of the land donated to the monastery, on which a house for confession will be built"6. In Galle, A. M. Mervart met a prominent Pali scholar, I. R. Gunaratne, and received as a gift from this pandit (an expert in Pali and the sacred religion - Yu. K.) exhibits for the museum - a wooden statue of the Buddha and copies (reduced - Yu.K.) of statues from Anuradhapura.

He visited A. M. Mervart and the Local Museum. Here in Halle, the Mervarts acquired a collection of masks "partly for demonic dances, partly for theatrical performances"8.We also ordered copies of many interesting manuscripts in the Old Sinhalese language.

Members of the expedition followed the Mervart trail and visited the private museum of curiosities - a kind of Ceylon Kunstkamera. After 100 years, nothing has changed in this "kunstkamera". Old clocks, keys, and samples of Chinese porcelain were still hung on the walls, covered in dust, and there were jewelers working nearby, local women weaving lace. The museum still belongs to the heirs of the founder of the collection and cordially invites everyone.

* * *

A trip to Colombo and Galle allowed the Mervarts to collect an interesting collection, which was already sent on July 27, 1914 in 4 boxes on the Voluntary Fleet steamer "Kishinev". Due to the outbreak of war a few days after the shipment, these collections were unloaded in Port Said, put into storage, and later sold at auction by the British Administration.9

Fortunately, the fate of other Mervart collections in Ceylon was more successful, and many finally found a second home in St. Petersburg. Yes, and fate still kept Russian travelers. Much later, in 1931, A. M. Mervart was arrested on an "Academic Case", received a sentence and was sent to Ukhtpechlag, where he soon died. L. A. Mervart, also arrested in this case, was soon released, but she had to leave the MAHE, and later Leningrad. In Moscow, Lyudmila Alexandrovna became one of the founders of Russian Mala studies.

Participants of the expedition followed the Mervart trail and managed to find the corners of Colombo and Galle, which remained unchanged after a hundred years, and see the modern areas of these cities. The first-hand experience of the expedition members with the museums of Colombo and Galle convinced them that the work of the Mervarts in these museums allowed them to determine priorities in their future activities to collect collections for the St. Petersburg Museum.

1 Russian-Indian relations in 1900-1917 Collection of archival documents and materials. Moscow, Vostochnaya literatura. 1999. p. 397. (1999. Russko-Indiyskie otnosheniya v 1900 - 1917 gg. Sbornik archivnykh dokumentov i materialov. M., Vostochnaya literatura. S. 397) (in Russian)

2 Ibid., p. 411.

Prematilleke L 3., Hewage R. (Eds.). A Guide to the National Museum, Colombo, A Publication of the Department of National Museums, 2012. P. 11.

Coomaraswamy A. 4 Bronzes from Ceylon, chiefly in the Colombo Museum. Series Nr. 1. of Memoirs of the Colombo Museum. Ed.J. Pearson, Colombo: Horace Hart, Colombo, 1914; Reprinted: Department of Government Publishng, Colombo, 1988.

Krasnodembskaya N. G. 5 In the National Museum of Sri Lanka (September 2013) / / Ethnographic collections in museums: cultural strategies and practices. Materials of the Twelfth St. Petersburg Readings. SPb. 2013. pp. 78-81. (Krasnodemskaya N. G. In Nationall Museum of Sri Lanka (September 2013) / / Etnograficheskie kollektsii v muzeyakh: kulturnye strategii i praktiki. Materialy Dvenadtsatikh Sankt-Peterburgskikh Chtcniy. Spb. 2013. P. 78-81) (in Russian)

Mervart L. A., 6 1914. Letter from L. A. Mervart to V. V. Radlov dated June 3, 1914 - in the collection: Russians in Ceylon in the XIX-early XX centuries . Collection of archival documents and materials. Moscow, 2010. / Comp. T. N. Zagorodnikova. P. 236. (Mewart LA. 1914. Pismo L. A. Mervart V. V. Radlovu ot 3 iyunya 1914 g. - v sbornike: 'Russkie na Zeylone v XIX - nachale XX veka. Sbornik archivnykh materialov. M., 2010. / Sost. T.N.Zagorodnikova. S. 236) (in Russian)

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid., p. 237.

9 Russo-Indian relations in 1900-1917 ... p. 410. (1999. Russko-Indiiyskie otnosheniya v 1900 - 1917 gg.... S. 410) (in Russian)


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