Time stands still at Siddhagiri museum

The time stands still here like the sculptures that silently speak the sounds of silent transporting the visitor to a different realm altogether.

If Mahatma Gandhi or renowned economic thinker and author of classic “Small is Beautiful” Ernst Schumacher had taken a stroll in this verdant village called Kaneri in Kolhapur, tears of joy would have roll­ed down their eyes to see that their vision of a developmental model and life style being mirrored in the open air museum called Siddhagiri Gramjivan Museum.

The museum, which is 400 km from Mumbai, is a poetic dot along NH-4 Highway aka Pune-Bangalore highway. The museum, unlike the high-profile and
always in news Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, is not focused on the celebrities.
It presents a vision, a life-style and an alternative developmental paradigm in total contrast to the present-day dominant ideological developmental social Darwinistic model that entails neon urban jungles with coffins stacked on each other euphemistically called apartments in high-rises and a life where button is always pressed on the fast-forward motion mode.

The museum spread over 12 acres may seem a walk in the fields of romantic
nostalgia for a life that was simple unlike modern times wherein people have
become wounded ghosts gasping in a subliminal hum of uncertain shadows and trying to survive by constantly hustling each other.

Sanket Sagvekar, a trustee of Siddhagiri Gurukul Trust, explaining the idea behind the open air exhibition park says: “In 2007, Adrushya Kadhsiddheshwar Swami, the 27th head of Siddhagiri Math which has been in existence for around 1,200 years, conceived the idea of portra­ying the ancient Indian rural economy which was completely self-sufficient and wherein each individual had a productive role to play with appropriate returns and there was no discrimination.”

Thereafter, Adrushya Swami collected artistes and artisans and explained his idea which he apart from having roots in ancient Indian agrarian society also had a firm footing in Gandhiji’s philosophy on the importance of the rural economy.

Through donations

While the entire Siddhagiri Mutt is spread over the 31-acre complex, in the initial stages, eight acres were reserved for the museum or the theme park. The project was funded through donations collected from devotees who continue to sponsor it as the entire concept is based on an organic development and continues to expand with each passing year.

The project in early phases focused on the harmonious forms of education
imparted by sages of yore; thus there is a scene created with models of children studying gurukul style under the tutelage of the great Maharishi Patanjali in the shade of a tree interestingly humming softly with warbling of live birds.

“Gurukul system is just one scene which was created. Swamiji also wanted people to know philosophers, thinkers, sages, mathematicians, scientists, inventors, physicians and alchemists of yore. He wants people, especially present-day generation, to know that we not only have a rich and varied cultural heritage but we also had intellectual giants who enriched the fields of philosophy, logic, grammar, linguistics, poetics, physiology, mathematics, zoology, astronomy, physics etc.”

Thus there are scenes of life-size statue of sage Kashyap treating a sick infant with the mother gazing with a pained expression and barely a yard ahead
Maharishi Kanaad conducting a scientific experiment while a few metres ahead Maharishi Varahamihir is shown condu­ct­ing astronomy classes. Thus an entire area comprising 34 models of philosophers, thinkers, scientists and other great intellectual of the past.

“While there are over 34 sculptures of philosophers, thinkers and scientists, the crux of the theme park continues to be the depiction of the lives of ordinary
people who lived and worked in ancient Indian villages which were vibrant and not frozen in time as several western historia­ns have tried to project. These
villages were community oriented and everybody contributed to the community and the community in turn nurtured the individuality of every person,” Sagvekar points out.

Keeping this in mind, scenes of farmers having lunch in their fields, cowherds milking their cows, a commercial area where bartering is taking place, a blacksmith forging metals with his wife gazing at him from the inside room, were visuali­sed and carved out. The images are first given shape by a wire-gauze then the
inner cavities are filled by pebbles, stones and bricks. Then they are sealed with
cement and wet mud and left to dry befo­re they are painted. Each of the images weighs around a quintal and over 80 masons and 60 artistes armed with a palette full of electric colours work daily etching out subtle details on each subject whether human or animal or the ambience.

The entire mutt has ecological sustainable power generation but the museum is lit up only at night with bare minimum artificial light; most of the scenes glisten and shimmer softly in the dancing light and shadow cast from lamps and lanterns.
“When we started, we had 1,000 models or sculptures… however, gradually today we have around 3,500 carved out models in around 1,000 scenes and it is still growing like the addition of “utsav” or festivals that were celebrated in the past. And the interesting thing is that most of the scenes except for the models of sages, thinkers and scientists, do not carry any explanatory board. They are self-explanatory, simply because ordinary people relate to them as the images and scenes deal with ordinary folks and their lives… and somewhere while watching these images collective memories buried deep inside the psyche gets rumbled up,” Sagvekar says.

At present, the mutt is focusing on organising Bharat Vikas Sangam wherein creative artists and social workers will be invited. As the number of visitors  is increasing with each passing year, the trust has started investing the earned income into other fields like promotion of organic farming and setting up of hospital, schools, colleges and agro-processing centres for villages in the region.

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