By Leela Venkataraman
With the ongoing knowledge explosion in the contemporary world, Sahapedia – an online resource on the arts – helps you explore, engage with and rediscover the cultural heritage of India and South Asia. Launched formally at a special function at Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Meghdoot Theatre in Delhi, this portal aesthetically and intelligently designed by young knowledge seekers, is aided by Executive Director Dr. Sudha Gopalakrishnan, and is backed by a team of experienced researchers engaged in collaborative exercises with experts and institutions. The endeavour founded on the premise of working together (saha) for what is an ever-growing encyclopaedia on histories, art and cultures of the subcontinent, is the brainchild of Sudha Gopalakrishnan who was earlier heading the National Manuscripts Mission.
The areas covered come under the categories of Knowledge Traditions (philosophy, oral traditions, healing practices), Visual and Material Arts (sculpture, cinema, textiles), Performing Arts (dance, music, puppetry, theatre), Literature and Languages (authors, works, language histories), Practices and Rituals (festivals, cuisines, life-cycle rituals), Histories (places, movements, social change), Institutions (museums, universities and cultural centres), People (artists, scholars and practitioners) and Natural Environment (ecosystems, native species, national parks). Sahapedia offers multi-media content on a variety of themes for different levels of users, “a library displaying a vast selection of previously published research journals, visual media and archival resources – all of which can be accessed.” Sharing of information through several social-media websites will be facilitated through Sahapedia. There have been exchanges with Sruti magazine too for information.
An added advantage is that the text, videos, audio, photographs and timelines, in a discussion through the “çommunities feature” will be fully reviewed by the Sahapedia expert team before being offered to the public. Less known, cultural connections are also revealed through these interactive platforms.
This not-for-profit society www.sahapedia.org offers a platform for participation with registered users across the world, and interested persons can also contribute content on areas pertaining to their interest and expertise.
Whether it is Deccan’s kalamkari textile painting, or some of India’s rich rural traditions, the archives features practicing living performers. When these living repositories of an art heritage disappear from the scene, their knowledge disappears along with them. These living practices are facing greater danger with the fast spreading urbanisation and globalisation. A measure of the urgency of the situation was posed by Osama Manzar, Director Digital Empowerment Foundation, at the inaugural function during the panel discussion on Culture Futures, when he mentioned that 196 languages were in danger of extinction right under our nose.
Utpala Desai, scholar in Gujarati folk traditions, maintained that the developed world’s interest in the Indian digital user was more as a prospective consumer than as a creator. But Sahapedia’s work done through its rigorous interactive endeavours through digital use among weavers of Nuapatna and Chanderi, and other areas, has led to a widening of knowledge among these craftsmen by helping connect all the workers in a very useful way. Through social media, 450 songs of the Manganiyars – which otherwise would have vanished with the practitioners – have been documented.
Sahepedia has worked on domains like festivals of Dassara and Eid and the kinds of narratives, rituals, performatory and celebratory aspects found among different regions and constituencies. Through text articles, images, audio visual records, maps, lineage trees, and timelines, a large part of the cultural environment which is not finding the kind of cultural space enjoyed a few decades ago, is being fully preserved as knowledge documents – revitalising cultural spaces and integrating services including research, documentation, digitisation and conservation.
This cross disciplinary platform www.sahapedia.org one hopes will be fully put to use by scholars, artists, students, teachers, travellers and enthusiasts of the subcontinent's heritage.