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Preserving cultural heritage of UP music village with British help

United States,Art/Culture/Books, Sat, 02 Mar 2013 IANS

Madhusree Chatterjee

New Delhi, March 2 (IANS) In the remote village of Hariharpur in the Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh, a traditional community of musicians that sings classical devotional songs is getting space to further its skills and preserve it for posterity after centuries of neglect.

A joint project by the British Council, interactive design studio "Workshop Architecture", the Indian Trust for Rural Heritage Development and the villagers of Hariharpur will give the village its first primary school and performance space in about six months.

The project is a cultural exchange initiative in which nine international designers will teach the villagers new architecture processes to develop a classroom prototype that can be replicated. The designers, on their part, will try to understand Indian vernacular heritage, learn traditional craft techniques and gather knowledge about local material, designer Clementine Blakemore of "Workshop Architecture" said.

It is part of the British Council's outreach programme to open exchange avenues with traditional Indian livelihoods, culture and marginalised communities.

The team from "Workshop Architecture" formally unveiled the project at the British Council this week with an exhibition - "Building Community" - the culmination of more than a fortnight's workshop to prepare a draft of the project with photographs of the village, textual concepts and display of the material to be used for building the integrated education and culture space. The team will spend time at the villageto take part in the actual building process.

"We went on a reconaissance trip to Hariharpur in December 2011 to discuss the idea and identify local building material. Last week, we revisited it to put together the logistics for the project," Blakemore told IANS.

The interactive design studio has earlier executed a similar project in the Philippines.

A 90-minute drive from the temple town of Varanasi, Hariharpur is inhabited by 40 Brahmin families who are descandants of classical court musicians of the Mughal era. They are farmers by profession but the musicians have been struggling to keep their legacy alive.

The villagers gather every morning and evening to play the tabla, a traditional Indian percussion instrument and the sarangi, a string instrument, and sing folk and traditional songs, says a document, "Creative Cluster Project", drawn up by the Indian Trust for Rural Heritage Development.

The children, who learn music from the community elders, are rarely recognised outside the village. The "gurus" have moved to Varanasi. The village has poor infrastructure despite access to irrigation and good harvests every year.

The project aims to turn around the village's fortunes and allow the traditional musical lineage to come into the mainstream.

One of the biggest challenges in conserving vernacular culture in India is to make it participatory, said British conservationist Ingval Maxwell, chairman of the Charles Wallace India Trust, who was at the British Council on Friday to speak on cultural heritage and visit the Hariharpur Community Building exhibition.

"Somehow, it all boils down to education and awareness. The community has to realise that it has something of value and only then will it allow something to be built and share mutually. The Hariharpur project is excellent because what we see is the recognition of value of art and architecture - and the fact that they have a place in the built heritage," Maxwell told IANS.

Maxwell said another example of integrated cultural conservation was the Sanskriti Foundation and Cultural Centre in the capital that supports young talent from the "fields of art, crafts and museums though fellowships and provides space for exploration, contemplation and development of creative ideas".

"I like O.P. Jain's (founder of Sanskriti) approach to culture promotion," Maxwell said.

Comparing the cultural heritages of India and the west, Maxwell said India "still has a tremendous skill base of craftspeople at work".

"The vocational skill here is phenomenal because Indian craftspeople understand the value of material. I have learnt from the craftspeople in a spirit of mutual respect. Craftspeople have the ability with their hands and can teach how to test and treat material," Maxwell said.

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