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20.04.2016

We’ve been waiting for Sahapedia ever since we discovered it by following a link from one of our favourite Twitter accounts, @gopalears, where Mr S Gopalakrishnan posts a piece of Indian classical music every day.  Since 2011, a Delhi-based non-profit funded by Tata Consultancy Services and comprised of researchers and culture mavens has been working on making an ambitious open-access archive of Indian arts and cultural practices.

Now that their website is going live this weekend, we ask several people working behind the scenes what to expect. Thousands of photos, videos, articles and fact-sheets about a range of Indian traditions, we’re told: from the food of Uttarakhand and Goan tiatr to Eid festivities around South Asia, and Tholpavakoothu, Kerala’s shadow puppet theatre. While each subject delves into deep detail, you get the option to read, watch or listen your way through a collection ofinformation. They’ll even give you a bibliography before you can say “Citation needed.”

Researchers travelled the country, delved into archives and recorded hours of interviews to put together resources on their subject entries. You’ll see conversations with Mahashweta Devi and BV Doshi, a performance history of Andha Yug, and a section on Indian political cartooning.  A friend tips us off to look out for some stunning poster art. Collaborations with Paramparik Karigar, the NCPA in Mumbai, Delhi’s NSD, and others have yielded up buried treasure from their own archives.

A lot of this strikes us as stuff we think we know about, but that’s really shaped by limited information and high walls thrown up by the keepers of tradition. Sudha Gopalakrishnan, the project’s executive director (and no relation to @gopalears), is a Kathakali artist, Kudiyattam expert, writer and former Sahitya Akademi employee. She started thinking about Sahapedia during her time as head of India’s National Mission for Manuscripts.

The website is “curated but participatory,” in Sudha’s words: so if you have an essay, a photo, a story or a video that you think belongs in a collection, or think there’s a subject you can start to explore, you can submit something for review yourself, or get in touch if you have an idea you want to work on.

It was a job that made it clear that India sits on gargantuan heaps of knowledge, but also that this is almost always difficult to access, even for scholars. “We decided the internet was the way to go,” to try and make a record of the Indian arts, she says: both because it would make these things widely available, and “provide a platform to make these modules in a way that we don’t lost complexity.”

“Modules” has the ring of acadaemia to it, but while academics make a strong showing on the Sahapedia team, they insist the resource is meant for anyone interested -- in varying degrees -- in Indian art and culture. They even want you to sign up to collaborate with them. The website is “curated but participatory,” in Sudha’s words: so if you have an essay, a photo, a story or a video that you think belongs in a collection, or think there’s a subject you can start to explore, you can submit something for review yourself, or get in touch if you have an idea you want to work on.

Five members of the team also tell us in separate conversations to drop everything for the oral histories they’ve recorded with craftspeople and artists around the country: you can hear, for instance, an idakka player in Kerala or a pandavani student in Chhattisgarh talk about their art and expertise and read along in English transcription. Pull up a chair: this could take a while.

Getting there: www.sahapedia.org will go live on Saturday. The website celebrates its launch in Delhi at Meghdoot Theatre, Rabindra Bhavan, 6 pm.

Image of the Sumatinath Jain Swetambar Mandir in Chandni Chowk, courtesy Ayan Ghosh for Sahapedia.

 

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