Deborah Thiagarajan, a native of Philadelphia had a dream that had been brewing in her mind for many years. In the early 90’s with the help of her husband Raj Thiagarajan, she raised a substantial amount of funds towards realizing this dream. As India grew rapidly post-independence, the agenda of development was at its peak, but there was a flip side to such an accelerated rate of growth that brought a surge of aspirations in middle and lower middle class India.
The impact of this urbanization and capitalism translated physically in many traditional houses being demolished, in order to be rebuilt as new houses, apartments or townships. What was borne out of this time of heritage distress was DakshinaChitra.
DakshinaChitra literally translates to “a picture of the South”. This unique, open-air heritage museum is located between the 7th century port city, of the then mighty Pallava dynasty, and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mammallapuram and the metropolis of Chennai, state capital of Tamil Nadu.
Deborah Thiagarajan’s vision was to protect these homes for posterity and give these homes a permanent place for future citizens of the world. This monumental feat was made possible by dismantling each home under the guidance of architects, and reassembling these piece by piece in their original form at their new location at DakshinaChitra.
Today, DakshinaChitra has 18 houses from the four southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh; each representing the lifestyles of each ethnic community. Each house is adorned with artifacts, common only to homes from that particular region; from their cooking utensils, furniture, paintings and lamps, just to name a few. Many of the houses also have activities that are unique to each community, such as basket weaving or shadow puppetry. These activities help bring these homes to life and gives visitors an idea of the richness of Indian society and lifestyles in pockets in the rural areas of southern India.
DakshinaChitra today is not merely a heritage museum, but is also a popular venue for weddings, craft bazaars, performances, seminars and lecture series. DakshinChitra also collaborates with The Madras Craft Foundation in its educational endeavors to produce the Arts Management Program that is now a two-year intensive paid internship, which imparts training to students in art history, temple architecture, curation, design, management and marketing – a program that is one of its kind in the subcontinent.
DakshinaChitra is a non-profit organization, which opened its doors in 1996, and has survived all these years through money earned from modestly priced tickets, generous donors and grants. This respected institution is always looking for well-wishers and donors to support their programs and their fundraising continually strives to bring more homes that are in danger of being restyled, to DakshinaChitra.
For those interested in donating or visiting DakshinaChitra please visit – http://dakshinachitra.net
Inside the Syrian Christian house at DakshinaChitra from Kerala. Image from http://dakshinachitra.net/syrian_christian_house
Inside K.A.Mohamed Ismail, Chikmagalur house from Karnataka. Image from http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/bringing-it-all-back-home/article6769063.ece
A house from Chettinad, Tamil Nadu at DakshinaChitra. Image from http://sam.aminus3.com/image/2011-05-20.html
About the Author-
Shreya Singh is a Fulbright-Nehru Masters from scholar from India currently pursuing her degree in Arts Management from Columbia College Chicago. She has a background in classical dance and as an art and cultural development consultant in South India. Shreya is a product of the Arts Management program at DakshinaChitra and is an active member at Eye on India Chicago.