Kashti Kinara – Navigating a Virtual Exhibition

    Kashti‘ and ‘Kinara‘ are words that mean a lot to coastal communities. ‘Kashti‘ or ‘boat’ refers to the ‘journey of life’ and ‘kinara‘ or ‘shore’ refers to the ‘destination at the end’. The metaphor is just one example of how the lives of these communities are linked inextricably to the sea. When rising sea levels pose a threat to the livelihoods of fishing communities, and boat making communities lose out on patrons because of the large scale production of sea vessels due to industrialisation, it is in reality, contributing to the death of a legacy spanning aeons. A legacy that had not only survived but thrived until just a few centuries ago.

    On 14th June 2020, a crew of final-year students of the CSMVS Postgraduate Graduate Diploma in Museology and Conservation launched Kashti Kinara, an online exhibition on coastal communities, boats, and boat-making in India.

    Divided into 11 scenes, I found that the exhibition is easy to navigate using the arrows at the bottom of the screen. Every scene is a 360-degree view so that one is free to explore the displays up close. The virtual exhibition is curated beautifully with so much attention to detail that I partly wish I could actually experience it. Imagine walking into that long sunny corridor!

    Scene 1 of Kashti Kinara

    But I found that virtual exhibitions have a lot of benefits too. For one, you can easily toggle back and forth between the displays and take your time on each of them. You too can stare at that map, just like those two figures!

    Showcasing India’s rich maritime past reflected in the history, mythology, and literature of the country.

    Using a recreation of the Lothal dockyard, a model of a boat, and a representation on a terracotta seal, the students have traced India’s maritime legacy right back to Harappa! Another display showcases the sea vessels of the Indian coasts. This section traces the various boats used by different communities across the East and West coasts. I found the Uru boat from Kerala to be the most impressive. 

    Kashti Kinara Uru Boat kerala
    Scene 6 of Kashti Kinara. Uru Boat from Kerala

    At the heart of the 360-degree tour is the display of a beautiful Patia boat. Patia boats are coastal fishing vessels from Bengal and Orissa. The display also comes with a handy glossary of boat terms that a novice like me found incredibly helpful to understand the exhibition!

    Scene 4 from Kashti Kinara. Patia Boat

    Have you ever noticed the representation of seafarers in our art and literature?

    ‘The Nautical in Indian Literary Works’ was perhaps my favourite part of the exhibit. It showcases familiar stories like the Mahabharata or the story of Manu from the Matsya Purana along with their depiction in art.

    Scene 10 from Kashti Kinara. Paintings that reflect India’s nautical heritage

    True to their word, the Kashti Kinara exhibition has covered the history, mythology and literature of India’s maritime past. All the displays evoke awe at the diversity of India’s nautical legacy. They make one feel proud of this rich culture that has survived generations.

    The creators of Kashti Kinara exhibition also highlight the pressing need to preserve this ancient legacy, bring to the fore, the plight of the communities and leave us with a vital question: how can this piece of living history be revitalised?

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    Chitralekha is a museum professional based in London. She holds an MA in History of Art from SOAS. Her areas of interests include Indian miniature paintings, decoloniality in museums, and open access in the cultural space.

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