People in Madurai are showing an active interest in raising awareness about historical monuments and heritage in and around the city, write T. Saravanan and A. Shrikumar

Heritage has generated a lot of interest in Madurai’s citizens. Many of them get together in groups and visit historical places. Thanks to these people from various walks of life who are blogging, sharing, liking and tweeting news and information about Madurai’s history, heritage has come alive and out of the text book pages. Nearly half-a-dozen such groups are active on social media platforms and they regularly meet and discuss ways to protect these sites.

S. Khansa Sadiq, who is spearheading ‘Namma Varalaru’ initiative of Naanal Nanbargal Kuzhu, says, “Most of us are not aware of the historical significance of sites in our neighbourhood. In a place like Madurai, you would find centuries-old-edifices in every street. Few are aware of the 17th century paintings and inscriptions at Chitrakoodam in Narasingampatti near Melur. Today, it is lying in a sorry state and the place is being used as a cattle shed,” he said. In their first trip, the group visited the Madura fort, Kattabomman statue and the British cemetery. The next visit is planned to Sammattipuram where Mohammed Yousuf Khan’s tomb is located.

These people believe that besides the government, it is also the responsibility of every individual to safeguard the heritage sites. They also want to sensitise the local community. Programmes such as ‘Madurai Vizha’ and ‘MaaMadurai Potruvom’ have further enhanced people’s enthusiasm. A number of college and high-school students who were roped in for the Vaigai-cleaning project have also become members of these heritage groups.

Balanathan, a tourism graduate from MKU, who is also a regular participant in the ‘Heritage Walk’, jointly organized by DHAN, INTACH and Travel Club, says, “Village tourism should be promoted, as it brings tourists in direct touch with the culture and society of our region. People should be brought out of the mindset that heritage is only about temples and palaces.”

B. Praveen Kumar, an engineering student who along with his brother Prasanna Kumar makes photo collages and montages on the city’s heritage says, “I got the idea to do something for heritage after participating in one of the college excursions to the Jain caves around Madurai. I started a page ‘Thoonganagaram’ on fb where a number of photographers and tourists post pictures and their experiences on Madurai.” Heritage enthusiasts of all age groups belonging to online groups such as ‘Namma Madurai’ and ‘All About Madurai’ visit villages of historical importance. Bloggers among them write about the experiences and share them on fb.

Karthikeyan posts rare pictures of Madurai. His page ‘En Madurai’ which was started in 2009 has a huge collection of black-and-white pictures of the city and its people. He started to look for photographs of India and Tamil Nadu on the net in 1997 and in a span of five years, he had collected over 1,000 pictures. “I don’t share pictures with copyright issues. Many of those websites from where I collected the photos have closed down,” he says. “I have future plans of opening a small library-cum-museum.”

A group of advocates called ‘Kurinji Koodal’ also visits heritage sites. Says a member,John Vincent, “Many of us didn’t know about Kidaripatti, which we read upon fb. When we went there, we were surprised to see 1,000 year-old inscriptions lying in neglect. We, as advocates, try to bring these to the notice of the law-makers.”