He walked to the pile of discarded wares and picked up the artistic brass lock. To the family, it was an old worthless piece of an instrument used to bolt heavy doors - one that had no relevance in their contemporary mansion. To him - it was a priceless relic of his culture - one that he intended on preserving for the future!
Such is the story of Vijayanath Shenoy – an erstwhile banker who collected not just wares from traditional homes of bygone eras but entire abodes – all of which are now a part of an exquisite ethnographic open-air museum – the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village Manipal.
Most of you have enjoyed my posts on traditional homes across the world. Be it the colorful Fontainhas colony of Goa or the abandoned mansions of Chettinad or even the Peranakan mansion of Penang – I have always loved capturing the cultural nuances of these homes. They tell you so much about the people who lived there and the traditions they followed. The architectural nuances have never failed to ignite my senses – sometimes to the point of uncontrollable frenzy. Naturally, you can imagine how I felt when I had 26 varied abodes staring back at me from one place – the Hasta Shilpa heritage village in Manipal.
Another inspiring ethnographic museum in India is located in Pune. The Kelkar Museum in Pune showcases antiquities and artifacts from various parts of India. It even has the reconstructed and restored part of the famous Mastani Mahal. The entire collection is that of Raja Kelkar and is totally worth a visit. Take a virtual tour here.
The Heritage village museum is a classic case of sustainable tourism that preserves and protects heritage. It is not just about antiquities. It includes actual houses transplanted from their original location to a 7-acre plot in Manipal. These traditional homes come from different parts of Karnataka and also, belong to different eras. They have been collected and curated by the same individual who I have introduced earlier – Vijayanath Shenoy. It is his story and his dedication to preserving traditions that make the Hasta Shilpa heritage village one of the top places to visit in Manipal.
So get ready to feel the same frenzy that Your Truly felt here and enjoy the gorgeous Hasta Shilpa heritage village in Manipal.
About Vijayanath Shenoy – the architect of Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village Manipal
Half the fascination for the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village in Manipal comes from the story of its founder – Vijayanath Shenoy. Born in Udupi, Mr. Shenoy worked as a banker in Syndicate Bank. It was one casual stroll through the lanes of Udupi that set him off on the path of becoming a passionate collector of art and heritage artifacts with the sole aim of conserving the culture of the land. He came across a stunning ancestral home that was being taken apart with the aim of building a more modern home. It pained him to see the intricately carved door of a traditional South Canara house being carted off to a dump yard or a sawmill for the end of its life. The artistic metal locks were being thrown off casually.
This one scene led him to notice many others and it angered him to see the culture of his land being carelessly demolished for the want of modern living. It was the 70s and Mr. Shenoy was not a rich man. He slowly started conserving these homes by rescuing one artifact at a time. A door from one home and a ceiling lamp from another. A pillar to be donated to him instead of being sold for a pittance to the old radiwalas (scrap dealers) and sometimes exchanged for a piece of similar value.
Mr. Shenoy traveled to other districts in Karnataka – the Malnad region, the South Canara villages near Kerala, the Maratha and Deccan districts – trading and rescuing heritage homes. He started putting together his collection in his own house in Manipal. Soon, his fame as a cultural conservationist spread, and the home called Hasta Shilpa (Art by Hand) became an unofficial museum. He finally, handed it to a Trust and retired to another humble dwelling in Manipal.
Mr. Shenoy truly believed that by preserving heritage through these homes, one was preserving their own identity. His work attracted like-minded people and together with them, he set out to save entire mansions. With a grant from NORAD (Norwegian Aid Agency) and 7 acres of land from the Government, he and his trust members created a heritage village in Manipal where they have now managed to transplant 26 traditional homes from Karnataka. These homes showcase different architectural styles and bring to life the vibrant multi-culture of India.
Mr. Shenoy passed on in 2017 but only after he saw his dream of Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village in Manipal take wings and become one of the most amazing places to visit in Manipal.
The layout of Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village in Manipal
26 different architectural styles in the form of 26 mansions are spread across the layout of this Manipal Heritage Village. Walking lanes akin to village streets separate each one of them. As you walk through this unique re-created hamlet, you will encounter shops selling different wares (rather reconstructed shops). Enter them to discover the most quaint artifacts of yesteryears.
Each transplanted home has a distinct signature in the form of music and perfume. These two in combination with the decor of the heritage home literally transports you back in time. The furnished interiors give you an insight into the lives of that community – of how they might have spent their day, where they might have slept and what they might have believed in.
I swear I could hear the tinkling anklets of little girls as they sped through the corridors, the chatter of the women as they sat in the courtyard, the cheers of the Nawabs as the dance performance took place in the halls and the quiet chanting of the sadhus as they sat in meditation in the temples.
Abodes on display at the Manipal Heritage Village
At the onset, let me admit that I could not see all 26 heritage houses. There are a few that I only caught a glimpse of from the outside. However, the ones that I did manage to see totally set my senses on fire. It left me clamouring for more. Let’s get started with the tour of the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village Manipal and you will see what I mean!
Miyar Hebbagilu Chawadi (Miyar House)
The main entrance of the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village museum is actually a reconstructed home, originally built in 1856. The rich wooden pillars surrounding a multi-level sit-out that doubled up as a small office space kept giving me a feeling of deja-vu until I finally recalled this being an integral part of every Chettinad mansion (The Thinnai that doubled up as a Chettiar office).
The home belonged to a family of Brahmins and this particular structure – the porch was used to meet and greet visitors. In similar parlance, today, it is used to address the visitors before they embark on the grand tour of the Manipal heritage village.
"Swords clanged as the men practiced in the open courtyard. The mighty Maratha chief sat on his carved wooden chair and watched the young men practice while enjoying the cool glass of sherbet brought in by a lady in a veil. The battle continued to heat the atmosphere but the chief stayed cool -Thanks to the light breeze from the green hand-held fan operated by the men behind him "
This was the scene that ran through my mind’s eye when I entered the home of the Ghorpades. The 19th century marvel was transported all the way from Bagalkot district to Manipal and resurrected to its original glory by the team at Hasta Shilpa heritage village. The royal durbar of the Raja of Mudhol is a delightful blend Maratha and Rajasthani style of architecture. The rich teakwood work is offset by the vibrant colors of vegetable dye on the ceilings and the window panes. The most striking feature of this set-up is the intricately carved doors – especially the one at the entrance.
Don’t miss the water trough at the entrance, used by the visitors to clean their feet before entering the house. And yes, there are those lovely original palanquins kept on display within the house.
Kamal Mahal of Kukanoor – my favorite at the Heritage Village in Manipal
My biggest lament with the Vijaynagara ruins in Hampi has been that there is no major structure that showcases the interiors of a palatial mansion. The Kamal Mahal of Kukanoor filled this gap for me. This heritage home belonged to one of the tribal chieftains of the Vijaynagar kingdom. The original 1341 woodwork was salvaged and brought all the way from Kukanoor and set up in the Hasta Shilpa heritage village as the Kamal Mahal.
The home has two parts – the first being the reception area where the visitors waited for their audience with the chieftain and the inner room that served as a private chamber. It is the ornamental woodwork in this inner room that had me in raptures. What added fuel to this excitement was that this was the original 1341 pillars and ceilings that have survived the test of time.
Another impressive aspect of this woodwork is that there are no artificial nails holding the structure. The entire space has been assembled with the use of joints and offers a column free area in the center.
So intent I was on the stunning display of this long lost Hampi era that I almost missed the re-created Mysore paintings, the Thanjavur miniature art and the Kalamkari wall designs in the front room of the Mahal.
Deccan Nawabi Mahal at the Heritage village museum
....Tigdha dig dig thai Tigdha dig dig thai Tigdha dig dig Ta! And on that Sum, the twirling dancer struck a pose while the audience around her applauded her with a chorus of "Wah Wahs". The men showered her with coins in appreciation of her grace and beauty while the women hidden behind the grand jhalis on the first floor turned green with envy.
I could only imagine this scene as I walked into an ostentations durbar hall ringing with the rhythmic beats of Hindustani classical music. Belonging to the Barid Shahi dynasty of Humnabad, the Deccan Nawabi Mahal reflects the grand lifestyle of the affluent Nawabs. It was clear that they loved everything exotic and spared no expense to get it. Starting with the Belgian glass windows to the German tiles and the British iron staircase, the hall clearly symbolizes the affluent connection and societal standing of the Nawabs.
The central space was used as a stage for various performances – largely attended by men. The first floor has lattice windows through which the women would observe the proceedings below without being seen by the world. Mr. Shenoy’s collection of Bidri work finds a place around the room as do the various hunting trophies of the family.
To add more grandeur, the house has a fountain with very colonial lamps right at its entrance. If there is a second favorite of mine at the Hasta Shilpa heritage village, then this Deccani Nawab Mahal takes the spot.
The chariot-kind of temple right opposite to the entrance (Miyar House) intrigued me from the time I entered the Manipal heritage village. I was hoping that our Trustee cum guide would first showcase that but well, he had another route planned. So it was left to me to probe and question and understand this particular structure.
1216 – that is the year that this gorgeous wooden temple is dated to and it was built for Shiva, Parvati and Vishnu. Apparently, it was left rotting in the rain before the Hasta Shilpa team rescued it and brought it to its new home. The doors were closed and hence I could not get a closer look but I am told that the ancient woodwork is gorgeous within – and that includes the idols and the main door.
Bazaar Street in the Heritage village museum
There could not have been a more quirky and yet realistic manner of showcasing the various artefacts rescued by Mr.Shenoy. The Bazaar street can actually be mistaken for the Old-World marketplace that still exists in certain villages. The team has created multiple shops based on the wares – there are toy shops, pickle jar shops, tools, vessels, soda bottles, pottery outlets – all stocked with the treasure collected from decaying and destroyed heritage homes.
Mangalorean Christian House
Time was not enough to see the rest of the homes from within. The Mangalorean Christian Home beckoned me with its classic vintage car parked outside. The sloping roofs belied the Portuguese influence as did its dome-shaped windows. The abode belonged to a Christian missionary and was originally found in Chikmagalur. A small birdie told me that there was a dedicated dark room for processing old photographs within this heritage home. (Sigh!)
Technically speaking, this was the first heritage home at Hasta Shilpa village that I saw. Right opposite to the parking, near the fence. However, I knew not what it was till I got closer and read the signboard. It reminded me of the Shinde Chhatri in Pune with its amalgamated style of Rajputana architecture (the jhaali or lattice windows) and the British architecture (the wrought iron railings in the balcony). This one, of course, did not come from Pune but belonged to a Peshwa family in the North-Western part of Karnataka.
The close proximity to Maharashtra might explain the similarity. After all, the Marathas did expand into Karnataka and there might have been a Peshwa or two in the region.
Nandikeshwara Shrine (the Bhutas) at the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village
A fascinating corner at the Hasta Shilpa heritage village Manipal is the Nandikeshwara Shrine. Fascinating wooden statues stare back at you from this little covered space. A woman with a child, a warrior, a little kid and even a cow – there is a variety of these dilapidated life-sized figures on display. These are called the Bhutas or Butas and are generally spirits worshipped in the Tulunadu or the Tulu-speaking regions like Manipal and Udupi.
These figures represent ancestors and heroes and in some cases, mischief mongers who possess powers to alter events. The worship is called Bhuta Kola and can still, be seen in the villages of this region. The Bhutas are generally elaborately decorated and kept under a tree or near auspicious stones. Naturally, in this case, they are just a heritage collection meant to showcase this unique cultural aspect of Tulunadu.
The Garadi Mane opposite the Nandikeshwara shrine is a representation of a community courthouse where Nyaya ( justice) , Satya (truth) and Dharma (faith) prevailed. The community created three different deities to imbibe these three qualities and would keep them in these small homes.
A humble abode of a priest from the Malnad region of Karnataka. The home is a classic case of a functional home that had just the basic spaces required for a family.
Our tour of the Hasta Shilpa heritage village in Manipal ended at the Garadi Mane but I could see that in reality, I still had so much more left to see. There were were two major heritage village museums that I had missed – the Raja Ravi Verma museum and the Museum with Tanjore art. And a whole wing of stunning homes – referred to as the Eastern wing. I suppose I will have to return to explore those again but in case you have the time here is what you can expect.
The eastern wing at the Heritage Village Museum
This section of the heritage village in Manipal showcases the homes of the South Canara region of Karnataka. Here are a few names that I got off the notice boards –
- Kunjur Chowki Mane – the highlight of this section. A 200-year-old Brahmin’s house complete with a courtyard, storage rooms and two floors.
- Vishnu Shrine
- Vaderhobli Hebbagilu Chawdi – belonging to the 1700s
- Bhatkal Nawayat Muslim House – from the 1800s
- Byndoor Neliadi House
- Yerukone House
- Harkur Olagina Mane
- Hengavalli Korra House
I suspect I would need at least half a day to not just see what I have seen but also, the unseen in what I have already visited. I will always term this visit as a trailer to the real movie conceptualized and created by Vijayanath Shenoy. It is his gift to us – a reminder and representation of how rich Indian culture is. So inspired I am by his efforts that I shall definitely be returning to see it in entirety. In the meanwhile, you guys should definitely pin this ethnographic museums as one of the key places to visit in Manipal
How to get to Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village in Manipal?
The closest airport to Manipal is in Mangalore (62 km). Mangalore is well connected to Manipal by road. You will find plenty of taxis and buses that can get you to Manipal from Mangalore.
The nearest railway station for Manipal is in Udupi (3 km). From the station, you can hop into one of the buses, taxis or auto-rickshaws for the Manipal Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village. The place is located near the Venugopal gate of the MIT campus.
Where to stay in Manipal?
There are plenty of hotels and budget stays available in Manipal town. You can even pick one in Udupi which is just 3 km away from Manipal. I had a brief stay at the Hotel Home Town Galleria which was fairly comfortable. The place is right opposite to the MIT campus, making most of the places to visit in Manipal accessible.
What are the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village Timings?
The Hasta Shilpa heritage village timings are from 10 am to 5 pm with the last entry at 3 pm. This is on all days except Monday which is their weekly holiday. You can avail their unguided tours during this time.
The Hasta Shilpa Village offers guided tours only on the weekends – Saturdays and Sundays. The tour starts at 10 am and goes on for at least three hours. You get to see all the houses that I have listed in the post with this tour.
What are the entry charges for the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village in Manipal?
For an unguided tour of Hasta Shilpa heritage village, you will have to pay INR 200 per adult and INR 150 for kids between 10 years to 14 years. Cameras are charged extra at INR 500.
The guided tours cost INR 500 per adult and INR 300 for children between the age of 10 and 14.
There is no prior booking required. The tickets can be picked up from the entrance itself. In case you have a group of 10 people or more, you can book in advance for a private tour. The numbers and the contact details for the advance booking is available on their official website.
- The best time to visit Manipal is between the months of October and February. Monsoons are heavy here and Summers can be quite intense.
- Wear flat shoes and comfortable clothes. There is a lot of walking to be done.
- Rest Rooms are available in the Manipal heritage village
- Carry plenty of drinking water for the long tour. Refill stations are available but only at the entrance.
- Electric buggies are available for the old and disabled.
- You can book your Manipal hotels through Booking.com. The site also, has options for Udupi hotels.
- For any local tours, transfers and stays in the Coastal Karnataka region, you can get in touch with Ms. Poonam of Dream holidays, Manipal on +91 9686574959 or Mr. Roshan Pinto of RR Travels on +91 9845331926. They are specialists in this region and can arrange for a flawless travel experience here.
- If you use Amazon for shopping for travel or any of your home needs, do consider using this link.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
P.S I visited this place as a part of the Coastal Karnataka trip – on invite by India Tourism Bengaluru. This was a part of the Dekho Apna Desh initiative by India Tourism
Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including BBC Travel, Lonely Planet India and Jetwings. I have recently published my first book – When Places Come Alive – a collection of stories that are based on legends, landscapes, art and culture of a place which is available in both ebook and paperback format.