“Pure Ignorance of Antiquities”: How People Have Been Fooled by Monson Mavunkal
Experts say people were duped because they were unaware of the artifacts and did not make an effort to verify whether the items they were buying were actually antiques.
Monson Mavunkal is seen in the video talking to one of his clients about a previous flight he took from Delhi to Kerala. Like in other videos, he refers to “big” things in a causal way. He says that someone who appeared to be an ordinary passenger on the flight was the King of Mysore. His client, hearing the mention of the king, seems to be floored. The ‘antique collector’ who made headlines recently after his arrest in fraud case must have used the same tricks to defraud other customers. And customers didn’t bother to check to see if the items they were buying were actually antiques.
Bina Thomas Tharakan, founder of Heritage Walk Trivandrum and archaeologist based in Thiruvananthapuram, says people have been duped because they don’t have a sense of history to understand what myth is and what reality is. “Indians basically don’t have a sense of history, we don’t even know our own religious leaders. This is the biggest problem. For this reason, we tend to fall for appearances and buy anything without verifying its authenticity. Southeast Asian markets are thriving with such products, ”Bina told TNM. Although verifying an antique is a scientific process that can be done by spending some time, she says it was the lack of simple logic that brought down some of Monson’s claims of owning items like coins. coin of Judas at the jar of Lord Krishna in his collection.
PJ Cherian, executive director of PAMA – Institute for Transdisciplinary Archaeological Sciences who participated in the Pattanam archaeological excavations in Ernakulam, says we understand the past as a myth made up of fictional characters and stories. “As a result, we tend to romanticize and romanticize the story. And Monson, being an “intelligent” person, knows what the social mind is looking for. We think archaeological objects are exotic objects, but in fact they are not. It’s our intellectual poverty, ”he says.
Read: Who is Monson Mavunkal? The ‘antiques’ dealer whose arrest hangs Kerala
How something is classified as an antique
For an object to be classified as an antique, it must be 100 years old or older. There is a process for this. If you are in possession of a piece and want to officially classify it as an antique, you must register it with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Requests to ASI to classify something as an antique are reviewed by experts who will certify it based on their valuation. A piece classified as an antique must not be sold (exported) outside India in accordance with the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act 1972. By law, to sell an antique (within the country), you must have a license for the same.
Raigon Stanley, who runs the Gray Book Museum & Archives in Fort Kochi, tells TNM that experienced buyers can estimate an item’s time span with experience and practice. “One thing to note is that the people who were ‘deceived’ by Monson were not in this field. Another thing is that Monson was not a private museum, this usage is wrong. It was just a collection of trinkets in his house. But it is very evident, even from the images and videos that have now surfaced, that most of the items in his collection are not antiques. They look like fancy goods. It is out of sheer ignorance of antiquities that people have been misled. A very basic assessment can be made from the material and style of an item. This will give an idea of the time period of said artifact. It will also have documents proving its authenticity, such as the ASI Antiquity Registration Certificate. One of the reasons people bought from Monson might be that the items in his possession were replicas of antiques, ”says Raigon.
Read: Judas’ Coins to Krishna’s Jar: List of “Antiquities” the Swindler Monson Claimed to Have
“Each material has its specific chemical composition, which will indicate where it was made. If it is organic, it can be dated by scientific methods. Many now laugh at this Monson, but we should make a fool of ourselves. We fictionalized the story and this person used it. The media are also responsible, ”adds Cherian.
Bina says there are many scientific ways to verify that something is ancient, but no one is making the effort.
“People are proud of their heritage, so they fall in love with something that showcases their inherited ancestry. While we may try to teach them about history and heritage, something will be learned from their ancestry that will make them proud. The so-called dealers take advantage of the genuine interest in ancestry, in people’s emotions. When you show people something and tell them it is the staff of Moses, they are thinking emotionally and not rationally. I’m sure the person who buys something he believed to be the staff of Moses will go around saying that his great-grandfather was related to Moses. When asked, he could say that his family tree started with Moses. And people would connect with such things. Even some private museums sell such bogus pieces and notions, and people just lap them up. Nobody stops to check the information, ”she says.
All the experts point out that the lack of awareness is the main problem, as well as the takeaways from the controversies surrounding Monson and how he made millions of dollars with his “business”.
Raigon says awareness and appreciation of the story should start early. “In European countries, children are exposed to museums and school-level objects. So people have a basic understanding of history and antiquities. This is what we are missing here. We don’t have enough museums here and it’s not encouraged in schools. Here, children only learn history through books. At least now we need to look to our schools to create this basic awareness of historical artifacts by taking kids to museums and historic places.