Vijayanath Shenoy was born on June 3, 1934 in Udupi, Southern Karnataka. The ambience that surrounded him in his early life deeply influenced and shaped the young man: on one hand was the cultural sphere of the historical town in which he was born which absorbed his energy and engaged his mind; on the other was the open countryside to wander in and explore. A bank employee all his working life, both nature and culture of his home region fired Shenoy’s imagination and kindled his desire to imbue his community with the arts. Towards this end, he began organisations such as Sangeeth Sabha in Udupi (1961) and Yaksha Mandal in Manipal (1981). He also introduced the cultural tableaux of performers into the Paryaya festival in 1968. Today, this is a part of every Paryaya in Udupi.
It was when Shenoy turned to architecture and heritage conservation that his visual aesthetics evolved and concretised. He salvaged pieces of dismembered homes and used them to build his own home, Hasta Shilpa Heritage House, in 1990. It became a physical demonstration of how old things could still be used in aesthetic ways which were also harmonious with the local climate and environment. He soon became a champion for the conservation of built-heritage when he witnessed the thoughtless demolishing of the graceful, centuries-old homes in his region. When possible, he restored these to their former glory in their original locales; otherwise he translocated them, piece by piece, to be reconstructed in Manipal.
Thus was born Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village in 1997 – an open-air museum realised in Manipal. It has several galleries of art, crafts, textiles, utensils, tools, furniture and toys. Shenoy also documented many of the lost classical and folk traditions for future generations. It was his hope that these age-old, classical buildings of the vernacular style would inspire the imagination of young people, just as they had fired his own.
Shenoy was a prolific writer all his life. He wrote articles in the media as well as letters to people of consequence, and was a tireless advocate of the arts and built-heritage. He received many accolades and was widely felicitated in his lifetime, receiving the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award (2003); Doctor of Literature (Honoris Causa) from Karnataka State Open University, Mysuru (2007), South Asia Travel Tourism Exchange (SATTE) Award for Rural Crafts Heritage Tourism sponsored by INTACH (2011), Annual State level Award by Karnataka Lalithakala Academy (2016) among others.
Today, Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village draws the attention of serious scholars of art and architecture from all over India and around the world. It is also open to the general public who come to visit the marvel that is Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village – one man’s vision from which our world has benefited.