For the past few months, we've been enlightened by many already existent communities in Surat. Some new, some old, some that we only knew by the name and some that constantly inspired us.
And every time we approach a community, understand their functionality, their ethos, we are amazed by how human experience and consciousness form the core structure.
Containing our excitement to the supposedly normal spectrum, we're happy to take you through our long due Community Conundrum #4 - Tulsan Dharohar Foundation. Dharohar meaning Virasat or Heritage, is trying to revive the history and hence the identity of Surat. They are striving to connect us back to our roots and origin, so we don't lose the beauty that our ancestors enjoyed thoroughly.
What does the community hope to achieve?
Today all major cities have their own unique symbol that forges their identity (Char Minar for
Hyderabad, India Gate for Delhi, and so on); but Surat doesn’t have any. Or is it?
A mall or a food joint cannot be our identity; we felt the need for something more profound- a unifying idea and symbol. As we unearthed more about our history and heritage, we are getting people to connect to it, to their own roots and forge their true identity as Surtis. Apart from just locha and khaman.
What kind of value does the community create for its members?
An underlying principle of Dharohar is to treat our heritage as an asset and not a liability. To capture the beauty of these sites by giving a memorable experience to the visitors. Like giving them a sneak peek into the calming past. And as the attention flows there, the energy and resources will naturally follow.
A saddening inside story is, "Surtis are often shocked when you tell them that Surat has some beautiful heritage sites that are worth a visit. This means there is a lack of awareness about the same even amongst locals".
How do people join the community
Through word of mouth and through our social channels. We're frankly a bunch of enthusiasts who believe in the concept of "The More The Merrier".
There are times when we've to motivate others to visit these sites by narrating engaging stories and charm them first and we are ready to do that too!
For eg: We organized midnight visits to Khammavati stepwell (in the light of old-fashioned kerosene-fueled lanterns only), organized sketching workshops at the fort, organized a tea party at British cemetery, and other such activities.
We have upgraded travel sites with the details of these sites, host photography, and other tours at heritage sites too. We are using technology for documentation and mapping also. For eg: we made technical and to-the-scale of difficult structures like stepwells, the temple is underway, and so on.
How do the individual experiences connect to the community’s overall goals?
When we started it, we thought there are so many heritage sights', so much history and heritage that once we start promoting it, people will go there. And because nobody pays attention to it, nobody goes there.
Then when we started promoting places and people started visiting these places, we got bad reviews. Then we realized that it is not only about promoting it, it is also about the holistic development of the whole field. Where we also improve individual/group experience there.
The same approach helped us create a buzz in the city. As I mentioned earlier, the heritage sites have to be treated as assets, and they will have to start making commercial sense too. This is possible by developing a heritage tourism circuit in Surat and attracting more people. This way, even marketers and brands will stand up and take note of this opportunity.
We are also approaching big hotels of Surat and preparing a docket that they can give to
their patrons. This will be a big value addition for the hotels and the outsiders will have ready reckoner to visit places in the city. This is even more important nowadays as people look for experiences and not just browse by the sites. All this to create a win-win situation in-between the community.
Who runs the community?
From almost forever, Prakash Hathi was fascinated by heritage sites and their charm. The same love soon became a mission to protect and conserve them. He took the help of Dr. Prabhakar Singh in 2016, structured the program, and together they made an NGO by the name of Tulsun Dharohar Foundation (popularly known as Dharohar Foundation). That's how it started! Both of them serve as directors and torchbearers of the NGO.
Since then they've had so many individuals, volunteers, and heritage lovers who aligned to the mission and helped us run the community.
Some of the most spectacular heritage sites in Surat -
Surat Castle Khudawand Khan roja (also known as Khwaja Safar Sulemani tomb)
Tombs of British cemetery
Chintamani Jain temple
Kantareshwar Mahadev mandir
How is the community financed?
Well, we are self-financed for now. From time over time, we look for funding. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it creates a hole in our pockets. :) There are also times when some visits don't take place because of a lack of funds.
For instance, we were planning a series of shows in stepwells that have a unique architecture and feel. And a photography exhibition at Sir J J Training College located at heritage square. But the plans got stuck due to funds; heritage, unfortunately, is not a favored theme for donors – not even under CSR funding that has heritage conservation as one of the 16 themes.
One thing to remember: The loss of irreplaceable and priceless heritage does not always suddenly happen without warning, as in the case of a natural disaster or conflict situation. It can be slow, gradual, and omnipresent. Ensuring a shift in perception is of utmost importance and inaction can also be as damaging!