"A concerted effort to preserve our heritage is a vital link to our cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational and economic legacies - all of the things that quite literally make us who we are."
Steve Barry's words are poignant and true. There is immense value in our history and heritage and their role in imparting a vivid colour to our society. Our past experiences are etched bright in the kaleidoscope of heritage monuments around India, surviving to serve as reminders of our historical legacy. But many of these relics often escape our attention.
It was one such building, the Senate House in Chennai, that inspired Vigneshwar, an avid traveller and a faculty at Loyola Institute of Business Administration, Chennai, to ideate on starting History Rewind, a project that hopes to encourage ordinary citizens to play an active role in the preservation and promotion of our history and heritage sites. "The Senate building is considered one of the best and oldest examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture. While travelling, I compared the monuments in India with the Senate house architectural style, and I understood how this style inspired Britishers. This propelled my interest in heritage and architecture," he tells us.
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What followed was an expedition around Tamil Nadu with his friend and co-founder Santosh Manoj; they travelled to various historical sites in the state, raising awareness about heritage places and empowering local communities to take responsibility for the preservation of the historical sites in their area. "The social benefits of cultural and heritage tourism add to social capital, assist in building community understanding and boost local investment in heritage resources," he adds.
The primary motive of History Rewind is to put the limelight on the obscure heritage sites in Tamil Nadu, many of which have failed to attract tourists owing to a lack of information. He talks about Thirunathar Kundru, a small hillock in the Villupuram district, where Tamil alphabet "i" was first used. "If you go there, people have tried to read this inscription using paint, which damages the inscription badly. Some people use charcoal powder on it and are really vandalising all this important information. We aim to popularise the cultural value of such destinations and educate people against vandalism," Vigneshwar adds.
Starting in May 2022, as a part of this initiative, the duo has visited 106 ASI-listed places and State Protected Monuments of Tamil Nadu, finishing the first leg of their journey to cover 242 centrally protected monuments and 86 state-protected monuments while upskilling local community members. Through History Rewind, they hope to take people back to their roots and help them carry this knowledge to the next generation so that Tamil Nadu's heritage can be protected and preserved.