Life is all about choices and the grit to go against the tide is indeed inspirational and remarkable,” says Githa U Badikillaya, who is documenting and reviving unknown and forgotten heritage structures belonging to the Chola and Chalukyan period in south India. After studying Botany, she changed course and became a banking professional, chucked that and turned to academics and now is in the process of getting her doctorate in Jain studies. Then she turned to Indology, which is her passion now. She teaches Hinduism and Indian art and architecture at Christ University in Bengaluru.
She has done this gear-shifting, especially in her mid-life, with ease. Githa is from coastal Karnataka, was educated in Andhra Pradesh and now lives in Bengaluru after her marriage.
In her late fifties, Githa is launching a cultural website with video streaming in June. She says, “There will be interviews of people like Dr. Ghulam Sarwar Yousof, father of puppetry in Malaysia. There will be information on an Italian reverend Buddhist monk who traces her ancestry to Marco Polo and is doing a translation of Buddhist works and has settled in Dharamsala. I have documented three Kumbh melas in relation to various sect heads’ meeting and taking decisions on the future course of religion. This too will form part of the website.”
An avid researcher and traveller, she says, “My curiosity would make me want to look beyond mere worship... to the deities, their history and the kind of offerings. From open air shrines of anthropomorphic worship to rock-cut temples to organised worship in structured temples, the socio-cultural dynamics of a society can be constructed,” Githa elaborates.
“The fervour, piety, devotion and the diversity that are seen in the temples take my breath away as they discipline an individual leading to social order. They generate commerce, development of the fine arts and an archival storehouse to name a few. But documentation is a laborious work as many temples do not allow videography, let alone photography,” she says.
It’s not just worship traditions that she is interested in but also in construction history, food offerings, the direction of Navagraha temples in Tamil Nadu and the importance of a particular temple. “Not just these, many questions have arisen like: why isn’t the idol facing east in certain temples? There are interesting cultural dynamics of temples that I have encountered at many places.”
Elaborating on her interest in Indology, she says, “Art historian Dr Tara Kashyap has been my mentor. She was responsible for honing my writing skills and they improved with a PG diploma in Journalism. I started contributing articles on temples for journals and dailies.”
Who inspired her to take up all these studies? “India’s cultural heritage, her religion, her ritual practices kindle my curiosity as it is from a bygone society and era,” she says. “When there is right mentoring, one’s passionate interest gets channelised, honing one’s skill.”
Githa started teaching Hinduism and Indian art and architecture to foreign students at Christ University in 2011. Teaching these subjects to sophomore students from the US is challenging. “Students with preconceived notions, especially about Hindu religion with its worship of countless gods, and compressing the 5,000-year-old history to less than three months is daunting for both the teacher and the student. They are spellbound by the palpable devotion of Indians. These students embark on a lifelong tryst with India with a better comprehension of its cultural heritage,” Githa says.