Art Mela for Children – A Step into the Local History

How will our children know who they are if they don’t know where they came from?

A fundamental problem I often find in history curriculum across India is the lack of emphasis on local history. Students across middle schools learn history of India from Indus Valley to the freedom movement. In many boards students also learn episodes of world history that had transformed the world from time to time. But these learning hardly provide any scope to discover their own roots, the history of the places they are being brought up. Thanks to the recent craze in urban heritage, progressive schools in some of India’s prosperous cities have started experimentation on local history education, but what about India’s innumerable number of small towns and villages. So for students, especially the ones who don’t have much exposure to the intellectual world, learning of history becomes meaningless and unconnected.

In order to break this convention, recently we had conducted an art mela at Munsar Talav in Viramgam.

Munsar Talav is a 12th century artificial lake built by Queen Minal Devi of Solanki dynasty. The lake is surrounded by a large number of miniature temples, mostly dedicated to Lord Shiva. However, like most of India’s lesser known heritage sites, Munsar Talav is in a pathetic condition. The local communities have very little knowledge about its historical importance. The ignorance has been mostly responsible for the present condition.

I have been visiting Munsar Talav for last six months. Initially I did not know anyone, but over a period of time I have been able to unite interesting people and institutions of Viramgam and create a space for dialogues on its revival involving the local communities. The teacher fraternity of Rachana School in Ahmedabad and Class 8 students have also become part of this space.

Before involving the communities, it was important to create awareness about its historical importance among the local school children. If I speak about its historical importance to children in a conventional way it would make less appealing. They need to be engaged with the heritage site through certain hands on activities. The first activity we decided was the art mela. With the help of the local civic body, Satyam News, a local television news channel, and the local town club, we sent circulars to all the schools for the art mela. About 700 children from 12 local schools turned up for the mela. The CSR division of Cairn India Ltd, which has a plant at Viramgam, supported us financially.

Part of the lake became a sight to be seen buzzing with artistic activities by the young hands. There were two groups – classes 3 to 5 and classes 6 to 8. The topic was Munsar Talav and their vision for it.

Children generated a range of ideas on cleanliness of the heritage site. The younger ones tried to depict what they saw around, such as throwing garbage into the water body, bathing buffalos, etc. Keeping and using dustbins all around the lake was an interesting idea to be seen generated by most of the kids. The senior group children also added trees and other infrastructural features in their creations. Some also added parks with playing facilities near the lake, an idea often missed by the heritage conservationists.

The art mela was the first major event in the heritage revival project. In the near future we are organizing a play to create awareness among the local citizens on the history of the region. I strongly believe that through these engagements we will be able to create interest among the native citizens on local history.

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