Of manors lost and found

Heritage

Of manors lost and found

Vijayanath Shenoy

“I have almost completed my work. I feel sad that I have to do this project. Once the task is over, I want to run away from this place. I will not come back here. I will settle down near a beach. I will catch up on reading, long overdue.”

These are the words of Vijayanath Shenoy, the architect of Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village of Manipal, Udupi. It is hard to believe that a person who has dedicated more than a decade of his life towards preserving heritage houses, crafts, artifacts and paintings for posterity, had this to say.  Is there a tinge of regret or is he disturbed over something? Not really. Maybe he was only thinking aloud, for his voice was devoid of any emotion.

‘Only a sense of relief’
Why does he want to turn his back on his own creation - the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village? Isn’t it time for him to rejoice when he is on the verge of giving finishing touches to the project? Instead he asks me, “What’s there to rejoice? There is only a sense of relief, from pain... absolutely no pleasure. Any person with a sensitive heart would have done what I did. There is destruction all around us in the name of modernisation. We are losing our cultural legacy by demolishing finely crafted houses and also by not preserving art, artifacts and culture. Architecture is the most powerful language.”

“All I have done is to relocate certain structures and develop some museums. The credit goes to village artistes. There is a Trust to take care of the Village. I have no emotional bonding with this place. Once I complete the work, what role do I have to play?” he asks.
The 75-year-old Shenoy says he is facing sleepless nights because he is finding it tough to mobilise another Rs one crore to complete the work on hand. But his worried face conveys that the Trust needs more than that money. It is obvious that tens of crores have been spent to create the Village though Shenoy pegs it at Rs 10 crore.

Shenoy, a well-known name in the country, is a retired banker. He has no degree in architecture. But his knowledge in art, architecture and history is unfathomable. Way back in 1991, he converted his house into a museum and named it Hasta Shilpa. It became the most publicised private house in India. Later he established the Trust for which T Mohandas Pai is the chairman.

The 15 heritage houses in the Village, spread across six acres, have immense architectural value. The mansions which were in ruins in their original locations were identified and translocated to the Village. The relocation is a cumbersome, complicated, time and cost-intensive process. The Trust, prior to and after the demolition, has documented the structures through measured drawings, visuals and coded each component. Almost all physical properties like furniture, metal ware, utensils, lamps, musical instruments and royal heirlooms have been displayed at appropriate places to lend authenticity. So walking into any of the houses here is like entering the period in which it was built.

Kunjur Chowkimane
At the entry point, there is Kunjur Chowkimane (courtyard house), built by a Shivalli brahmin family in the 19th century. The fourth generation of the family abandoned it in 1985. With the consent of the family, the Trust transplanted the Chowkimane to the Village. It is a two-storeyed house with wooden pillars and ornate doors, built in the architectural style of Kerala. The family, in fact, donated it. This is the house where the mother of former chief secretary Sudhakar Rao was born, points out Shenoy.

Bansaale Mane
The Hungaracutta Bansaale Mane is a typical port town bungalow and served as a trading house-cum-residence. This 180-year-old house belonged to the Mahabaleshwara Adiga family which was into trade in Udupi. This was the last surviving such house at Hungaracutta. The Trust acquired it when it was facing the threat of demolition. It has a huge storage place to stock grains, and a boat-shed.

A royal heritage
The Deccani Nawab Mahal showcases all the luxury and societal respect enjoyed by the Nawabs of Barid Shahi dynasty in a village near Humnabad, in the early 19th century. The restructured Mahal has coloured Belgium glass windows, a German tiled flooring, chandeliers from Austria, empty imported wine and perfume bottles et al !

Bunt manor, 400 years old
A peep into the Harkur Olaginamane gives a glimpse of a Bunt lifestyle. The manor, 400 years old, was in Harkur village of Kundapur and belonged to a Bunt landlord. The majesty of the structure lies in the rows of wooden columns in front of the house. They resemble musical instruments maddale and mridangam.

The Mudhol Palace
The striking feature of the Mudhol Palace Durbal Hall is the earthy shaded floral false wooden ceiling. The entire roof, as one piece, was transported in a specially assembled truck from Mudhol of Bagalkot to the Village. The Palace was built two centuries ago by the Maratha rulers of Ghorpade. Over the years, except the Durbal Hall, the Palace complex which was made of teak wood, collapsed. The Hall was bought by the Trust.
The grandeur of Belur and Halebeed temples in teak wood can be seen at Kamal Mahal. It was in Kukanoor of Koppal. It is said to be built by the military governor of Vijayanagar Empire. The interior walls and roofs are intrinsically carved. No camera or writer can capture the beauty of these manors or that of any aesthetically designed structures here. The three-century-old Harihar Mandir of Kodagu, Jungama Mutt of Puchchamogaru, Sringeri House, Vidyamandir of Ramachandrapura Mutt, Vaderahobli House, Byndoor-Nelyadi House, Mangalore Christian House, Bhatkal Navayath Muslim House and Hengavalli-Korra House symbolise the cultural wealth our ancestors had. The narrow bylanes in the Village have a dhobi shop,  soda shop, shops selling cameras, snuff, pottery and umbrellas. But these are only museums!

Museums in the pipeline
Shenoy began the construction of museums a couple of years ago. Eight museums are taking shape. One museum exclusively houses Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings along with the century-old German printing machines with the original artifacts. Hundred litho stones with an impression of Varma’s paintings are displayed.  It was acquired by the Trust from Malavli near Pune.

Another museum houses centuries-old Tanjore paintings.  The museums of tribal arts, folk arts, contemporary arts, Ganjifa cards are taking shape. Museums of tribal paintings, fabric art and toys are being planned. Two theatres are also in the offing.

The government, which has leased six acres of land to the Trust, is in the process of allotting two more acres. The Trust has taken the help of several artisans, artists, architects and carpenters for the reconstruction. The Norwegian Embassy, New Delhi has provided the funds to the Trust. So also the Finnish Embassy besides a good number of organisations and individuals. The question as to how much assistance has been received so far goes unanswered by the Trust.  But the Trust is certainly in need of more help as money is just trickling in,  over recent months.

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