This article was originally created for, and published on www.gounesco.com, a UNESCO supported umbrella of initiatives that makes heritage fun.
By Rubina

The old city of Hyderabad has a grand history of over 800 years. It is famously known world-wide, for housing ‘The Charminar’ and its Char-Kaman. But what is not known about the old city is that it also housed numerous palatial residences of the nobles called ‘Devdis’. These Devdis were the places where the Hyderabadi tehzeeb (lifestyle) evolved and are thus culturally, socially and historically significant. Contrary to the grandeur these Devdis witnessed in their days of glory, today most of them have been mowed down and the few surviving are in a state of neglect.
In the 18th and 19th century, the aristocrats and affluent lived in these traditional fortified devdis. They had 3 exceptional features, the main entrance or the gateway, high enclosed walls and inner courtyards. Security was perhaps the highest priority and the devdis used to be heavily guarded. They were like mini fortresses which were also equipped to provide shelter, security and resources during troubled times to the noble and his clan, which included extended family as well as the servants.

Entrance of the Khursheed Jah devdi/ Courtesy: Saurabh Chatterjee; siaphotography.in/blog/khursheed-jah-devdi-baradari/

As time went by, the nobles started building larger and more impressive devdis as a statement of their wealth, power and influence. The structure of a devdi evolved around series of courtyards with sundry structures radiating out of the courtyard. Except for the Hindu devdis, all had segregated living quarters for men and women. They also accommodated public enclosures like the office of the noble besides the private living quarters.

Some interesting features of the devdis include the main gate that happened to be high enough to let an elephant pass through and the upper floor of these entrances and accommodated space for traditional music to be played during ceremonial occasions.
Inside the devdi, the interiors of the open pillared halls, where the nobles entertained the guests were heavily decorated with wooden or painted ceilings, multi-foliated arches, stone or wooden pillars, stucco work and wooden carvings. They were furnished with velvet carpets embroidered with gold and silver. Chandeliers, both hanging and standing, were customary.

Paigah Palace now used as a function hall/ Courtesy: paigahpalace.com/gallery.php

Numerous European travellers have left accounts of these beautiful devdis. Be it the language, literature, music, dance, etiquette, courtesy, entertainment, cuisine or dress, it was in the devdis, that this Hyderabadi tehzeeb was nurtured right from childhood.

But the partition of India in 1947 and the abolition of the princely state left the nobles debt ridden, without their traditional income. They had to sell their property and one by one the sprawling devdis were demolished. Today only a few of the devdis survive, most of them isolated, crying for attention. A few others, house schools or function halls. Around the city, a couple of gateways stand freely without their walls. These were once entrances to the magnificent devdis. Now cramped with new concrete constructions all around them, the remnants of these devdis even in their state of decay are beautiful and have their own story to tell.

Standing in the midst of the ruins of these devdis, one can try to visualize the structure during its heyday and be transported to an altogether different era. Imagine the hustle and bustle of the household full of life, servants running around, social gatherings taking place, live music being played, food being served and fountains sprinkling.

Asman jah devdi in an utter state of neglect Courtesy: Madhu Gopalan http://fourtowers.blogspot.in/2010/09/asman-jah-devdi.html

Earlier I had passed through these places numerous times, ignorant of their history and wondering why these structures were still standing. Years later, today, I crave to visit them and its heart-breaking to see a piece of them fall apart every time I do so. These devdis are a part of who we are today. They have helped form and develop the lifestyle and culture of every Hyderabadi. What has happened cannot be reversed, but  I feel telling their story is important as ignorance leads to neglect. One can only connect to the bygone era and its heritage, if the stories of these wonderful structures are told. And I for one, have tried to make an attempt at it.


This article was originally created for, and published on www.gounesco.com, a UNESCO supported umbrella of initiatives that makes heritage fun.
By Somok Roy

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Bhaskar Chitrakar painting a traditional theme. Photo credit: Somok Roy Heritage

Characterized by fluid curves and flat bright colours, Kalighat painting occupies an important place in the history of Indian art. It was the urban and reformed version of the Midnapore school of Patachitra, a scroll painting tradition of Bengal.  Liberating itself from the confines of religious narratives, it went on to comment on the contemporary socio-political phenomena. The rustic folk simplicity was replaced by the emerging complexities of city life.

In the early 19th Century, rural patuas (the community of Patachitra painters traditionally carried the surnames ‘Patua’ and ‘Chitrakar’) from Midnapore migrated and settled around the Kalighat temple, on the banks of Adi Ganga. Kalighat being a major pilgrimage center attracted thousands of devotees round the year.

The devotees wanted to carry something as souvenirs on their way back from this sacred place, and the locally available, cheap paper painting was the only affordable option. In the memoirs and travelogues of the European travelers, these paintings have been called ‘Bazaar paintings,’ a description that carries a sense of inferiority when compared with the Occidental standards of art.

This is primarily because the painters lacked the sense of perspective, and the linear rhythm of human figures miserably failed to impress the lovers of realism. Kalighat painters faced draconian competition from the ever-expanding market of lithographs and cheap oleographs and gradually disappeared by the 1930s.

The Midnapore roots

The medium of scroll painting has a vibrant history in this part of the continent. In an age when the society and economy were primarily agrarian, bards toured from village to village with their painted scrolls, unfolding the world of Puranic epics and folk myths to the curious audience.

These demonstrations were accompanied by narrative songs. The Cherial paintings of Andhra Pradesh, Phadpaintings of Rajasthan, and Patachitras of Bengal and Orissa are part of this vivid and arresting storytelling tradition. Patuas of Midnapore used scrolls known as ‘jorano pat,’ which were executed on cloth and could be rolled easily.

There were divisions within the patua community on the basis of the duration of tours. The ‘Duari patuas’ travelled from door to door throughout the day in nearby villages and returned home by night. The ‘Doori patuas’ travelled long distances, exhibiting their works and narrating stories.  The themes were from folk literature. Episodes from the ‘Mangal kavyas,’ creation myths, magic and cult-rituals, agrarian lives, pantheistic practices such as ‘pahar puja,’ and Hindu epics were painted and sung.

Changing times- Stylised Midnapore paintings, quite different from the traditional style. (Unfolding a Painted World: Revisiting Kalighat Paintings)

Changing times- Stylised Midnapore paintings, quite different from the traditional style.

From Midnapore to the Mecca of arts

Initially, the Kalighat school produced images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, keeping in mind the target audience. The rolling scrolls were replaced by rectangular sheets. Cheap mill made paper was used for painting, but the painters retained the tradition of using natural colours.

The outlines were painted in black using lampblack, which was later filled in with bright flat colours. Turmeric was used for yellow, red chilies for red, indigo for blue and so on… The paintings acquired a semi-classical finesse due to the application of colloidal tin for the purpose of depicting jewellery.

Secular themes entered the painters’ world soon and Kalighat school emerged as a satirical genre, highlighting the inherent hypocrisy of the society. Their detailed observation of an evolving social class helped them to produce symbolisms in art, which could be interpreted as important sources of modern Indian history.

The flamboyant Bengali nouveau riche or the urban elite has been the favorite theme of the Kalighat painters for their ostentatious display and extravagant lifestyle. These paintings unveil the pretentious mannerisms of the nouveau riche by the use of subtle metaphors and visual allegories, which have become an integral part of the Kalighat iconography over time.

Kalighat painting is perhaps one of the best primary sources to reconstruct the social history of the19th Century ‘Babu culture’ which flourished in Calcutta. ‘Babu indulging in sensuous pleasures with courtesans’, ‘Babu sitting on a chair and piping the hookah,’ ‘cat with the marks of a saint eating fish,’ ‘horse-race,’ ‘Elokeshi-Mohanto crime case’ were some popular themes.

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Babu with a concubine. Photo credit: banglapedia.org

The painting of a young attractive lady sitting in voluptuous posture with her right hand raised above her head, holding a rose in each hand, titled ‘Golapsundari’ is an evidence of the eternal fact that the essence of Indian aesthetics flows down the ages evermore.

Gopalsundari, or the 'rose beauty'. Photo credit: Nibaran Chandra Ghosh/banglapedia.org Drawing Woman with roses; Kalighat painting by Nibaran Chandra Ghosh of a seated courtesan with roses. Calcutta, ca. 1900. Nibaran Chandra Ghosh Calcutta Ca. 1900 Watercolour on paper

Gopalsundari, or the ‘rose beauty’. Photo credit: banglapedia.org

Similar ‘nayikas’ have been painted earlier by miniature painters of North India. The patuas also painted nationalist heroes like Rani Lakshmi Bai, and scenes from everyday life.

The Ultimate Autumn

The legendary painter, art critic and scholar, Mukul Dey, who collected some priceless works of the Kalighat school ( a major part of it was acquired by art historian W.G Archer during 1930s, and many of these paintings are exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London) wrote in 1932 :

These pictures have now entirely vanished. The artist craftsmen are nearly all dead, and their children have taken up other business. In the place of these hand-drawn and hand-painted pictures selling at two or four pice each, garish and evil-smelling lithographs and oleographs – quite appalling in their hideousness – have come. The old art is gone forever – the pictures are now finding their last asylum in museums and art collections as things of beauty which we cannot let die.

Kalighat paintings

A contemporary take on traditional icons. Photo credit: Somok Roy Heritage

One of the last practitioners of this art to have received international recognition and critical acclaim is Kalam Patua. He reinvented the Kalighat style by painting contemporary themes and yet retaining the stylized pattern of the traditional works. His paintings are housed in galleries and museums such as the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, The Museum of Sacred Art, Belgium, etc..

The alleys and by-lanes of Kalighat buzz with life from the dawn-break. But practically none of the residents and shop-owners are aware of the rich painting tradition which once flourished here. I accidentally met the only custodian of this great tradition, residing in the vicinity of the temple, Bhaskar Chitrakar, who is arduously trying to revive the art form. His unflagging efforts do not seek beneficial opportunities, but the admiration and appreciation of a true ‘rasik’.


Image 1: the canal harbor of Terracina, photo by Latina Corriere

The canal harbor of Terracina? Photo credit: Latina Corriere

It is no mystery that in today’s consuming society, the act of repairing is becoming a forgotten activity: if something breaks, we replace it.

My grandfather used to say, “We used to build things to make them last as long as possible in my day; today, everything is made for a maximum of two or three years of use.”

And he is right: I can’t remember of something that lasted longer than three years, be it cellphones, appliances, cars, computers, clothing or tools.

So I asked myself: is it the same for traditional craftsmanship and skills?

How do they fit in a society where people do not repair things any longer?

My reflection started when I was walking near the banks of the canal in Terracina, my beloved hometown. The said canal is no longer in use as a transportation link; but is mostly used as a ‘parking’ for small boats and shapes the connection between the areas of the town with modern facilities, and the harbour area.

 

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Abandoned storage spaces. Photo credit: Giulia Falovo

In the historic harbour area of ‘la Marina’ (the maritime), the city is split in two: one side has a vibrant nightlife with restaurants, bars and clubs, while the other side has remains of old structures related to the harbor life — storage spaces, canal banks, fishermen’s shops, and a vast area where the repairing material for boats is stored, like the memory of an abandoned past.

Another abandoned space. Photo credit: Guilia

Abandoned nets in the harbour area. Photo credit: Guilia Falovo

For some, the canal banks work as a point of aggregation, where to observe the daily unrolling of the city life, while being connected to its past.

One one can found groups of retired fishermen Enjoying the view while taking advantage of the warm Italian October; selling fish, gossiping or (what attracted me there) repairing nets.

Nets are an important component of a fisherman’s activity: There could be as many as 80 different types, according to the shape, use and type of fish, and they can go up to hundreds of meters. Before mass industrialization, fishing nets were normally made up by the fishermen or their wives.

Fishing nets require constant care and maintenance; so, when I observed Arturo repairing a net in a storage space nearby the harbor, I couldn’t pass up the chance to interview him.

Arturo at work.

Arturo repairs his nets. Photo credit: Sara Ceci

Arturo is a retired fishermen who just can’t put aside the need to work. Fishing has been the way of life for him for over 40 years, he has passed the baton to his son.

“I was lucky that my son wanted to continue the family tradition,” he says. “Not many youths want this profession these days. Everyone is moving to bigger cities so this sector is slowly dying.”

The pride shines through his eyes when he talks to me about his son. He says he is trying to teach him how to repair the nets, alegit with poor results. “He doesn’t like to work in his free time: he prefers to go out with his friends,” he rues.

Fishing nets require high standards of care and maintenance, and not many are willing to learn. But when an undeterred Arturo sits by his storage room, repairing the nets of his boats, a lot of people to observe this priceless craftsmanship.

Arturo doesn’t produce any art, tool, or gastronomic masterpiece. But he is one of the custodians of a timeless activity that has contributed to enrich the city as we see it today.


This article was originally created for, and published on www.gounesco.com, a UNESCO supported umbrella of initiatives that makes heritage fun.
By Meera Menon

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Tripunithura/Tripunitura, a land of temples, has its center marked with the Poornathrayeesa Temple with its history dating almost 10 decades back. This is supposed to be the only temple in South India where one gets to view the ‘Poornatrayeesa’ form of lord Vishnu.

Virschikotsavam is the grand eight-day long festival celebrated in this temple. It is set during the end of November, and this year it will be starting from 28/11, Monday onwards. The most striking part of this festival, or the highlight as we may put it, is the royal procession of 15 elephants, ‘The Ezhunnallippu,’ with the figurine of the deity held on top of the center elephant.
Yet another attraction is the “pancharimelam,” which is a traditional temple art form accompanying the procession, with instruments like Chenda, Kombu, Elathaalam etc.
Even though the procession is done every day, the fourth day, known as the triketta purapadu, is quite special. It was on this day, that we believe,  Vilwamangalam Swamiyar (considered to be a great saint in our history) made his visit. It is said that he found Lord Vishnu in the form of infant Krishna who was playing along with the elephants for the procession. On this day, offerings are made in a golden pot kept in front of the deity. This is believed to bring good luck to the people.
There is yet another story regarding the deity of Poornathayeesa here. It is said that the deity is afraid of firecrackers, which is why there are no ‘Vedi vazhipadu’ or crackers being used!


This article was originally created for, and published on www.gounesco.com, a UNESCO supported umbrella of initiatives that makes heritage fun.
By Sayana Dutta

Jute, the 'golden fibre' being cultivated. Photo credit: brieencounter.wordpress

Jute, the ‘golden fibre’, being cultivated. Photo credit: brieencounter.wordpress

In the 1800s, large sheds along both the banks of the of Hooghly River in and around Kolkata and Howrah with rumbling sounds of heavy machines mixing with the soft mellifluous flow of the river producing yarns from raw jute was a common sight.

A steady workforce was employed to work on separating, sorting and preparing jute yarns in various jute factories and mills supporting a bustling population of the city and dealing with extensively cultivated ‘pat’ plant in Bengal, from where raw jute would be extracted.

Bundled jute being left to soak in water.

Bundled jute being left to soak in water. Photo credit: Screengrab

After cotton, jute was the next cheap fabric material readily produced exclusively in the Indian sub-continent and was on the verge of an industrial revolution as the country catered to export demands mainly for the purpose of making sacks and cordage.

But the same mills now stand in deafening silence.

Wrong decisions taken decades ago actually crumbled the foundation of this once-strong and promising industry. The then communist government refused to supply sacks to nations that were engaged in World Wars, citing wars as imperialistic.

Thus, a golden opportunity was lost.

A jute processing plant in Kolkata. Photo credit: jute-india.com

A jute processing plant in Kolkata. Photo credit: jute-india.com

Entrepreneurs state that the situation was made worse by the growing demands and various trade unions with wrong expectations. The murder of the CEO of Northbrook Jute Mill H K Maheshwari in Hooghly in 2014 put thousands of permanent and temporary workers out of a livelihood

The insecurity among the owners and entrepreneurs is apparent. Other than assurance, little has been provided to the enthusiasts by the governments, and attempts to resuscitate this industry have so far remained dormant.

Fortunately now, a handful of non-governmental organisations have taken the onus upon themselves to find new avenues to generate livelihoods for different sections of the society, and to exhibit what all can be done with the fiber.

Attractive jute products on display at an exhibition. Photo credit: bestjuteproducts.wordpress

Attractive jute products on display at an exhibition. Photo credit: bestjuteproducts.wordpress

One such group is Freeset bags that works with impoverished women from the red light areas for a new way to support themselves and their families. They have experimented with carry bags that are chic-looking and stylish, as this fabric can be dyed, bent and styled as per a designer’s wish.

There are some other boutiques that have derived the art of making handloom material for sarees, table cloths, curtains and carpets or upholstery giving them a distinct look. Just the way plastic had replaced jute, now with more awareness regarding the preservation of environment, a slow reverse phenomena is being observed since jute is a highly bio-degradable and eco-friendly material.

With the smaller groups showing interest, the government is gradually in the process of realizing the importance of reviving this industry.

A government advertisement promoting jute as the 'gift of the earth'. Photo credit: jute.com

A government advertisement promoting jute as the ‘gift of the earth’. Photo credit: jute.com

The National Jute Policy was launched in 2005 after the Government of India realized the importance of the fiber. Bengal is the primary producer of the fabric;  whereas states such as Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Tripura, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have mill facilities for the production across the country.

With the revival of industry, not only shall we pave ways to provide employment to our youth at different levels but also make ways for a cleaner and greener way of living allowing the nurturing of art in the form of handicrafts as well as utilitarian items.


NAZARIYA