‘Devasthali’, an initiative by Shivank to safeguard the culture of the mountains!

Shivank Thapliyal – Founder, Devasthali

“I grew up being surrounded by the mountains always. I hail from New Tehri, a very beautiful hamlet town situated in the laps of the Himalayas also known as ‘the kingdom in clouds’. Never in my life, I thought of living away from the mountains. It’s not necessarily about the mountains but the people, the culture, the beauty it beholds and the hardships people face there. So after completing my intermediate, life demanded me to move out of the laps of the beautiful mountains. I had to move to Graphic Era Hill University, Dehradun, which is still in Uttarakhand and is very beautiful but does not hold the essence of hills which I was majorly missing.

I noticed was that majority of the people in Dehradun was Pahadi but shy away on being called the same. I realized that Western influence had dominated our pahadi culture. Uttarakhand is known as ‘Devbhoomi’, particularly for its cultural significance. It was quite evident to me that the culture is fading away as our generation prefers something else. When I was in Tehri, I never felt the need to save the culture. But here, I felt it is a necessity. The lifestyle I saw there gave me a reality check of the hardships people face in the rural places of our state.

I thought it’s high time to address the issue. So without thinking much, I jumped right into it. That same night, I dropped a text in my class’ WhatsApp group calling out all my pahadi classmates for a meeting next day at Buddha temple. Only a few showed up, but they were sufficient for me. These were the people from the other hilly areas of Uttarakhand, like Pithoragarh, Joshimath, Bageshwar, and other remote areas. Each one of them had something new to bring to the table. We talked about the issues, discussed some ideas, and finally decided to choose Theatre as an initial medium to showcase the agony of the people in the mountains. Being literature students, we believed that ‘the theatre of a place is the face of its society‘.

We started working on it. Since none of us had any idea regarding how a play is carried out, we researched a lot and wrote the script on our own, rehearsed the scenes and after grinding hard, the show was quite successful. More than the performance, we were praised for the initiation. Since that day, we have never looked back. Through ups and downs like a hilly road we just kept moving. I named the team ‘Devasthali’, a synonym of dev bhumi which right now consists of 48 members working towards the same goal of ‘Going back to our roots and saving the culture’. It also stands as our tagline today.

We have visited several remote villages and tried to help in whichever way possible. A few days before, I was in Triyuginarayan Village near Kedarnath. We raised funds for this special child, Paori, who is unfortunately deaf and dumb. As monsoon is the best time for tree plantation, so I also did it few days back in nearby villages. We have also collaborated with some NGOs for social causes and worked on government projects like ‘Beti padhao beti bachao’. At present, my team represents authentic pahadi culture through folk dance, folk songs, sketch artists/aipan artists, and theatre.

Shivank with Paori
Planting trees in monsoon

Along with these activities, we believe in working at a ground level too. We have researched on medicinal plants available in hills, aromatic plants (as cash crop), fiber crop plants (textile), different languages and dialects, reverse Migeration ideas (business), education in hills, temples of Uttarakhand (mythological, tourism aspect), folklore, local food and its benefits, fashion (clothing), finding real and raw talent in hills, health facilities, women empowerment, social issues, local festivals and many more. I believe I am not even halfway through in my mission. There’s still a long way to go and I just want to send this message out there that a tree connected to its roots can withstand the hardest of storms.”

Instagram – the_devbhoomi_traveller7500

*The views expressed in the above article are of the writer and not Winged Club.