There couldn’t be a better time than now, to discuss our environment with kids! Last week, I had the BEST time, conducting a creative inquiry workshop on Rivers for Grade 4 at the Govt. Museum & Art Gallery, Chandigarh. In India, rivers are part of our cultural heritage and the impersonal treatment meted out to them in textbooks is a little unfair. Which is probably why, learning about them at museums proved to be a lot more engaging and fun for the kids!
Visiting a museum with 8-9 year olds can be a little overwhelming. So for this intimate conversation about our environment, and specifically rivers, we chose 3 objects from the Govt. Museum & Art Gallery Chandigarh. We discussed the aesthetic, cultural and spiritual value of rivers through sculptures, miniature and contemporary art.
The Twin Rivers, Ganga and Yamuna
I was lucky that in this class I had a pair of twin boys. The kids could instantly relate to the the twin-river-sisters’ sculptures that once were part of temple doorways. These sculptures at the entrance of temples symbolise a dip in the holy rivers for purification. Probing more, my students realised how important these rivers were, for worship and belief in ancient times and how these traditions continue today.
Classroom connect : discuss the concept of parallel lines; have students trace the route of the Ganga and Yamuna and explore why they are known to be twins. Discuss how religious practices affect both the rivers today. For an art-activity, get your students to create / draw their own sculpture as a personification of any river of their choice. Allow them to think of the river’s chosen vehicle, accessories and myths!
Krishna Playing by the River Yamuna
Kids somehow love the stories of Krishna! Looking at this painting, they observed the landscape of the river-bank, but also narrated different stories about Krishna and the river that they knew. A popular one is about Vasudeva crossing the river on a stormy night, to ensure Krishna’s safety. Yet another one is about Krishna finding the demons that lie under the river.
A fun museum activity is to have the kids tickle their 5 senses and try to imagine the sights, sounds and smell around the river from an ancient time. You could also talk to the kids about river-habitat at this point.
We also saw some old paintings of the Yamuna crossing by Red Fort in Delhi and Taj Mahal in Agra. We then compared it to one of the most amazing contemporary art works at the museum:
Locust Time by Sheba Chhachhi
This art-piece alone, suffices to talk about environmental degradation. In this work the satellite image of the floodplain of the Yamuna river, with its dried up agricultural lands and the contamination of the air and water, becomes a symbol of ecological disaster, above which figures of locust-women (see the purplish figure towards the bottom) fly at the same time as “Observers” and “survivors”. Since ancient times, locusts have been taken as signs to warn people and urge them to correct their actions to prevent disasters. The image is interspersed with miniature paintings of livestock, ducks, singers and travellers for who the river’s floodplains were a source of life and inspiration.
With the water-scarcity issue in big cities like Bangalore and hill-stations such as Shimla, it is time to talk to our children about the ecology and our contribution to the environment around us. And what better way than doing it through art?