While browsing through the Deccan Heritage Foundation’s (DHF)website, we were pleasantly surprised. Although it works towards the conservation of heritage structures in India’s Deccan region, it is actually a registered charity in the United Kingdom. “My interest in the Deccan dates back to the mid 1960s, when I travelled across India as a young Australian architecture student. India was the first country with a historical pedigree and rich artistic traditions that I had ever seen!” reminisces George Michell, one of DHF’s founders. The aim of the foundation is to preserve and build awareness about heritage and architectural structures of the Deccan.
Call of the Deccan
Michell, originally a trained architect, started researching on the Deccan region in the early 1970s when he made measured drawings of the early Chalukya temples in the Badami region. During the 1980s and ‘90s, Michell also co-directed an international team of architects and archaeologists to map and study the ruined city of Hampi Vijayanagara. “The Deccan represents one of the most historically important regions of the country, especially in terms of the interaction of Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim cultures, and overlaid with colonial European culture. These are represented by a range of amazingly well preserved monuments to still to be seen,” feels Michell. The lack of knowledge about heritage in the Deccan, and the lack of programmes directed towards sensitising adults and children led to its foundation.
Mumbai’s kids will do it
Registered in the UK in July 2011, DHF has till date published six illustrated books and is currently piloting an education programme called Deccan Heritage Explorers. In February, they completed their first programme, Mumbai Heritage Explorers, with three educational institutions in Mumbai (Teach For India — Jafari English School; Govandi, The Cathedral and John Connon School; Fort and The Somaiya Vidyavihar College; BA History First Year). “The students we worked with came from diverse social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. Not only do we introduce students to different types of heritage, we take students through on-site programming in the city so (that) they can make real connections between heritage and their everyday experiences,” says Malvika Bhatia, Education and Outreach Coordinator.
“We also plan to take on conservation projects that look at heritage conservation in a holistic manner; looking at the interrelations between the natural, the built and the intangible heritage within which the site exists. It is vital to understand the significance of the heritage resources for the local community, how these communities interact with heritage and how heritage may play a role in their sustainability — economic, cultural, environmental — for that region,” shares Prachi Dalal, Head of DHF, India. Their team also included Saker Mistri and Kaiwan Mehta as advisers in development and implementation of the pilot project. DHF feels that the fundamental challenge for the cause of heritage preservation in Mumbai is to make people realise the extent to which heritage impacts their daily lives.
Break the barrier
Their efforts have yielded results, “Children, irrespective of their socio-cultural backgrounds are interested in Mumbai, and want to make a difference. It is critical to involve parents and build inter-generational bridges. A student group was disturbed when they spotted people throw garbage from their car, near Horniman Circle — this sounds like a tiny act but for this group of schoolgirls living near Mumbai’s largest garbage dump (Govandi), it took courage, and is a paradigm shift,” summarises Dalal.
Log on to deccanheritagefoundation.org