An open online resource founded in 2011, Sahapedia is a mine of visual and archival content on the arts, culture and heritage of India. Over the years, it has crowd-sourced and curated material, and conducted cultural mapping of regions. The first batch of Sahapedia-UNESCO Fellowship ended last week, where over 100 doctoral scholars and graduates were involved in primary documentation and content curation. Excerpts from an interview with Sudha Gopalakrishnan, Executive Director, and S Ramadorai, President, Sahapedia’s Governing Body:
How has the marriage of arts, culture and heritage with the digital space helped?
S Ramadorai (SR): We’re telling stories in a new medium through interviews with living authorities. I may tell the story but there may some more facets to it, so others can add, hence, it is continuously growing.
Sudha Gopalakrishnan (SG): Digital medium gives the power to walk through a monument on the screen. People may know about the Brihadeeshwara temple complex in Thanjavur but how many have gone and experienced it? With Sahapedia, they can walk through the temple, see the sculptures, understand the cuisine, and watch interviews with archaeologists and historians. It comes alive this way.
You’ve worked with the private sector (Tata Consultancy Services) and also the government (Adviser to the PM in the National Council on Skill Development), do you think the public-private partnership in maintaining the monuments is a good idea?
SR: I think it is a phenomenal idea. The Tata group funded the restoration of the Bombay University Library (Rajabhai Clock Tower and Library), Durbar Hall of the Asiatic Library, restored heritage properties to its glory, and gave it back to the city. In the case of Red Fort, they are not buying the property and ripping it apart. The restoration is with the government, maintenance can be given to corporates so that it can attract tourists.
Restoration of tangible heritage has the eye of authorities and people, do you think intangible heritage gets as much attention?
SG: I don’t think we should look at it as tangible and intangible culture. The term ‘intangible’ has recently come into use, but I would like to call it lived culture. A monument was a lived place, with its customs and social life, and these are components of a unified culture.
Are you satisfied with the government’s approach toward preservation of culture?
SG: The government has public reach, but there is no openness in their institutions. They have amassed so much of information, but if you go and ask for it, it’s governed by copyright and access is restricted. That is why we’re an open platform.
How have your projects made an impact?
SR: It brings value to the identity of an artist living in a remote region. If someone wants to research, they can have first-hand material here.
What are your plans?
SR: In the future, we want to go into more unchartered territories, for instance, much more intensively to the Northeast, and map the culture in Chhattisgarh.