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The Interplay of Indian Heritage and Community Identity: A Focus on Indian Traditional Art

Indian Heritage

In recent years, the way we see our Indian heritage has changed in many ways. We are talking more about its conversation and how we as a society can protect it from deterioration. But before we dive into what causes it harm and how we can conserve it, let’s understand why this heritage is so important in the first place. Is it just because it is a remnant of the past, in which we can store history textbooks and put them on shelves, or is there something more to it? 

Importance of Heritage for Indian Identity

Indian Heritage
Jivya Soma Mhase (Source: Vartha Bharathi)

Every monument, every painting, and every statue made centuries before has a story to tell. Stories that every person intrigued by that site of heritage have known and shared. These stories make up the collective imagination and thoughts of people who lived decades and centuries before us. We relate to them and understand their humane aspect, yet their distant nature fascinates us. They give us lessons and sometimes even pose us with insightful questions. Because of them, we learn to look at the world around us in terms of continuity.

The heritage sites and artefacts existed much before we did. They transcend our mortal lives, watching one generation pass to another, adding a sense of stability with time and identity. Heritage is connected to our imagined past, which we see, hear, and sense its forms and colours, enchanted by its glamorous beauty. Therefore, the psychological and cultural role Indian heritage plays in our society is immense. 

Also: Kurumba Painting- A Celebration Of Creativity, Community, And Culture

Indian Traditional Art as Heritage

Indian Heritage
Indigenous artworks (Source- Borgen Project)

Similarly, stories embedded in Indian traditional art inform our collective memory, how we as a society remember our past, or how we pick what is worth taking forward that involves a degree of choice in remembrance and interpretation. With this choice, we make our cultural self, how we see ourselves as a part of a community, nation, or even our shared humanity. Having said that, we can not see works of traditional art merely as beautiful objects. They, in their material form, encompass significant events, along with narratives they convey and stories they tell, and this is how we as a society continue to engage with our heritage. 

Heritage is about processes, relationships, values, and the meanings communities attach to their surroundings. Therefore, when we talk about preserving Indian traditional art, it must go beyond merely promoting artworks. Real preservation is about safeguarding the cultural memory and meaning-making processes embedded within each art form. In this way, traditional art will strengthen community identity while encouraging its unique cultural expression. This cultural expression should help us explore art forms’ cultural and historical evolution and learn how artists engage with their inherited craft. 

Though archaeology tends to focus on the antique aspect of historic and archaeological materials, we can not confine heritage to the past alone. Heritage accumulates over time, engages with various generations, and continues to evolve in the present. It paints an intimate connection with social, economic, political, and daily aspects of people’s lives, serving as a living aspect of shared history and values that sometimes make them a site of contention. Therefore, when engaging with heritage, whether it’s a monument, museum, or art gallery, it’s crucial to consider the role it plays in shaping cultural relationships in the present.

Heritage Destruction and Transformation 

Artworks created by “non-Aryan” were considered “degenerate art” by the Nazis and were purged from German museums. (Source: asomf.org)

Since we have understood how important our heritage is for our societal fabric, it would be a little surprising to see heritage sites, like monuments, cultural centres, museums, libraries, and art galleries being attacked during wars, ethnic tensions, and violent eruptions. Such erasure of material culture is weaponised to subjugate individuals and maintain power structures, which we saw during World War II when Nazis systematically targeted art galleries with explosives. Therefore, when engaging with heritage, whether it’s a monument, museum, or art gallery, it’s crucial to consider the role it plays in shaping cultural relationships in the present. 

In times of violence, tension, and undemocratic regimes, heritage is particularly vulnerable, as they involve wars of narrative and belonging, which undermine diverse, multilayered, and complex understanding of culture and identity. Therefore, democratic institutions with a free and open public sphere are necessary. They allow people in the community to create discourses and meanings that help them live according to their terms.

Heritage destruction can also occur due to rapid urbanisation, natural disasters, and economic downturns. For example, fast-track urbanisation and modernisation of culture have sidelined Indian Traditional Art. Only in the recent past, the disastrous impact of colonisation on the economy compelled many traditional artists to leave their profession and take to agriculture. These changes often cause cultural trauma, whereby the meanings and values that the community endeared no longer help them to understand the present reality.

Also Read: Exploring The Spiritual Art Form Of Sanjhi Art

Protecting Indian Heritage in Contemporary Times 

Indian Traditional Art at India Art Fair (Source- Art & Deal Magazine)

We have discussed the disastrous nature of heritage destruction in current times. Yet, we can not see destruction and transformation in an entirely bad light. Destruction and transformation of heritage can be ethical if they occur at the grassroots level by the same communities and groups who hold those values and meanings dear. Destruction and transformation of heritage can be ethical if they occur at the grassroots level by the same communities and groups who hold those values and meanings dear. 

In the post-capitalist era, nostalgia has commodified Indian Heritage sites. Since nostalgia implies longing for what is lost, it already declared heritage to be lost and irrelevant. This commodification contributes to the erosion of heritage and memory and reduces them to consumer products. Rooftop is helping various art communities to preserve their heritage and transform it as they wish so that they can anchor it to live a better future. It helps them to get in touch with the larger world and wide reservoir of art knowledge which is deeply connected to our day-to-day experiences so that we can think of and even make it possible to have a better future. 

Also Read: Imperial Themes in Mughal Court Paintings

Preserving Indian Traditional Art with Rooftop App

Rooftop is helping various art communities to preserve their heritage and transform it as they wish so that they can anchor it to live a better future. It helps them to get in touch with the larger world and wide reservoir of art knowledge which is deeply connected to our day-to-day experiences so that we can think of and even make it possible to have a better future. As technology continues to advance and people adapt to societal changes, India’s rich cultural heritage is gradually fading from our daily lives. However, we have the opportunity to revive it and bridge the gap between skilled artisans in rural India and the broader population through smart technology usage.

Indian Heritage
The Rooftop app features maestro courses and LIVE workshops

The Rooftop App embodies the concept of “virtual heritage conservation,” which blends technology and heritage. It leverages new media, such as the internet and digital tools, to preserve and share our traditional culture. These technologies can disseminate our cultural heritage to people regardless of their location, making it accessible to all.

However, it’s important to emphasise that the use of technology should not be superficial. When employing new media to conserve our heritage, we must ensure that we preserve the essence and significance of our culture. These digital tools serve as a means to educate and raise awareness about our cultural heritage.

Conclusion

Heritage plays a crucial role in fostering a sense of stability among diverse communities. India, being a land of diverse people with distinct yet similar ways of life, exemplifies this diversity through its rich heritage. Indian traditional art is an integral part of this heritage, communicating the ideas, values, and aspirations of our people, making its preservation essential. 

When we refer to “World Heritage,” it doesn’t diminish the importance of local and regional significance but highlights our shared humanity. Traditional art forms, along with their associated values and meanings, came under threat in many third-world countries due to colonization and unprecedented globalization. We value cross-cultural heritage, breaking free from modern-day boundaries to explore centuries-old art forms that connect us all.
Download the Rooftop App from Google Play or the App Store to learn more about Indian art and its history! Discover us on Instagram @rooftop_app for all things traditional, folk and tribal Indian art.

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