On February 3, the Mukteswar temple in Bhubaneswar opened its doors to a group of visually impaired students who got a rare chance to explore and experience the architectural grandeur of the erstwhile Kalinga empire.
“I had read about the Mukteswar temple when I was a high school student, but as a part of this heritage walk, I got to experience its art, architecture and cultural history,” said Sipu Nayak, one of the students after the walk.
This walk was the idea of Nituranjan Dash, who is the general secretary of the Centre for Youth and Social Welfare (CYSW) in Odisha, and the part of a greater initiative titled India Heritage Walk Festival.
The festival, a collaboration between Sahapedia and YES Arts & Culture, has been dedicatedly working to ensure that India’s cultural legacy becomes more popular and accessible.
The students, who had come from different parts of Odisha were supplied with braille books containing tactile images as well as information on history and architecture of the 10th-century temple. Jitu Mishra, a renowned archaeologist, provided valuable insights to them.
In an interview with The Better India, Nituranjan spoke about about how his brainchild became a tangible reality.
“Museums and heritage sites are a reflection of our society and culture, and their vast collection of artefacts are a storehouse of memories. Many of us take them for granted, but it was during my research on disability rights in Odisha, that I began to wonder if all museums and heritage places could become more accessible for people with special needs,” says Nituranjan.
He was also inspired by Siddhant Shah, a heritage architect and access consultant with UNESCO who specialises in bridging the gap between cultural heritage and disability. In fact, Shah’s organisation, Access for All, has been working towards making Indian heritage sites disable friendly.
“India is taking exemplary initiatives to propel the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) agenda forward, but we cannot achieve them without also becoming more inclusive. We are in the 21st century, and with the revolutionary innovations that keep emerging in the tech and creative arts sector, it should not be very difficult for vulnerable groups to gain access to our rich cultural heritage and introduce them to a whole new world,” states Niturajan.
Niturajan and his team have several plans in the pipeline to further their goal.
To begin with, he mentions how most museums across the world constrict their artefacts and monuments either in a big, glass box or with the tag line ‘Do not touch,’ but he wants to change this practice, and include the ‘Touch me once’ concept.
Nituranjan put this idea into practice during the walk in the Mukteswar Temple by getting students to ‘touch’ the artefacts on the walls of the monument so that they could visualise its many marvels.
“Through touch, visually challenged students can understand and experience the surroundings in a better manner,” he says.
The CYSW also plans to organise these walks across important heritage sites in Odisha, open an exclusive gallery for visually impaired students, and create more employment options for them.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)