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Exploring Medieval India’s Towns, Crafts and Trade

Last week, I could only retain my sanity because of a 3-day Museum module with Class 7 of St. Anne’s. It was also a great time to remind students how history is not just about the past, but also about the future. Our mission became to understand Medieval Indian towns, trade and crafts alongside exploring linkages to the present time. We decoded the 6 times India has undergone an urbanization process and tried noting the pattern for future reference.

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At the Govt. Museum and Art Gallery Chandigarh, students of Class 7 toured through temple towns such as Thanjavur and sent back postcards to trader friends after zeroing in on a “profitable item” from the Decorative Arts section. The students also helped their trader friends find accommodation in the Thanjavur based on the “settlement pattern”.

Sometimes, I really wish I had been taught history this way.

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My favourite part was the most difficult, and involved linking Geography to History (not that they already aren’t linked). Together, we mapped monsoon winds and trade routes and figured our way from Aden to Calicut and further on to Malacca. On the way we realised that it wasn’t just traded goods, but also cultures and religion that traveled – how else do you explain the similarity of structure in the Angkor Vat temples and those of south India?

Students always have the most fun when they are creative and as they donned the role of Craftspeople, I stood to relish the look on their faces, and the art in their worksheets.

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The Museum has a great Miniature display of different crafts, and this really helped the students visualise a craftsperson’s life, his attire, his workshop and tools. Apart from showing them videos of Bidri craft making and the lost-wax casting process used in Dhokra work, I asked them to choose who they would want to be. I had assumed that students would choose Bidri (because I had given them design cheat-sheets) but to my surprise a lot of students chose Dhokra. I think they were very fascinated with the whole process of casting.

In the end, I realised students had skipped their 11-am break because they were loving the Museum so much. Their teacher affirmed it the next day, and even with break-time included, we had students not wanting to leave the Museum at all!

In my conversation with some teachers, I realised even they had never been to the Museum despite having lived in Chandigarh. That said, I think there’s hope now – given the scope of learning a Museum offers.

 

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