Theme: Heritage Preservation and Rural Communities
By Ms. Madhura Sham Joshi
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Mumbai, India
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
M.A. in International Architectural Regeneration and Development, Oxford Brookes University (UK)
Article aims at highlighting a perspective of the rural vernacular architecture, rituals, cultural and natural heritage of Hodka village through reviewing the outcome of the rural community based tourism development project in “Rann of Kutch”.
Hodka village is Kutch area located in Gujarat state, India which is famous for ecological and cultural land-farms. The place is famously known as Rann of Kutch. Rann of Kutch is the largest wetland in the world with an abundance of nature, culture, food, architecture and craft (Verma et. al., 2019). The cultural, ecological and architectural diversity of the region has attracted tourists across the globe. The meaning of word “Kutch” in local language is wetland which merges with water during monsoon and becomes dry during the rest of the year (Wikipedia, n.d.).
The pastureland of Banni, located on the northern border of the Bhuj district, was once believed to be a part of the great Rann of Kachchh. The name “Banni” is derived from the Kachchhi word “Bannai” that literally means ‘make up’. Banni has been formed by the sedimentation of alluvial soil brought by the rivers flowing from the north during the monsoon floods, over centuries (Bhatt, 2015).
The Banni area is famous for livestock, flora fauna, birds,…etc. The main source of income is coming from the sale of milk products, wool, handicrafts. Banni has around 34 villages in the district with approximately 30,000 inhabitants. The small villages are called Jheels. Hodka is one of the villages of Rann of Kutch. The village was established 300 years ago ‘Halepotra clan’ (Bhatt, 2015).
Banni Grasslands Reserve or Banni grasslands form a belt of arid grassland ecosystem on the outer southern edge of the desert of the marshy salt flats of Rann of Kutch in Kutch District, Gujarat State, India. They are known for rich wildlife and biodiversity and are spread across an area of 3,847 square kilometers. They are currently legally protected under the status as a protected or reserve forest in India. (Wikipedia, n.d.)
Culture, Art, Food, Architecture of the Hodka Village Landscape:
Hodka village population is 2,131 inhabitants with 400 homes. The famous festival “Rann Utsav” takes place in Hodka village where villagers work in tourism and hospitality during this festival. This village has cluster of small six hamlets which is called “Jheels”. Hodka hamlets are made of small mud houses which are locally called “Bhungas” (Verma et. al., 2019).
The circular mud houses are made up of thatched roof, local mud, cow dung with local mirror art on wall to enhance the elevations. The use of bright color on building circular walls creates a vibrant atmosphere in the white desert of Rann of Kutch (Artisans in Architecture, n.d.).
The construction and architecture of Bhungas are built by locals and used by locals that it is climatically, culturally and environmentally contextual to its people and the region. Hodka represents the heart of Banni and showcases the art, architecture, culture and lifestyle of the region (Verma et. al., 2019).
The Hodka Jheel has six hamlets (also called “Vandhs”). The 234 families with a total population of 854 inhabitants live in these hamlets. The typical architecture of this region is represented by the local structures called “Bungas” where people live. These are circular mud structures with thatch roofs and to probably be the most appropriate for the harsh conditions that this region presents (Verma et. al., 2019).
The Banni land of Kutch area is famous pastureland with wide range of livestock, largest grassland in Asia which holds a major place in economic activities of the region. Hodka villages are best example of showcasing the art, architecture, culture, music, food through daily life which became major attraction point for the rural tourism in the region (Verma et. al., 2019).
The region is famous for artwork on leather, embroidery, wood work, and mud work on building. The use of vibrant colors are contrast to regions climate and surroundings. The main source of community initially was related to livestock, milk products, wool. With recent developments related growing tourism in the region, art, craft and handicraft that became economically a high significant tool. Embroidery work and handicraft is mainly transformed from generation to another. They are selling these artworks to the visitors during the festivals (Artisans in Architecture, n.d.).
The region and its culture have a strong presence of folk song and the traditional music that are played using the animals body parts-made traditional instruments. The traditional folk music is a part of Banni community tourism that the tourists enjoy this experience as a part of living heritage (Artisans in Architecture, n.d.).
The shape, design and concept of Bhunga houses are inspired from the surrounding regional landscape, climate and availability of building material. The aesthetics and architecture of Bhungas are developed by the community from the region’s inspiration. Banni land is a flat plain area with a silly clay soil, the region doesn’t have any stones or aggregates. Due to lesser options for building materials and climate, community use mud, locally available wood from regional trees and thatch as primary elements in the house (Artisans in Architecture, n.d.).
The mud plaster walls of Bhungas are called as “Lipan” walls and special group women are good at this construction skill. As a kind of earthen architecture or built vernacular architecture, the “Lipan” construction process keeps house cold during harsh days and warm during cold winter nights. The people makes niches in the internal walls for storage with glass artwork and paintings (Artisans in Architecture, n.d.).
There are manifestations of the vernacular building traditions exemplary of the socio-cultural and geo-climatic contexts of this region, thus in particular, contributing to the distinct identity of this area. The region’s famous art and craft has strongly represented in its settlements, landscape and clothing (Artisans in Architecture, n.d.).
Shaam-e-Sarhad project in Hodka:
For the development of rural tourism and to create economic opportunities through tourism in the region, Hodka village of Rann of Kutch has been categorized under the Endogenous Tourism Project (ETP). The project was a joint venture between the Ministry of Tourism and UNDP. Regarding to this project, they selected a rural site in Rann of Kutch area where they worked on the capacity building programs for the local community enhancing their rural infrastructure. ‘Endogenous or Trans-formative Tourism’ program aims at broadening the tourists/visitors knowledge, transform and strengthen an environment, culture, heritage with the participation of the local community and the visitors. The initiatives’ focus was given on community to own and manage the tourism that major stakeholders are women, youth and artisans. The outcome has this project, process is great learning for an alternate model for the development of rural tourism where rural products, food, crafts, and traditional rural offerings has been used to strengthen the heritage based rural activities and tourism for income generation (Bhatt, 2015).
In 2004, Hodka village was shortlisted for the rural development tourism that was categorized under ETP and the Ministry of tourism for the community-managed tourism initiative. The location was selected to restore and protect the declining environment, culture, animals and folk music. Under the first initiative, community build with the support of local NGOs and government, Shaam-E-Sarhad resort for tourists. In this resort, they initially started with building rooms like Bhungas and few tents with experience of local cuisine, folk music performances, art and craft, Rann Utsav, desert safari. In this resort, local community built the rooms using the local traditional construction techniques, and did local artwork and paintings on walls. The redoing of mud plaster every year by community changed design and aesthetics of resort every year and gave opportunity to local artists for new creative displays (Verma et. al., 2019).
The ETP, local NGO and organisation conducted capacity building workshops for local community for hospitality, training management, finance, sanitation and hygiene in order to sustain this rural community based tourism model. Local rural resorts are located in Hodka village, with the planning in such a way that tourists will get to experience the local culture and explore village lifestyle. The Shaam-e-sarhad resort design and planning is similar to traditional Hodka village settlement and to give experience of staying in one of Bhungas settlements. The resort has traditional Bhunga rooms and some tents planned in cluster format with the common sitout space to create a village essence, open and semi open space for cultural activities and performances (Verma et. al., 2019).
Learning from Hodka Village Study: Use of Rural Food, Art, Culture as a Tool to Strengthen the Heritage-based Rural Activities
Rural landscapes and all the tangible and intangible heritage of rural areas are vital to the humanity heritage. They are living, and continuing with the dynamic, cultural, social, environmental, and economic systems that were extended across the lands and waters of our planet. While they are continuing, they are also adaptive and reflect the (often) thousands of years of the human interaction with a nature. As such, there are critical repositories of traditional and indigenous knowledge, essential in an era of climate change. Rural heritage encompasses a broad diversity of places, practices and traditions, with a focus on food and fiber production, conservation and stewardship of natural and cultural heritage and habitats, and economic and livelihood well-being inclusive of rural heritage tourism (ICOMOS, n.d.).
Rural heritage encompasses a broad diversity of places, practices and traditions, with a focus on food and fiber production, conservation and stewardship of natural and cultural heritage and habitats, and economic and livelihood well-being inclusive of rural heritage tourism. Rural heritage includes associated cultural knowledge, traditions, practices, skills, science, oral memory, expressions of local identity and belonging, and the cultural values and meanings attributed to rural heritage assets of all types by past and contemporary individuals and communities (Verma et. al., 2019).
The creation of alternate economy gives some funds for livestock related activities, art and craft, and daily rural activities in the region. The community started conserving the grassland for animals grazing and set up an organizes milk market for the region. The integration of rural heritage, food, crafts, art, daily activities in tourism based initiative has empowered the community and preserved the culture. This has promoted and given opportunity to the local community for the management of regional natural resources and environment. The well planned projects of promotion of cultural heritage benefited the local community without disturbing the rural activities, traditions, culture and environment (Verma et. al., 2019).
This rural development initiative has focused on the process to improve quality of life with the help of local community with effective inclusive involvement, capacity building program and safeguarding cultural heritage. In this project the recognition and inclusion in the development of communities dependency on the crucial industry, activity, or products, goods was more important (Verma et. al., 2019).
Community based tourism facilitates the tourists to discover local habitats and natural world, and also provide them a chance to celebrate and respect traditional cultures, rituals and insights of the community. These activities enables community gets aware of the social and commercial value placed on their natural and cultural heritage through tourism (HISTSCAPE, 2014).
This also promotes community based conservation of these resources to a certain extent. Today, Shaam-e-sarhad has successfully running the community-based tourism model for more than 12 years. In this resort, the visitors are getting to test the local cuisine, explore vernacular and eco-sites, purchase and promote local art or craft, and stay in vernacular mud houses, experience everyday rural life. The initiative has created a larger impact on the local community to strengthen the heritage based rural activities through heritage preservation with the involvement of rural communities. The rural community and cultural heritage preservation in the Hodka village has brought a sense of ownership in larger community. The tourism creation indirectly enhanced protecting the Banni grasslands and indigenous cattle breeds with ecological stability in the region.
- Recognition of communities everyday rural lifestyle tools, activities, dependencies for economic opportunities or survival.
- Creation of connection with government, local community stakeholders, NGO’s and experts.
- Identification of communities assets, tools to strengthen the rural activities, protect culture and environment.
- Focus on sustainable and high quality rural community based tourism development with local community as major stakeholders and service providers.
- Preservation of culture, food, architecture and ecology through development program.
- Project creation to link farmers, rural products and markets
- Creation of events throughout the year to promote platform for folk music and dance, art and craft, local cuisine.
- Verma, P., Bhardwaj, Sh., Sisode, Bh. & Chauhan, K. A., (2019) ‘Tourism and Culture: Pioneers of Development Local Rural Resort, Hodka Village (Bhuj)’ Global Research and Development Journal for Engineering. Emerging Research and Innovations in Civil Engineering (ERICE – 2019).
- (Wikipedia, n.d.) Kutch District Information; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kutch_district
- Bhatt, S. (2015), Shaam-e-Sarhad, a Community-based Tourism Initiative, Hodka. Kalpavriksh, Pune, India www.vikalpsangam.org/static/media/uploads/Vikalp%20Sangam%20Case%20Studies/casestudy_shaamesarhad_seema.pdf
- (Wikipedia, n.d.) Banni Grasslands Reserve https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banni_Grasslands_Reserve
- (Artisans in Architecture, n.d.) Traditional Circular House-form (Bhunga) in Kutch, Gujarat http://aina.wikidot.com/documentation:traditional-circular-house-form-bhunga-in-kutc
- (ICOMOS, n.d.). ICOMOS Rural heritage landscapes and beyond, April 2019; ADCOM 2019 Scientific Symposium Call for proposals (ENv3)
- (HISTSCAPE, 2014) HISTCAPE: Historic Assets and Related Landscapes, 2014. Cultural heritage, landscape and rural development: Project Results, Lessons Learned and General Guidance. Tecnalia Research & Innovation: EU. https://histcape.eu/sites/histcape.drupal.pulsartecnalia.com/files/documents/BROCHURE%20HITSCAPE.pdf