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From Mundane to Magical in Three Simple Words…..

India, where one must always expect the unexpected. A fact I remind myself of daily but one which she reminds me of hourly. I was traveling recently in Gujarat and was told that our next stop would be a museum. I have experienced countless museums in India. Many, even in mainstream destinations, are pretty woeful, never mind ones in the middle of nowhere, which it felt like we were. I therefore groaned inwardly, donned my polite face, feigned a level of interest that I was sure would convince nobody and smiled in agreement. Half an hour later, having passed extraordinarily beautiful villages that I would much rather have visited, I clambered out of the car making a mental note to self, add, ‘Museums should be avoided,’ to my mantra, ‘Monuments Create the Backdrop, People Create the Experiences.’

For those of us who went to school and sat diligently through years of the tedium and boredom of being talked at, made to recite Latin by rote and had tomes of History thrust into our school bags for reading at our leisure, and regurgitating it into the written word, the thought of more dusty history is hardly appealing. Add to this school trips to museums that in memory were dingy buildings housing dusty artefacts, a memory reinforced by many years of similar experiences in India  and the word ‘museum’ can rarely bring about even a glimmer of excitement.

But, hold on a moment. What if your history and culture was captured, not in hefty, dusty, dull volumes but in the magic of music and poems and epics recited through the night, song and dance, percussion, textiles, designs and paintings? Wouldn’t that be so much more interesting? What a colourful, vibrant and extraordinary way that would be to demonstrate and preserve a culture.

The simple fact of the matter is, that this is how the illiterate adivasi people of the Indian subcontinent always preserved their culture and passed it down from generation to generation. I struggled to write the word, ‘illiterate,’ in the previous sentence. Even my limited experience has taught me that though these people may not be able to read and write, the knowledge that they hold about the land, their mythology, their capacity for memory and survival from the land itself, the medicinal qualities of the plants, their skills in arts and crafts surely are as valuable as being able to read and write?

As the world careers towards modernisation, many of these skills and crafts and values are being lost and overlooked for the desire for all things modern, western clothing, smart phones, technology. The value in the ancient knowledge of the land and the medicinal qualities of the plants which surround us and in ancient skills is disregarded and the ability to listen to the land and the people who understand it, has all but being lost in the sprint towards the digital and modern world.

{As a quick interjection, for those who may not know, Adivasi is the collective term for tribes of the Indian Subcontinent, who are considered indigenous to places within India wherein they live, either as foragers or as tribalistic sedentary communities.}

As we entered the building there was a sign, a sign comprising of just three words which stopped me in my tracks and brought a lump to my throat. It was the simplicity and beauty of this one simple phrase that literally took my breath away. These words?

Museum of Voice.

How much is encapsulated in those three simple words? Think about it. It is not simply noting and recording for posterity, it is also giving people a voice, and how wonderful is that?

 

Yes, this museum, The Museum of Bhasha, the one I had politely agreed to visit but had not researched for a moment, are recording and noting and yes, writing down these ancient languages (there’s some irony in that), this ancient knowledge and these extraordinary skills in a digital format before they are lost forever.

However, it is so much more than a museum. It is so much more than a cataloguing a collection of languages. It is preserving the culture, expertise, skills and talents of these tribes and thus recording their history for posterity. It is also valuing them, and teaching them the value in what they have and thus, maybe in a small way, giving these people pride in their heritage and the opportunity to preserve it for future generations. It is giving a voice to these often-overlooked people who are invaluable to the country, if only they and we could see it.

I’ve spent a short amount of time with people from the Baiga, Gond and Raika ethnic groups and even in such a short time, have learnt a little about their culture, knowledge and skillset and in a very small way, have come to appreciate their world.

Imagine, in today’s world of social media sniping, snarling and instant opinions, to go back to  such a beautiful way of communicating a culture, stories through textures and colours, the nuance of music and dance all intricately interwoven to make up the backbones of a community. There is true beauty in that.

As they themselves say:

The term ‘bhasha’ means in most Indian languages, ‘language’, ‘speech’, ‘definition’ or ‘voice’.

The main areas of interest for Bhasha have been language, arts, culture, education and social harmony.

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The museum is a part of the Adviasi Academy which, and I quote from their own site:

‘The Adivasi Academy is established to create a unique educational environment for the study of tribal communities. The Academy is aimed to become an institute for the study of tribal history, folklore, cultural geography, social dynamics, economy, development studies, medicine, music, arts and theatre. With its multidisciplinary approach and related interventional measures, the Academy is striving to create a new approach of academic activism.’

It is a place I wish I could have spent much more time at and it is a must visit for anyone with an interest in language, art, textiles, music and more…….

For more information:

https://www.bhasharesearch.org/vacha.html

Thank you to Nyati and Aditya from Soar Excursions for taking me!

 

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