The Napier Museum has an abundant collection of more than 550 exhibits of historical and archeological value. Apart from this, it is rich with its ancient coin collection which counts to more than 5000 in number. The Museum is splendid with an array of imposing antique bronze images, exquisite wooden sculptures and carvings, stunning stone sculptures, magnificent ivory carvings, ancient coins, royal collectables, and other historic items. It also houses Japanese shadow play leather, burial urns, Kathakali models etc. It is the Sword of Velu Thampi Dhalawa, one of the first martyrs of Indian Freedom struggle that welcomes us when we step into this historic marvel.
Napier Museum possesses a rare collection of bronze images that includes images of deities modeled on the rules laid in the "SilpaSastras". The Lord Vishnu image in Pallava style belongs to the 8 th century CE collected from Ambalappuzha Temple in Central Kerala is the oldest metal image. The rich bronze collection of the museum is fascinating and astounding with its incredible style and works. Images of Siva, Parvathy, Vishnu and Lekshmi in numerous forms have been given shape in stunning image of bronze. The bronze collection of the museum showcases pure craftsmanship and artistic brilliance at its best.
Exquisite and intricate are the wood carvings of Napier Museum. Through the idols of Indra, Manmadhan, Vishnu, Dakshinamoorthy, Narasimha, Durga and so forth, it pictures art at its best. Wood Carvings are mostly seen on the 'Namaskara mandapas'. They depict figure of 'navagrahas' on ceiling and puranic figures on rafters and beams. The museum awaits you with an array of wood carvings ranging from the majestic Temple Car to the beautiful Royal Dressing Table. The wood used of its making is 'Kumble'. Other main wood carvings of the museum include Koothambalam, Pushpa Vimanam, Jewellery Box etc.
The museum has an exclusive collection of stone sculptures. From among this rich collection, the Buddhist sculptures stand apart with its uniqueness. Idols of Buddha seen here dates to 1st C CE. Here Travancore and Burmese objects are exhibited alongside Gandhara specimens for contrast. Rishi Agastya is a typical stone sculpture from Kerala which was excavated from Varkala during the construction of the Varkala tunnel. The piece is regarded as an ancient work of art. The long beard and the facial expression showcase the influence of Egyptian sculpture. Other stone images include images of Devi, Lord Vishnu, Veerabhadra and so on. The stone sculptures belong the period from 1st to 18th C CE. Many of it has a Dravidian influence.
Among the remarkable variety of artifacts that the museum possesses, the wide range of metal lamps is notable. Kerala excels in the art of metal lamp making. Every temple of Kerala has lamps of diverse styles as well as votive lamps. These are made either of bronze or brass by the techniques of casting called the "clay wax process".
The bronze lamps that are hung in the wooden Mantapa are more than four centuries old. The small metal lamps have the greatest variation in design, structure and size. Some of the varieties present in the Museum are Pidi, Thiri, Garuda, Wall, Temple, Kaliya Mardana, Roman, Gajalakshmi, Vaada, Sthambha, Vanchi, Bomma, Kindi and so forth.
The art of carving of ivory into sculptures, ornaments or decors has been a familiar thing in India since time immemorial. Ivory carvings are unique in style and design. The museum has an excellent collection of such carvings ranging from the elegant effigy of deities Radha- Krishna to the majestic piece of Sree Chithira Thirunal. Other attractive works in the genre include idols of Buddha and Sujatha, Siva-Parvathy, Mahishasuramardhini, Apsaras, and so forth.The ivory carving is a manual work and is practiced by experts with simple tools like knife and chisels. The ivory carvers shape and create articles of fabulous beauty and delicacy from marvelous structures of Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu pantheon to simple décor items
The coin collection of the museum is noteworthy and marvelous as it is presented under 9 major categories. The exhibits comprise ancient, medieval and modern south Indian coins, Vijayanagara coins, early/late Pandya coins, Chera coins, Chola coins, Sivaganga coins and so on. Despite this, a representative collection of foreign coinage which include Roman, Dutch, Persian, Chinese and Turkey coins are also exhibited in the museum. The coins are displayed along with photographs to lend clarity to the motifs used in it.
The Museum has a space dedicated entirely to indigenous musical instruments. This ranges from crude contraptions capable of producing musical sounds to highly developed instruments. Some of the instruments displayed here are rare and have gone out of use. The “yazhl” is one such instrument. The main attraction among the musical instruments is the Panchavadyam, an orchestra of five instruments namely, timila, maddalam, ilathalam, idakka, and kombu. Apart from these, different varieties of Veena are also displayed. Some of the other musical instruments displayed are Chenda, Bhuri, Thakil, Thabala, Kanjira, Violine, Sarangi, Ektar, Nanduni, Swarabat and so forth.
The Museum has a section dedicated exclusively to the personal collections of Sri Chithra Thirunal Bala Rama Varma, the last Maharaja of Travancore. Art works in metal and wood along with Chinese art can be seen in this South East Asian Gallery.
This rare and unique collection is rich with the famous celadon porcelain and old and distinctive Chinese art noted for its illustrations of religious dances that the king collected during his visit to the eastern countries in 1937.
The most renowned and celebrated exhibit of the Napier Museum is the sword of one of the first martyrs of the Indian freedom struggle, Veluthampi Dalawa. He was born in the village of Kalkulam at Thalakulam and was the Dhalawa (Prime minister) of the erstwhile Kingdom of Travancore from 1802 to 1809 during the reign of Maharaja Bala Rama Varma Kulasekhara Perumal. The sword was presented to the then Raja of Kilimaanoor Palace, during his military expedition to Mannadi. Later it was handed over to the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad in August 1957. The Sword was kept in the National Museum, New Delhi until it was handed over to the Government of Kerala on 20th June 2010 and is presently displayed in the central hall of the Napier Museum.