An Ode to the Rich Architectural and Cultural Legacy of the Past

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Radio shop displayed inside the museum

If you are a fan of art and architecture of the yesteryears and appreciate efforts of conservation and preservation, the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village Museum in Manipal must be on your list. Located about 10 km from the temple town of Udupi in coastal Karnataka, this one is managed by the Hasta Shilpa Trust which is a charitable trust started by Vijayanath Shenoy. Shenoy who was born in Udupi in 1934 was an avid collector and extra ordinary heritage conservationist.   

Symbols of Heritage

With a passion to save ancestral homes of the past which were being demolished due to urbanization and modernization, Shenoy decided to conserve these tangible symbols of heritage.  According to him, these houses are not mere inanimate objects but represent the imagination and vision of the people of the past.  They reflect the ingenuity, indigenous technology and superior skills of the craftsmen of the yesteryears which is a lesson in harmonious and sustainable living.  With an eye for detail, Shenoy has painstakingly transported ancestral houses and restored them to their original state in the sprawling Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village Museum.  Spread over an area of 6 acre, the museum opened in 1997 and is a treasure trove of not only immaculately restored houses and structures but also art, artefacts and objects from south Indian mercantile trade.  It has been open for visitors since May 2016.  

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Inside the Hasta Shilpa Heritage museum

Vernacular Architecture of South India

The open-air museum has a total of 26 structures which include houses, museums, galleries, by lanes and market places.  The houses on display are of various architectural styles and are replete with art and artefacts which makes it a treat for the visitors.  Each of the houses are neatly marked with an external identification board outlining the type of architecture, the salient features and the time period to which it belongs.  From houses belonging to agrarian Brahmins of South Canara, priests of the Malnad region to Nawabs of the Deccan and the Christian community in Mangalore, the museum spells variety that is as insightful as interesting.  The carved teak wood doors, balconies with fluted columns, the traditional kitchens and antique furniture are just some of the elements that take you back in time.  

A 19th century durbar hall, Peshwa Wadas (wadas were the residential form of Maratha architecture) as well as a part of a large royal residence of the pre-Vijayanagara era are some of the other highlights of the museum.  The Deccani Nawab Mahal dating to the early 1900s replete with Belgian stained-glass windows, German floor tiles and intricate Bidriware all of which reflect their sophisticated lifestyle is again beautifully recreated.   The Kunjur Chowki Mane which is a depiction of the architectural style of Kerala, the Vaderhobli House belonging to Koni Karanths’ of Kundapura Taluk as well as the houses of the Navayath Muslims of Bhatkal of Uttara Karnataka are some of the other houses displayed in this museum.  

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A typical Maland priest’s house display

Engaging Display

Apart from residential structures, the complex also houses some inhouse museums like the one dedicated to folk deities which gives us a comprehensive insight into the culture and customs of the past.  From serpent shrines to the rural “Garadi” mane and other tribal dieties that existed in the past, this one is an eye opener.  The museum dedicated to Bastar Tribal art filled with wooden masks as well as Dhokra metal work idols is truly fascinating.  Apart from a couple of temple structures, the recreation of market places of the yesteryears is compelling to say the least.  From oil mills to shops of goldsmiths, barbers, tailors, weavers, knife sharpeners and cobblers, the settings are authentic and successfully transport you into another era.  The recreation of the yesteryear radio and gramophone shops along with baskets and cradles from various communities is truly noteworthy.

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Deccan Nawab Mahal display

Ongoing efforts

It is key to note that the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village Museum is not yet complete and there are several more additions on the anvil. There is a plethora of artefacts that have been collected and there are plans to organize them into more museums as well as display them inside the appropriate houses.  A truly engaging place, make sure you visit this one on your next visit to Udupi.  A perfect place to relive the days of the yore and savour the pleasure of the slow life which existed back then.

All images courtesy of the author

Museums on your mind? You might enjoy A Journey Through Time: The Clock and Watch Museum, Winterthur