Vijayanath Shenoy, previously a bank employee with a fixation for elegant structures chased a dream. With assortment of wooden artifacts and other remnants he had salvaged from the ruins of old structures in Dakshina Kannada and neighboring districts, ‘Hastashilpa’ was created. Hastashilpa is a fusion of disparate architectural elements recapturing the style of the traditional homes of the region on a hillock in Manipal.
The home built true to vasthu shastra, has rare utensils, containers in which rice stays fresh for five years and a 280-year-old bell metal vessel which keeps curd and buttermilk unspoiled for over a week. The house is now managed by the Hastashilpa Trust, which was established with a Norwegian government aid. Shenoy’s another dream to build an entire village on six acres allotted by the government in Manipal is taking shape in the ‘Heritage Village’. He is busy restoring the early l9th century Kunjur Chowkimane, both in traditional Kerala style.
A Hungarcutta Bandsale Mane, a wood-rich house, which served as a trading center and warehouse in the early part of the century from coastal Hungarcutta, is also in the pipeline. The oldest structure that will come up in the village is the grand, Jungama Mutt Puchamoaru in Karkala taluk, which is over 600 years. It is also the most elaborate among the 15 mutts surviving out of 64 veerashiva mutts.
“What we salvaged were some of the most precious and rare materials never seen anywhere else in the country.” He hopes to substitute the lost structural components of the Jungama mutt with similar materials acquired from the other mutts. Three more buildings which are going to be reconstructed in the village are the 400-year-old Harkur.
A Bunt household; the three – centuries old Sringeri house, with elaborate interiors reflecting the Vedic traditions and the century-old Vidyamandira, the residence of the pontiff of Ramachandrapura Mutt at Haniya in Shimoga district.
In Shenoy’s musty storehouse centuries co-exist. A beam of flashlight which illuminates the huge wooden doors, period furniture, Cast – iron grills, ritual metal articles and terracotta artifacts. In an adjoining room there is a cluster of folk-idols, epic heroines Kanthabare and Budabare of the Billava community. To avoid accidents, there is no power supply in the storehouse. Major portions of a Mangalore Catholic house, a Bhatkal Muslim house and a Bunt house rest in the storehouse waiting to be reborn in the heritage village.
Over the years Shenoy has built a formidable ‘intelligence’ net work across the district. Thus, every time an interesting piece of architecture is to be pulled down he is there coaxing the owners to let it remain. In occasions when he fails to convince the owners the materials are transported for a new lease of life to his village.
A temple in Ulepadi was restored and added to the collection which included 400-year-old Bhoota Manchas (seats where deities are placed for worship).
Another time he used the services of seasoned fishermen to salvage two 18 inch wooden idols of Ganesha and Shanmuga which another temple had immersed in a river. Shenoy has played a major role in persuading the State Archaeology Department to take interest in restoring the unique 450 year-old mud palace at Sural, 20 km from Udupi. The palace was built by the Tulu Jain Royal family of the Tolahas who ruled parts of the district from the medieval times to the 11th century.
In the early 70s. the existence of this palace was unknown to the outside world. Even the locals ignored its gloomy sight. Shenoy saw in its fissured facade a distinctive stamp of the local architecture. “Not one of the 30-odd surviving heirs to the property was interested in providing for its upkeep,” says Shenoy. “The Archaeological Survey of lndia, the Ford Foundation… no one came up with a concrete proposal in order to mobilize public opinion, I took my celebrity friends to the palace.”
Finally the State Directorate of Archaeology and Museums declared it a protected monument and started restoration work. Shenoy is also planning to establish a similar heritage village in Mysore and land has already been donated to the trust. Another Heritage Village will be set up in south Kerala.
Finances have been difficult to come by for this retired banker. The entire heritage village is estimated to cost around Rs. 1 crore. Norad, the funding agency of the Royal Norwegian Embassy. has sanctioned Rs. 40 lakh. Shenoy is hoping that a number of other charitable organizations, corporate houses and central and state government institutions will come forward to support the project.
The heritage village will have eight museums which will display the traditional arts, crafts, paintings and textiles of the region. There will also be galleries depicting the life and works of cultural luminaries of the district, an arts and crafts production-cum training centre, a performing arts centre with a well-equipped experimental theatre, a recording studio to preserve video and audio tapes of the various vanishing folk art forms. A literary center to help literature find its cultural moorings and an elaborate documentation center.
Ananth Nagar, 2nd Stage, Manipal – 576 119
Udupi Dist, Karnataka, India.
Phone: 91 820 2572061