During its research-based survey into the architecture and material culture of Karnataka in particular, and India in general, in the last three decades of the last century, the Trust found that there was a systematic destruction of a large number of traditional houses and other structures of heritage value. This was also true of the arts, crafts and artefacts of a bygone era.
Most of the structures that the Trust surveyed were from the 14th century AD to the 19th century AD, and they were in an advanced state of decay; a few of them were actually on the verge of collapse.
Outmigration of rural youth to the cities in search of jobs, and the difficulties involved in maintaining their vernacular homes, resulted in the decline of the manor houses which dotted the countryside. Wood-rich structures were pulled down to make way for small-sized, modern structures on the same land, using cement and steel, glass and paint.
The condition of traditional arts, crafts and artefacts were no different from that of traditional buildings. Due to lethargic attitude of the people, a large number of traditional Indian paintings, sculptures, bronze icons, wooden idols, stone statues and household articles of the past ages were neglected and/or sold or smuggled out, many times even out of the country. Some were lying in decaying state in the manor houses of the landed gentry as well as in temples, folk-deity shrines, monasteries and rural palaces. If these traditional works of art and objects of craft were allowed to vanish from our midst they would be lost to posterity, or kept in the private collections of aristocracy.
THE HERITAGE VILLAGE project was born out of an intense concern by Hasta Shilpa Trust of Manipal for the restoration, conservation, preservation, and promotion of centuries-old vernacular structures of architectural merit, aesthetic interest and craft importance, as well as for the preservation of traditional objects of art and craft, and elegant artefacts of yesteryear.
We believe that art, craft and architectural traditions are integral to our cultural continuity. The advent of modern architecture and new products of consumerism have created a schism with India’s built-heritage and her cultural traditions.
Hasta Shilpa Trust believes that our traditional buildings are the most powerful visual symbols of our heritage and, if they are left to decay be destroyed there would be nothing tangible left to identify ourselves with our roots and connect with our cultures. Even the creative and imaginative capacity of the younger generation would be affected.
Cognisant of this critical situation, the Trust acquired extant, rare specimens of heritage structures, as well as traditional works of art and craft, from their owners and relocated them in a sprawling complex in Manipal where the Government of Karnataka granted six acres of land to the Trust to undertake the project known as Heritage Village. Thus, while preserving the architectural buildings and artefacts of yesteryear, these became simultaneously available to the general public within the complex of the Heritage Village.
It is not only the conservation of traditional buildings alone that is important for us. The various physical properties like age-old furniture, metalware utensils, ritual objects and other household articles, as also royal heirlooms that were earlier put to use in these structures – all acquired by us from their original sources – have been displayed in their appropriate places in their respective buildings. Thus, we are able to recreate the period and depict the lifestyle and culture of different communities of people in various geographical locations over several periods of history.
Apart from the traditional buildings comprising period properties, we have created 13 Museums and Art Galleries, constructed four functional structures and reconstructed four traditional shrines.
Several more projects along similar lines are envisaged for Heritage Village.