Stories through strings of melody

Heritage is a multidisciplinary subject and shouldn’t always be related to history. Doing so, in many ways, makes heritage a boring subject for children. It was this very idea that led to the foundation of Indian Traditions and Heritage Society (ITIHAAS) in 2004. It helps schools in developing history curriculum, conduct teacher training workshops and organise walks for the children to heritage sites.

“We started with the idea that children were becoming alien to their own spaces and knew little about the city. Children were aware of the surrounding heritage but would not go out of their way to discover these places for themselves,” Smita Vats, director ITIHAAS, tells Metrolife.

“There is so much diversity in India and we thought it was important for children to know the history through historical sites and tales,” she adds. Over the years, ITIHAAS has built resourceful partnerships with many schools across India, but their one unique initiative has set an example for looking at “deeper historical meaning through music.”

The annual young writers’ forum of ITIHAAS, Anveshan, took place in the city recently. In this competition, children of different age groups were given a theme and asked to collect stories, research on the subject and present it in the form of a song.

“The competition aims to document and preserve oral traditions from their(children’s) own localities and communities,” says Vats.

For the primary category students, the theme was ‘In Joy’ in which the students were asked to document celebration. They were asked to think of festivals and fairs, rituals and ceremonies that are carried out with great enthusiasm around them.

They were required to ask people what each of them meant, how they began and what makes them unique. Is there a science behind the traditions and also a few intriguing legends.

‘In Habit’ was the topic for the middle school students who were invited to look at traditional habitats – houses and settlements – that are different from the modern homes that they live in. The students were to visit them and find out their stories. The habitat could belong to a long-forgotten prince or a clan of artisans. The students were asked to look for colours and carvings, the wood and the mortar, but also find out the context that they were built in.

For the senior level students, the topic was ‘Inequality’ where the students were asked to look around for the many forms of inequality that exist in our society and talk about the many struggles to combat them.

“They were asked to think of caste, race, gender and economy, to meet people and find out the stories of how these gaps were bridged or rights snatched. They were to look at movements and organisations that continue to pursue the cause,” she says.

“This musical research gives students a chance to research and present the narrative in a musical format. By doing this, they do not only understand history, but are preserving oral traditions as well,” she adds.

According to Vats, education system creates a barrier in the minds of children who start indentifying streams as art, science and commerce. “In the traditional gurukul all subjects were taught equally. The role of history is to connect past and help us to understand present and link it to future,” she says.

“History for us is to create a sense of belongingness and a sense of ownership,” she adds, saying one has to look at heritage and history differently
to preserve it for the future generation.

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