If you want to savour a sculptural journey into the cultural heritage of Karnataka’s villages, head to Rangoli Gardens, a model heritage village sprawling over four acres in the Bengaluru campus of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Rural Energy and Development (MGIRED). Here, you can experience a slice of rural Karnataka and witness exuberant village experiences like no other. It is a fascinating and close-to-realistic sculptural journey into the economy, food habits, cultural traditions, religious events, recreations, and living conditions of Karnataka in yesteryears.
Situated in Jakkur, the Heritage Village has documented how the people of rural Karnataka lived, worked and coexisted 100-200 years ago. For the present generation, especially kids, it is an eye opener. All the models and the architectural aspects here are the brainchild of the late Dr TB Solabakkanavar, senior artist, art teacher and folklore scholar, who has been responsible for setting up several museums across the country. He has conceptualised and recreated Karnataka’s rural milieus to retain the pulse of the past. Carefully curated village themes are depicted beautifully through well-crafted life size sculptures.
More than 1,000 life-size exhibits bring alive the way of life of people, their architecture, traditional practices in various fields from education to medicine, art and craft. With everything handmade, including the wooden pillars, more than 150 of his artisans, sculptors, and fine art graduates worked relentlessly from a workshop in Gotagodi village of Shiggavi taluk in Haveri. All efforts have been made to make the sculptures look amazingly realistic by capturing every detail.
“We want to introduce rural India to the urban populace and inspire visitors to adopt the ancient practices of sustainable living still followed in our villages. It takes us back to discover our roots by bringing Karnataka’s culture, traditions, heritage and history under one roof, and enhances the holiday experiences by encouraging guests to discover and explore the region,” said Raju Kunnur, MD, Rangoli Gardens.
As we strolled around, we felt like we had gone back in time to walk through a village where time stood still. A superb model of a rural setting with excellent attention to detail — the sculptures are incredibly life-like — depicts all aspects of typical villages in Karnataka.
The descriptions and explanations on the display boards in front of each installation offer an insight into the different communities from Karnataka’s districts, and what they did for their livelihoods. We had glimpses of models of tailor shops, grocery stores, barbershops, toymakers, laundrymen, shepherds, weavers, oilmen, goldsmiths and carpenters. It reminds us of how simple life was in the past.
The village barber offers haircuts at people's doorsteps
We had a peek into the inhabitant’s life, their chores, clothes and even their pets. For instance, the rural barber visiting the doorsteps of people to offer haircuts, women engaged in household chores, a woman transporting bundles of clothes on donkeys, oilmen extracting oil from a mill with an oxen’s help, goldsmith honing the shape to gold ornaments, children nonchalantly playing traditional games, and a lot more. The sculptors have taken pains to even get the facial expressions perfect.
A woman giving a bath to her grandchild in the courtyard of a rural tub house
We passed by a Mangaluru house with sloping roofs and artistic pillars, a carpenter’s house where the farmers are observing the carpenter at work, a Panchayat Katte (platform) where grievances of disputes were discussed, village headman’s house where he keeps and reviews the accounts assisted by a village accountant. At the toymaker’s house, we saw a woman helping in toy making, while another was negotiating to buy one. At the Brahmin’s house, the children were engrossed in Vedic chants.
The Gowduru Mane, or the village headman's house
The museum also features models of rural sports, but the piece de resistance is the Kambala, the annual buffalo race, in southern coastal Karnataka. One can get swept away by the excitement of the frenzied cheers as the farmer surfs his way down the track behind the beast. Kushti (wrestling), another popular indigenous sport, has been captured so elaborately that one can see the biceps and triceps as they hurl and toss each other.
The Kambala buffalo race of coastal Karnataka
Among the other exuberant carvings on display are the oxen and cattle feed in the cowshed and a dog with her puppies. The Tiger Dance, a native dance form in which men painted in coloured stripes prance like tigers, Yakshagana and various other dance forms are also on display.
A dog with her puppies
Other interesting installations feature indigenous farming practices like farmers ploughing their land with oxen, sowing seeds, watering them from an open well, threshing activities, and the functioning of a Raitara Sante or farmer’s market, where unique bargaining occurs over the quality and price of commodities. The hustle and bustle of a marketplace has been beautifully captured. It is equally interesting to watch the cattle fair – deals made by brokers to sell some strong oxen, while others watch the bargaining with anticipation. No trip is complete without namma oota. We culminated our visit with a lavish spread of traditional North Karnataka fare.
A traditional north Karnataka feast
All images by Susheela Nair.
Susheela Nair is an independent food, travel and lifestyle writer, and photographer based in Bangalore. She has contributed content, articles and images on food, travel, lifestyle, photography, environment and ecotourism to several reputed national publications. Her writings constitute a wide spectrum, including guide books, brochures and coffee table books.