Founded in 2011, Sahapedia is an open online resource on the arts, cultures and histories of India and South Asia. ‘Saha’ (Sanskrit for ‘together with’) was born out of the idea to create knowledge collectively, drawing on experts and practitioners, collaborating with institutions, and through public participation.
A founder member at Sahapedia, Vaibhav Chauhan has trained in managing and conserving heritage. His passion is to leverage technology to reach travellers, students and enthusiasts. He also created India’s first Mobile App (Android) on museums. Here’s our chat with Vaibhav and what led him down the path of a Changemaker in Indian Heritage .
How did Sahapedia start?
Sahapedia’s journey began in 2011, when it was registered as an NGO, with an objective to creatively engage with culture and history to reveal connections for a wide public using digital media. The core team at Sahapedia are cultural practitioners, with a collective experience of over 75 years as. Being a CSR-supported initiative, TCS Foundation, Infosys Foundation and ONGC are our major funders.
Since its inception, Sahapedia has built a resource of over 1,000 knowledge elements (articles, videos, interviews, photo essays, digitized materials and bibliographies among others). In the process, we have worked with over 500 researchers, authors, and practitioners, collaborated with over 30 organizations in the culture sector, and partnered with government bodies from the Archaeological Survey of India and the Central Board of Secondary Education to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Apart from documentation, we also organise offline-outreach activities such as heritage walks and talks series (baithaks) for wider engagement. Our audience is growing each day and is an engaged community. We have worked on developing powerful interactive content and products like The Cultural Mapping Project (culturalmapping.in/fortkochi) and The Museums of India (museumsofindia.org).
We aim to make Sahapedia financially sustainable through Heritage Tourism, Heritage Education, Heritage Conservation and heritage-related consulting.
What does a typical day for you at Sahapedia involve?
Currently we are re-evaluating and restratigising our work in the last seven years to optimize our domain. Our focus, therefore, is towards consolidation and collaborations to make the platform more user friendly and for greater outreach.
What remains the big challenge for you/ your organisation?
One of the primary challenges in culture is that of lack of funding and the lack of participation on institutional level. However, the situation is changing and the government and corporate are showing interest. Scalable ideas such as the recently concluded India Heritage Walk Festival (http://www.indiaheritagewalkfestival.com/), co-organised by Sahapedia and YES Global Institute, for instance, have been entertained and appreciated.
Additionally, on a more personal level, the challenge is also to instill a sense of pride in the younger generation for their own culture, but also for respecting differences and other cultures. Students could learn about their own mother tongue, for instance, and its dialects, learn stories and understand how things are made. They can visit local monuments, glean local history, visit museums, and share this knowledge with others. That is how we can think of a more cohesive society.
In fact, educational curricula should actively encourage these things. The internet presents a great opportunity to understand many aspects of our histories and cultures that we didn’t know before. It’s also a great platform for sharing ideas.
What does Sahapedia consider it’s biggest achievement so far?
There is a great diversity of art and culture in India, as there are many regions, and communities, which have their special ways of reckoning with the world through their music, food, stories, daily objects and practices. Many of these traditions are losing their specificities in today’s age. Sahapedia as a web-based open resource on the arts, cultures and histories of India, containing multimedia modules and through its outreach initiatives offers both real and virtual spaces for engagement and interaction.
A few of our flagship projects have been the documentation of the Rashtrapati Bhavan that comprised of its history, meaning and significance for India, Cultural Mapping of Kochi, Museums of India and India Heritage Walk Festival.
What do you see as the big milestones for Sahapedia in the next 2 years?
Sahapedia has always explored ways to deepen its impact and widen reach by extending the potential of multimedia technologies. We invite scholars and practitioners to share their knowledge through multiple formats such as articles, books, image galleries and audio-video content to give readers and users as complete a picture of each topic as possible.
To increase access even further, Sahapedia will work in ways that are enabling for a larger population such as using design, technology and outreach activities; Commissioning content in multiple languages; Developing short-format styles of presenting across media; Re-publishing Sahapedia’s work in other publications, Curating content for children, Exploring new technologies that facilitate access for those with physical challenges; Creating offline digital resources to target those who have less access to data.
Why do you believe it’s important to engage the youth with the cultural context and heritage of their nation?
While it is challenging, as mentioned before, to instill a sense of pride amongst the youth towards our heritage and culture, there is also a lack of platforms that support such initiatives. Its, therefore, a necessity to open such spaces of outreach and information dissemination.
Additionally, it is stimulating to engage youth with heritage and rethinking ways to reach out to them. And as technology plays an important role in their lives, not only it gives endless possibilities for engagement but also there is a constant need to update the form of outreach to keep the interest alive.