Heritage India, a Pune-based organisation that has held public events about Indian history, art, scripts and natural heritage for the past 12 years, is holding a series of talks on Jain and Zoroastrian literature starting from August 26. Manjiri Khandekar, Heritage India’s managing director, speaks about how many people don’t know much about Indian literature beyond the epics, despite 3,500 years of recorded history, and why talks in Pune will focus on the country’s ancient writings. Excerpts from the conversation:
How have Zoroastrian, Jain and Buddhist literature evolved in India and impacted its history?
I will prefer to let our experts, who are conducting the talks, speak about this. According to Dr Nalini Joshi, Jain literature comprises not just Jain philosophy and religious scriptures but as much about knowledge of art, history, poetry, geography, astronomy, astrology and mathematics. One of the most important aspects of Jain literature, which is not really known, is that it has influenced our colloquial and vernacular languages to a great extent.
About Buddhist literature, Dr Mahesh Deokar says it has a history of 2,600 years. It has no boundaries of language, script and region. The importance of this literature can be judged from its multifarious application in different fields of life, and history is just one of them. Buddhist history gives us important clues to understand the history of our country related to Shramanik culture and political, social and economic institutions, which supported it. It also tells us about the religious and intellectual life of India and other countries where Buddhism spread. Shramanik literature, together with its Brahmanik counterpart, alone can provide us a more complete and realistic picture of Indian history.
Dr Jal Murzban, who will conduct the session on Zoroastrian literature, said when he was writing on Zoroastrianism more than a decade and half ago, he met young Iranians in India and learnt from them what “heritage” truly means. By “heritage”, one means not some abstract texts written centuries ago. Instead one means what German phenomenologist Edmund Husserl called “life-world” (Lebenswelt). He said, ‘It was with my encounters with young Iranians in Pune that I learnt truly what Indian heritage means. A second encounter with “heritage” was not in museums or libraries, but in the streets of Pune where one learns that India and Indian hearts are much bigger than what we thought. I consequently learnt that, by the word “Parsi”, one means something much more than what conventional wisdom teaches us’.
The best of heritage and history is, often, in our own backyards. How does Heritage India explore the heritage in and around Pune?
We conduct customised heritage walks twice a month. We conduct workshops on topics such as rock-cut caves of Maharashtra, Brahmi script and temple architecture. We also conduct heritage tours across India and all our tours are in the company of scholars who have specialised in that particular field. In April, we started a heritage club called HIKE under which we conduct two site visits across Pune per month. At the end of one year, our members will have visited and learnt about 24 different heritage places in Pune.
This Independence Day, the Prime Minister talked about how it is the duty of every Indian to know his or her roots before stepping out into the world. We have been doing exactly that for 12 years — educating Indians about India.
How did Heritage India start and what was its aim?
Heritage India Communications Pvt Ltd is a social enterprise with a difference. The aim of the organisation is to inform and educate and thus nurture pride in our national identity.The company was set up in 2007. We have published two quarterly magazines — Heritage India and Maharashtra Unlimited. We have also brought out four coffee table books with two more on the anvil; conducted training workshops for teachers of history and social Sciences, among others, as well as held quiz programmes and excursions for school children. Heritage Tours across the country in the company of experts is another of our specialised fields of activity.
We are also working on creating unique experiences to teach history to children through interactive trips to heritage sites. The company has a threefold vision – Make all fellow Indians aware of our rich heritage and motivate them to become guardians of the same; give authentic information about this ancient land to all outsiders who are interested; and, carry forward our legacy to future generations.
What motivated you to start an organisation based on history and heritage?
I am a teacher by profession who had a dream, and when the time came, I took a leap of faith. As the legend goes, “caravan badhta gaya”. I gained the patronage of many scholars and support from residents of India and reader abroad. It has been a fulfilling journey…
What are the challenges of trying to revive interest in Indian heritage?
The biggest challenge is to bring people out of their comfort zones and luxury holidays to a perspective of knowledge, thinking and learning. People don’t realise the value of our heritage and so they don’t understand the need to know about it. They don’t understand that just as a large tree soaring into the skies can do so only if its roots are well nourished and nurtured, so also our country can only truly flourish when we start looking inwards and caring for our heritage. Our roots make us what we are.
What does the calendar for the rest of the year look like?
We will continue with our ancient literature series. For September we have the Sangam literature, which is one of the oldest in the country. And in October we will be looking at the Arthashastra, Natyashastra and Yogashastra. This series will continue till March with a glimpse into some fascinating ancient Indian literature every month. We will also continue with our walks and site visits. We have a trip to Cambodia in November and much more on the anvil for 2020.
We are working on some interesting projects that we will talk about once they take a more concrete shape and we hope that more people board the Heritage India knowledge wagon and join us on this journey.
The talks will be held at Firodia Hostel, BMCC Road, on August 26, 27 and 29, 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm.