In a quiet, inconspicuous area in the town of Manipal near Christ Church lies a little window to a different time — Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village, a site existing solely to remind its visitors of ages past. Defined as a multi-dimensional cultural project, it was conceptualised and built during the 1970s and 1980s by Vijayanath Shenoy, a retired bank officer of the Syndicate Bank, heritage conservationist and an antique collector. In 1983, seeing beautiful ancestral homes being torn down in Malnad, he became determined to one day restore and represent their heritage and culture. Without his support, this restoration of about 26 structures of historical and architectural importance would have otherwise failed to exist.
Today, developed into a valuable village of Karnataka, Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village is famous and frequented by critics, eminent contemporary artists, and members of the corporate world, creating a vibrant ecosystem which furthers the cause of art. It is unlike every other museum where visitors roam around, peering at explanatory texts on the wall and pausing according to their interest.
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How To Reach Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village?
At a distance of 2 kms from Manipal, 60.6 kms from Mangalore and 63.9 kms from Bangalore, the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village can be easily accessed via road and railways.
Buses are available for Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village from Bangalore and Mangalore. Additionally, there are a few local buses that regularly ply from the Manipal bus station to the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village.
The Udupi Railway Station is the closest railway station to Manipal which is approximately 2 kms from Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village. You can take an auto from here to reach the museum.
Mangalore Airport is the nearest major international airport to reach Manipal. From there you can book a cab to reach the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village.
History Of Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village
Born in Udupi in 1934 to a modest family of utensil traders and ayurvedic suppliers, Vijayanath Shenoy was a retired officer from Syndicate Bank. He nursed a primordial attachment to his South Canara heritage.
Back in the ’70s, Mr Shenoy went around looking for designs from ancestral homes across Karnataka with the intention of building his own house. During this time, he had come across timeless pieces facing ruthless destruction at the hands of their owners as they made way for modern homes and high-rises. Angered by this, his solution was the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village, an enclave of six-and-a-half acres in the university town of Manipal. After getting the land on a lease from the local government, Shenoy galvanised a team of carpenters and masons and transplanted 26 structures of immense architectural merit and fine craftsmanship to this site. Taking about 10 years, he went to great lengths to procure artefacts ranging from 160 to 700 years old. At one instance, he was blindfolded and taken to a historical site to ensure that he wouldn’t learn the route to this site. Often, he was mistaken for a scrap vendor because of his collection of seemingly random pieces that otherwise only existed in pictures and books.
Funded by the State Govt of Karnataka, and the Norwegian, Finnish and Netherlands governments, each house contains artefacts arranged according to Shenoy’s exacting tastes. As for the ambience, he also selected particular fragrance and music to waft through different dwellings, adding to the distinct aesthetic and sensory experience of the village. At the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village, one can easily be transported to a bygone era, getting glimpses of what constituted life back then.
Architecture Of Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village
All the houses in Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village are a reconstruction of older structures, representing their own history and story. Various cultures such as Maratha, Keralite, and European ways of life are on display. The Eastern section contains a collection of houses resembling those of South Canara farmers, while the rest of the sections feature a blend of a multitude of historical structures. Some of the noticeable houses include the Harihara Mandir, Kunjur Chowkimane, the Kamal Mahal, Mudhol Palace, Deccan Nawabi Palace, Mangalorean Christian House, Raja Ravi Varma Museum and the Museum of Thanjavoor Paintings.
Harihara Mandir: Built originally in 1216, this temple contains intricate designs that have remained undeciphered for about 800 years. Traditionally built to house Vishnu, Shiva and Parvati, this structure is a plethora of mysteries neatly structured and intertwined to form an architectural marvel.
Kunjur Chowkimane: A 200-year old courtyard house, this two-storey structure was characteristic of a Brahmin household in Kerala. Serving a scientific, as well as an aesthetic purpose, everything, from the kitchen and granaries to the positioning of the rooms, has been meticulously placed. Primarily housing a priest’s family, the house was built to support maximum interaction among the members and minimum privacy.
Kamal Mahal: Built in the Kakanoor district of Karnataka in 1341, Kamal Mahal was the private office of the military chief governor of the Vijayanagar kingdom. Adorned with Kalamkari textiles on the walls, the front of the Mahal consists of a darbar hall while the rear (the king’s office) showcases carved pillars constructed in steps.
Mudhol Palace: Built two centuries ago by the Maratha rulers of Ghorpade, the colours of the windows affect the general lighting inside the palace adding an aura of grandeur to the existing historical elements present. The grand false roof of this palace was transported all the way from Mudhol of Bagalkot to the village in a specially assembled truck.
Deccan Nawabi Palace: The Deccan Nawabi palace reflects the lifestyle of the Nawabs of the Barid Shahi dynasty in a village near Humnabad, in the early 19th century. Upon entering this Palace, you’ll notice that it has coloured Belgium glass windows, German tiled flooring, chandeliers from Austria, and empty jars of imported wine and ittar (perfume).
Mangalorean Christian House: A quintessential traditional Christian missionary’s house from Chikmagalur, it symbolises Christianity and Portuguese-influenced lifestyle. Bursting with fascinating objects, with carols softly playing in the background, this house displays items of typical interest of Mangalorean Christians of that period.
Raja Ravi Varma Archival Museum: This art museum is a homage to Raja Ravi Varma, a famous Indian Painter from Kerala. Acquired by the Trust from Malavli near Pune, hundreds of litho stones with impressions of Varma’s paintings have been displayed here. This museum also houses calendars and German printing machines along with packets of special colour ink powder made in Germany.
Museum of Thanjavur Paintings: The Thanjavur paintings belong to a unique school of paintings originating in the Thanjavur city in Tamil Nadu during the 18th century. The Museum of Thanjavur paintings houses about 18 glass paintings of the earlier Nayaka period and of post-Maratha period along with 150 works from the Thanjavur School of Maratha period.
What Does Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village Represent?
Literally translating to ‘creation by hand’, Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village resurrects age-old extraordinary craftsmanship and masonry that was once prevalent in south India. Conceptualising and executing a project on a large scale as this, is a task only for the ardent and the industrious. Hasta Shilpa Village in Manipal is living proof that passion and pain can drive anyone to achieve the impossible and to push the limits that they weren’t even aware of. Shenoy single-handedly created a legacy for architectural conservation. He strongly believed that whatever our ancestors bequeathed to us needs to be preserved to educate, inspire and motivate. The crisis lies in the fact that when a society loses its sense of identity, and a sense of pride, it is deprived of a sense of judgement of value and an anarchic trend will set in. The idea of building this heritage village was to save an era of rich craftsmanship from being forgotten and to make young people walk through the experience of a bygone era.
Why Should You Visit Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village?
A surviving testament to a different time, the Hasta Shilpa Village stands as a proud bastion built with the purpose of reminding us of what existed earlier. Declaring it as a protected monument, the State Directorate of Archaeology and Museums had started the restoration work. Discerning visitors such as students of architecture, designers, scholars, researchers, and conservationists are welcome to visit this heritage village. As responsible travellers, we should respect this place and preserve it with utmost sincerity.
With each passing day, Shenoy’s original mission of telling the story of our culture to the world successfully lives on. A visit to the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village proves to be a trip back in time; taking people to a different age, one of royal treasures.