Reaching for the roots

Reaching for the roots


Shilparamam, the arts and crafts village in Hyderabad, is a tribute to the rich artistic and cultural heritage of India, serving as a reminder of our roots, writes nandita Mahajan

spellbinding Many artistic pieces on display at Shilparamam

The street before me is packed with eager shoppers who flit excitedly from stall to stall, haggling over prices. The stalls are adorned with every kind of Indian handicraft imaginable, and the world around me is a riot of colours, shapes and sizes. This place seems to have, quite simply, everything on earth: jewellery, carpets, clothes, toys, handicrafts, textiles, cookware, and even furniture.
On a bench by the side of the road, a lady applies mehndi on a little girl’s hand.

An infant screams impatiently and tugs at the sari of his mother who, ignoring him, eyes a piece of pottery greedily. A girl and her mother haggle over the price of blue and yellow glass bangles that tinkle with the gentle flow of the wind. In another corner, a woman puzzles over which pashmina stole to buy, all of which are exquisitely embroidered. Families picnic in little groups on the grass in the recreational area. Everybody seems to be completely involved in what they are doing, and enjoying themselves thoroughly, despite the heat of the sun bearing down upon them.

It’s a typical Saturday afternoon at Shilparamam, Hyderabad’s tribute to the ethnic arts and crafts of India. This art and cultural village was set up by the Government of Andhra Pradesh 20 years ago, and occupies 65 acres of land in Hi-Tech city, Madhapur. It is designed to provide two things: a window to the art, craft and culture of rural India for city dwellers today, and a platform for rural artisans and craftsmen to display, and sell their work.

Shoppers’ delight

The hundreds of stalls that now surround me seem to be a major attraction here, both for the people of Hyderabad, as well as for tourists who come to Shilparamam to get a feel of rural India and take home a piece of ethnic Indian art.

But when I walk a little further up the road, I realise that there’s a lot more to this place than just its stalls. The Prakriti Raga Living Rock Gallery for example, which is an open air display of exquisite rock sculptures that Shilparamam set up in association with Subrata Basu, the artist who developed this particular genre of sculpture, thus creating art out of Hyderabad’s rocks.
Then there’s the Art Gallery, a roomful of paintings that illustrate village life as well as village beliefs and deities.

Next, I visit the Rural Museum. I am enraptured by the extremely authentic archetype of a typical Indian village that depicts the lives and activities of its inhabitants. It contains huts of thatch and baked clay, and houses life-size sculptures of villagers and their cattle, made with surprising precision. Artisans, craftsmen, blacksmiths, farmers, weavers and potters at work are shown, and an entire village bazaar is elaborately laid out. This museum also has a section depicting the lifestyle and handicrafts of tribal folk in India.

I exit the museum and follow the road till I reach Shilparamam’s lake. The boating facility here seems to be a favourite with children. Though the lake is rather small for much of a boating expedition, it provides quite a pleasant atmosphere, what with all its surrounding greenery and the wild geese splashing around.

At the Grameena, I manage to get a taste of authentic Andhra cuisine. Labelled as an ethnic food court, I enjoy the many flavours that make up Andhra Pradesh’s culinary past. Be it the pesarattu or the much-favoured leafy pickle, gongura, I tuck into them with equal relish — a tasteful end to my tour around the village.

Night bazaar

I visit the main office and learn that the Andhra Pradesh Department of Tourism is currently conceiving a night bazaar at Shilparamam, the Shilpasandhya Vedika, that will be open from 3 pm to 3 am. Apparently, it’s being planned on a grand scale; it claims to be the first night bazaar of its kind in India. Its organisers plan to divide the 60,000 square feet of shopping space in this bazaar into four zones: Adhunik, Vedic, Sultanate and Azma. Each of the zones is to reflect the respective time period.

The Adhunik Zone is being designed to provide a modern-day shopping and dining experience, by selling products like jewellery, bags, watches and electronics, and housing food stalls like KFC, McDonalds and Pizza Hut.

The Vedic Zone will reflect the ancient vedic culture of India. Crafts from this age, like bone and sandalwood products, glass ornaments, applique work and Ayurvedic products will be featured here. Ethnic North and South Indian food will be provided.

The Sultanate Zone will represent the Sultanate times; it will sell products like pearl jewellery, embroidered carpets, lac bangles and bidri ware, and serve Shahi cuisine.

The Azma Zone is meant to reflect the stone age. Products like tribal ornaments, terracotta articles and clay toys will be made available, and raw and grilled food will be served at its food courts.
As I exit Shilparamam, I turn back to look, once again, at its grand gate in-between the two enormous terracotta horses.

A place like this, in my opinion, is extremely important in urban India today. In a land where westernisation is rampant and traditions seem obsolete, Shilparamam provides us with something we desperately need: a place where we can explore our roots.

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