Website explores Indian history beyond textbooks

Updated: Jun 28, 2017, 13:52 IST | Joanna Lobo

A new website aims to showcase the interesting and unseen side of history, in a fun and approachable way

Vasai Fort
Vasai Fort

Once upon a time, traders from Dubrovnik in eastern Europe landed in Goa in their quest for spices. They created a colony, Sao Braz, after their patron saint, St Blaise. Today, the only remembrance of the colony is the church they built, back in 1563 CE,
in Carambolim, Goa.

This interesting piece of localised history can be found, not in a school textbook, but on the website Live History India (LHI). "The problem today is with the way history is being told. It is made to look boring when it actually is fun and it affects the way we live," says head of research Akshay Chavan. Digital marketer Chavan and journalist Mini Menon, who call themselves 'closet historians', launched LHI in May this year.

St Blaise Church, Goa
St Blaise Church, Goa

"Our mission is three-fold — rediscovering our history, reviving works from the archives, and championing the cause of restoration," says Menon, editor. To this end, they are looking to collaborate or partner with people working on restoration or reviving Indian history.

The idea, they say, is to use the digital medium to allow the average Indian access to research that is usually confined to academic circles. For this, they have a network of 650 noted historians, academics and writers, to share their expertise on the site, besides in-house researchers, journalists and archaeology students. LHI has 157 stories already, and is working on 150 more.

Mini Menon
Mini Menon

"We are agnostic historians. We are not typecasting history into narrow confines. All we seek is a great story," says Menon. The ideas for the stories are sourced from articles they've read, older research or just conversations with each other. LHI has stories cutting across all genres — food, travel, trade, textile, monuments, religion, art, and more, showcased in long-form articles, video and photo essay format.

Akshay Chavan
Akshay Chavan

For example: History in a Dish covers the origins and history of popular food items — India's oldest known dessert, malpua, finding Mysore pak at the century-old Guru Sweet Mart in Mysore, and the popular millet based Chhang. Mumbai features in stories about the Bombay Stock Exchange's origins from under a banyan tree; the township that was once resided inside Vasai Fort; and the legend of Buddha who visited Sopara (now Nalasopara).

"We don't want to be preachy. We'd rather coax every Indian hooked to learning to know more about their history," sums up Menon.

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Cool pickings from the past

Pics courtesy/ wikimedia commons

The son of an oil merchant from Iran, Mir Jumla started off as a clerk, became a diamond merchant, amassed a fortune and became an important figure in Mughal history. He is said to be the man who gifted the Koh-i-noor diamond to Shah Jehan and once possessed 20 maunds (around 800 kgs) of diamonds.

In 1903, when Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon hosted a durbar, his wife, Lady Mary Curzon stole the show in the famous Peacock gown. The House of Worth designed piece had gold cloth with zardozi needlework, and overlapping peacock feathers, each studded with a beetle wing. It is said that Queen Alexandra loved it so much, she wore a similar one at her coronation.

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