The historically significant Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) launched its Heritage Walk Programme on February 10, the foundation day of the varsity. The central idea behind the initiative was to connect the general public with the University. Spread over an area of 411 acres and housing 43 academic departments, SPPU was founded in the year 1949 and is one of the premier institutes of higher education in the country.
What Is the Heritage Walk Programme All About?
Abhijit Vasant Ghorpade, the official spokesperson of the University, delved on the programme in details and specified its objectives in clear terms. He said, “SPPU isn’t a private institution. It is a public university. Being a public varsity, it is our motto to connect with members of the civil society. Generally the teachers, the employees and all the students of the univ are connected with us as our stakeholders. Officially speaking, the society in general is not one of our official stakeholders. However, SPPU covers three major districts in Maharashtra – Pune, Nashik and Ahmednagar. So, it is our firm conviction that all those who stay in these three districts are also our stakeholders.”
He added, “Another motive is to motivate the youngsters. We have set up a museum, where the best pieces from our various departments are being showcased. It creates a great impact on the students when they witness the power of time and evolution. It also motivates them to go deeper into their respective subjects.”
“It has just been two months since this programme started and there is a lot to be added to the existing repertoire. Our motive was not to procrastinate and work on the idea from where we can and make the public aware about the University at the earliest. In the coming days, we shall open more parts of the main building and increase the number of showpieces at the museum. The most recent public invitation for the Heritage Walk was extended on April 13 and the response was phenomenal. More than 500 people came to visit the university. The heritage walk was conducted in batches with each batch comprising 50 people. We arranged tour guides for the visitors from amongst our teaching staff and students. They accompanied the crowd and explained them the history and value of each and every place in details,” Ghorpade added.
“The idea of organizing the heritage walk came through Prof. (Dr.) Nitin Karmalkar, our honourable Vice Chancellor (VC). The National Science Day, which is celebrated on February 28 every year, is an open day for visitors. On this day, people come to visit the various science departments at the varsity. This year, we had 800 people visiting the univ. This massive response inspired us to take the heritage walk programme ahead. Currently, this initiative has no direct impact on educational policies. However, this will positively affect education in the coming days,” opined Ghorpade.
Motivation behind the Programme
Many stories concerning the main building of the university are narrated during the heritage walks. It used to be official residence of the Governor of the Bombay Presidency during the rainy seasons. The grand building was constructed during the cotton boom period when the cotton manufactured in India was high in demand in the international markets and more so during the civil war years. In fact, the other grand buildings like the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station in Mumbai and many more were also built during the same period. When these stories are told to the public, they not only feel fascinated but get informed too. The tunnel attached to the main building hasn’t been in use since India got independence. However SPPU opened it for the public to see. The varsity also has its own botanical collection, zoological collection and gardens that are also shown to the public during the heritage walks.
Deccan is the theme of the University museum as Maharashtra is a part of the region. The museum showcases geological history, anthropological history, skull development and evolution, various weapons, coins collection and artifacts from the Maratha Empire. As people have an active interest in knowing about the varsity, arrangements have been made such that all types of people can come and explore the heritage walk and the museum.
The varsity is also planning to set up scientific and technological tools and techniques, which were used in older days. The setting-up is in process and will soon be read for public display thereby connecting it with the heritage walk programme.
Dr. Shraddha Kumbhojkar, an Assistant Professor with the Department of History at SPPU, shared her views and said, “ Now a days, it’s not only important to do good work, it is equally important to show people that you are doing good work, which has to be measurable and visible as well. The initial idea was just to show the heritage building. However, we also have botanical and zoological heritage. The University has also received many gifts from older dynasties, which were kept in the restoration department but weren’t showcased yet. The most highlighted part was a 300-foot tunnel, which had been closed since the independence. It has now been opened for the visitors.” Dr. Kumbhojkar is a part of the heritage walk programme as a tour guide and is actively involved in setting up the museum.
She added, “We wanted to highlight the changes that have happened so far. It is our responsibility to connect with the people and these heritage walks are going to help us connect better. I was also a tour guide for this heritage walk and I enjoyed a lot. People came up with many questions and they were curious to know more. This is a clear indication of the public’s interest in the University. The British people kept us away from education. However, we are using their infrastructure as our educational base. The extent to which we have transformed education so far is something to be known by all.”
Other Varsities in Contrast
There are many other universities in India and abroad that conduct heritage walk programmes. Dronah Foundation conducted a Rock Art Walk at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. Nalanda University has also been declared as a heritage site by the UNESCO although the concerned part of the varsity is not in educational use now. However, the site is there for public view. Aligarh Muslim University, which was established in the year 1920, also has a heritage walk facility having more than 60 heritage sites.
International universities, like the University of Manchester, also organize heritage walk tours. Kurukshetra University also organized a heritage walk with the motive to promote tourism in the city. It was a combination of heritage and spiritual walks in the land of the Mahabharata.
Visva-Bharti University at Santiniketan in West Bengal is another example of a unique teaching style and worth taking a heritage walk tour. It was founded by Rabindranath Tagore, the first Nobel laureate from India, who called it Visva-Bharti. Tagore didn’t believe in classroom teaching. Hence the lectures are conducted in open classrooms with the nature and not between closed walls. Visva-Bharti is probably the only university in the world using such a method of education. The motive of the university is to let the students learn as much as they wish to and as long as they want to.
There are many universities in India and all over the world, which have either been declared heritage sites or have organized heritage walks. This is being done to promote the history of these varsities.
Earlier, people had the queer notion that universities are only for the students. Scores of people could never experience the university ambience. However, heritage walks such as the one organized by SPPU are bridging the gap between the universities and the general public.
Reporting by Preeti Singh Special Correspondent, Pune
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