Heritage enthusiasts celebrate history and heritage via virtual platforms

As we approach World Heritage Day on April 18, local communities curate online conversations to connect and celebrate Indian heritage and culture despite the pandemic

This is the year of the Heritage Olympiad. Start-ups which seem to have hit upon an interesting blend of commerce and culture to connect with audiences despite the ongoing pandemic and its many challenges, are now creating apps that promote virtual tours of places and museums.

At Culture, a heritage and culture start-up co-founded by Anjchita B Nair, a Heritage Olympiad, an online quiz with questions based on Indian heritage and culture, perhaps the first of its kind in India, is being planned on April 18 to coincide with World Heritage Day.

“We felt that there was scope for a for-profit heritage-based app and that is how we began in 2019. But then came the pandemic and all plans came to nothing. Then we wondered how we could engage online with people and that is how we came up with the idea of an online Olympiad. We cover tangible and intangible heritage and natural heritage. Each participant has to pay a registration fee to participate in the quiz. The aim is to make heritage education in school more inclusive, interactive and accessible. We hope to take this forward by designing app-based interactive programmes based on our history and culture,” explains Anjchita, an architect. As of now, 2,000 individuals have registered.

Heritage quiz

  • The Heritage Olympiad is for four categories of participants: classes V to VIII, IX to X, Plus Two, and the last is open to all. “As knowledge partners, institutional partners or as outreach partners, the Olympiad is supported by UNESCO, Amar Chitra Katha, National Rail Museum, Sahapedia, Madras Inherited, Nehru Planetarium and so on,” adds Anjchitha. Contact: 8376826390

This fits in with what heritage enthusiasts all across the country are trying to do — make residents aware of local history and heritage.

Over the past year, online alternatives like virtual tours and Zoom conversations have cropped up, owing to the pandemic. Heritage Walk Trivandrum, founded by archaeologist Elizabeth Thomas Tharakan, has conducted two sessions on Zoom. While one was on the Anglo-Indian community in the city and their legacy, the other was on articles of antique value that individuals had in their possession. But Elizabeth says she prefers live sessions to virtual ones as the participants get a feel of the place and the intangible heritage that is part of the city.

A trip to the former resident of Regent Queen Sethu Lakshmi Bayi of erstwhile Travancore. It is now the premises of the College of Agriculture, Vellayani | Photo Credit: Ajith Suseelan

The Intach chapter of Palakkad also conducted virtual sessions on various facets such as food, arts and literature of the district. Recently, they came out with an online cultural manifesto 2021, which compiles the different ways the natural, artistic and intangible heritage of Palakkad could be promoted and kept alive.

Last year, heritage enthusiast Kombai Anwar had his annual Ramzan heritage walk in Chennai but it was conducted virtually, keeping in mind lockdown curbs. More than seventy people attended, including participants from the US and South East Asia. “Although I would have liked to have a live walk this year, the situation does not seem to be conducive for that. So, most likely, we might go in for a virtual tour around April 28. It opens up several possibilities and since the walk is popular, we are planning to do it a little differently this year by highlighting the diverse ways in which Muslim communities break the fast during Ramzan. Last year we had done on the historical places in Chennai and talked about the history of the Muslim community in Chennai, especially the Bohra community, We covered some historic places in Triplicane, all online,” he explains.

Food heritage walk arranged by K.H.A.K.I. Tours in Mumbai  | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

On April 18, Keep the Heritage Alive and Kicking in India Tours (K.H.A.K.I. Tours) is conducting a paid virtual tour of the historic Hutatma Chowk. “Church Gate is an iconic crossroad in Mumbai. Flora Fountain and the Hutatma Smarak, two important monuments at the place, are intimately connected with the city’s history. These monuments have witnessed events that shaped this city and the country,” says Bharat.

In Kolkata, Immersive Trails, a for-profit company begun by archaeologist Tathagata Neogi and his wife, Chelsea Neogi, an anthropologist, have also gone online. “We always wanted to have online discussions and virtual tours of the city. The pandemic expedited the process and we now have regular themed virtual tours,” he says.

Murder and Mayhem, a walk conducted by Immersive Trails in Kolkata explore the famous crime scenes in the city | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Immersive Trails have walks themed World War II, the Renaissance movement and the history of Bengal etc. Tathagata is planning one on the film movement in Kolkata with a virtual tour of single screen theatres in the city.

Participants from 130 countries logged in to attend the virtual programmes Tathagata had conducted. “So the virtual tours have only helped us. Even post the pandemic, we plan to continue with our virtual expeditions and talks. In fact, this component is going to be a permanent part of tours as participation can be location agnostic,” he says.

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