Architect Inesh V. Achary has been on a decade-long mission to publicise heritage sites which have fallen off the map. A recent exhibition at Kochi highlights this aspect
By Shevlin Sebastian
A few years ago, Kochi-based architect Inesh V. Achary reached Bundi village in Rajasthan at 11 p.m. The village was dark and deserted. There were no guest-houses. Inesh found his way to the local Devi temple. “I was loaded with photographic equipment, worth Rs 1.5 lakh, and had quite a bit of money on me,” he says.
Suddenly, a person appeared from the darkness. “Mahesh took me to his home,” says Inesh. The next day, Mahesh showed Inesh all the sights in the village, including a 14th century fort, which, astonishingly, had vertical plumbing.
It was then that the other villagers came up and whispered to Inesh that Mahesh was the local thief. “They told me to stay away from him,” says Inesh. “But for three days Mahesh took good care of me. His wife made all the meals for me.” At the end of the trip when Inesh was leaving, he offered money, but Mahesh refused to take it.
Inesh has been on a decade-long mission to highlight places of heritage that have fallen off the map. “When I went to many places, it was painful to see that most of these beautiful monuments remained ignored and uncared for,” he says. “That was when I decided to do something.”
So, once a year, he takes a month off and has gone to places like Nepal, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttaranchal, Maharashtra and Kerala. “I use paintings, photos and videos to document the sites that I visit,” he says.
Inesh has a fixed modus operandi. “When I approach a site, I sit down and do a painting on the spot,” he says. “This will take between one and six hours. After a while, the local people will gather around me. Later, they will invite me to their houses. And I begin my explorations of the place with the help of the inhabitants. Indians are kind and hospitable by nature.”
In Nepal, the only Hindu kingdom in the world, he documented the Pashupathinath temple. “It is one of the largest and most sacred Shiva temples in the world,” he says. “There are 1000 lingams and 492 small temples.”
He also went to the Bhaktapur Village. The 800-year-old village was once the capital of Nepal, during the rule of the Mallas, between the 12th and the 16th century. “When the capital was shifted to Kathmandu, Bhaktapur fell into decline,” says Inesh. An earthquake in 1934 inflicted further damage. But the Bhaktapur Development project, funded by Germany as well as Nepal, has restored many of the buildings.
Another old village is Khudi, near Jaisalmer, which is 600 years old. “It has a remarkable mud architecture,” says Inesh. “Over the centuries, the village was hit by four earthquakes, but there was no damage to any of the houses. This is something worth emulating.”
Other impressive monuments included the Sun Temple at Modhera, Gujarat, which was built by King Bhimdev of the Solanki dynasty in 1026 AD, an open-air auditorium of the Harappan civilisation, Rudabai Stepwell and the Dwaraka Temple.
Asked about the attitude of the local people to the heritage sites in their midst, Inesh says, “It varies from place to place. Some have pride because, usually, it is their ancestors who have built the statues, or etched the stone carvings. The Sun Temple has been preserved and is doing well. But in other places, especially in Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal, the local people have allowed the monuments to get spoiled. Even the governments have shown no interest.”
In order to generate interest, Inesh held an exhibition of his paintings and photos, called 'Heritage India', at the Durbar Hall of the Lalitkala Academy in Kochi. He also screened the travel videos he had taken over the years. “I will be taking this exhibition to different parts of India, like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Nepal, so that the people can appreciate their own culture and also enjoy what is there in the other states,” he says.
Inesh has also set up the India International Heritage Research Academy. “The first aim is to uplift skilled artisans and preserve heritage sites in Kerala,” he says. “Even in God's Own Country many sites have fallen into a state of disrepair. We need to restore and renew our cultural heritage. Otherwise, it will be lost forever.”
(The New Indian Express, Sunday Magazine, South India and New Delhi)