Hasta Shilp: Reviving A Glorious Past

Vijaynath Shenoy's Hasta Shilp Heritage Village in Manipal is perhaps the only Indian private museum that showcases traditional architecture, alongside galleries of art, crafts, textiles, utensils, tools, furniture and toys.

By Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

Vijayanth Shenoy (1906) by UnknownSandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

Vijayanath Shenoy (1934 - 2017)

A bank employee all his working life, both nature and culture of his home region fired Shenoy’s imagination and kindled his desire to imbue his community with the arts. Thus was born Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village in 1997 – an open-air museum realised in Manipal.

Kamal Mahal of Kukanoor Bathed in Evening Light, Unknown, 1906, From the collection of: Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation
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Swing Inside Kamal Mahal of Kukanoor, Unknown, 1906, From the collection of: Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation
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“To see the things that bind us to our culture- music, art, dance, artifacts- we need to go to a theatre, an art gallery or a museum. Entwining it in our architecture makes us live it again; see it whenever we wish to.” – Vijayanath Shenoy

Collecting artifacts and antiquated objects from heaps of discarded scrap materials and demolished structures, Vijayanath Shenoy not only paid for them, but took on the taxing process of numbering, cataloguing and transporting them to Manipal in the early 1970s.

Ganjifa Cards With Human Figures (1906) by UnknownSandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

Showcasing Mysore Ganjifa

The name Ganjifa comes from the Persian word Ganjifeh which means playing cards. The specialty of these cards is that they are traditionally hand-painted. The cards are typically circular although some rectangular decks have been produced. 

The techniques, processing, designing of Ganjifa cards is varied. Artists involved in making cards for the rich and wealthy used expensive materials. They used to craft on tortoise shells, ivory, engraved brass discs and mother of pearl with precious stones and metals.

Ganjifa Cards With Mythological Figures (1906) by UnknownSandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

Historically, these cards are believed to have been popularised in India during the Mughal Empire of the 16th Century. After the game caught on it spread to other parts of India and even a Hindu version of the game was created and known as Dashavatara Ganjifa

The Dashavatara Ganjifa was different in composition and construction.The figures and suit signs were common to the players. Each pack of ganjifa carried 10 suits, which displayed one of the 10 incarnations of Vishnu.

Each region in the country had its own form of the game. There was the Sawantwadi Ganjifa from Maharashtra, Navadurga Ganjifa from Odisha, Rajasthan and Gujarat Ganjifa, Kashmir Ganjifa, Nepal Ganjifa and the Mysuru Ganjifa.

Ganjifa Cards With Figures of Hermits (1906) by UnknownSandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

The aim of the game was to teach, learn and tell stories from ancient scriptures and holy books. Style was set to stories and shlokas from the Hindu Puranas, stories from the Ramayana, the chapters from Mahabharata and many more scriptures.

Mysore Ganjifa Gallery (1906) by UnknownSandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

The Ganjifa Gallery At Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village

The Gallery of Ganjifa Cards has been co-curated by art historian Dr. Pramila Lochan, who has engaged in research, documentation and writing. Her connection with Vijaynath Shenoy goes back several years when she first met him in 2008.

"When he learnt of my involvement with ganjifa art he was keen that I associate with the proposed gallery that he wanted to set up. He also contacted the Late Kishore Gordhan Das, an avid collector of ganjifa cards, trick locks and other memorabilia."

"I was naturally delighted to be associated with such a project and it all seemed destined. This project took a year to complete and it is a beautiful experience that I cherish," Dr. Pramila Lochan. 

Dr. Lochan's  research includes extensive study, conceptualisation, coordination of digitisation and catalogue documentation of ganjifa cards in Gordhan Das' collection for Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, New Delhi, in 2009.

Shenoy also documented many of the lost classical and folk traditions for future generations. It was his hope that these age-old, classical buildings of the vernacular style would inspire the imagination of young people, just as they had fired his own.


Hasta Shilp Heritage Village is spread over 6 and 1/2 acres. Vijayanath Shenoy arranged for 16 houses and nine shrines to be transplanted to this site after getting the land on lease from the local government.

Kamal Mahal of Kukunoor - Exterior View (1906) by UnknownSandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

The Kamal Mahal of Kukanoor

The Kamal Mahal was part of the fabled 14th century city of Vijayanagara, whose ruins surround present-day Hampi. That this structure has survived the fall of the empire is entirely due to a stroke of luck. 

Shenoy, the creator of the heritage village believed all the surrounding buildings that were part of a fortified complex were burnt during the destruction and defeat of the Vijayanagara Empire by the Deccan sultanates. 

Kamal Mahal of Kukanoor Seen Under Lights (1906) by UnknownSandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

Inside The Kamal Mahal

The Kamal Mahal of Kukunoor is a 500-year-old building recovered from the 14th century city of Vijayanagara. It has been transported from Kukunoor, a village 40kms away from Hospet, and has been restored. It is now part of Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village in Manipal. 

Kamal Mahal of Kukunoor (2020) by UnknownSandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

This is a fascinating view of the interiors of the Kamal Mahal of Kukunoor. High ceilings with rich woodwork, all done in rosewood, beautiful stained glass detailing and intricately carved panels can be seen here.

Kamal Mahal of Kukanoor - Interior View, Under Lights (1906) by UnknownSandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

The Kamal Mahal has a large reception room leading to a smaller chamber. This was once the quarters of an army general from the Vijayanagara Empire. 

This room was for the general’s personal use — perhaps a few favourites or those he wanted to impress were brought here. Its beauty seems intended to refresh and pleasure the spirit, a tranquil retreat for a man who spent his days on battlefields.

Swing Inside Kamal Mahal of Kukanoor (1906) by UnknownSandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

Perhaps the armies of the Deccan sultanates were put off by the structure's unassuming exterior and thought this building was of little worth. 

Ornate Celing in Kamal Mahal of Kukanoor (1906) by UnknownSandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

The rooms are made entirely of wood,  the theme of the lotus is repeated across the exquisite carvings — some small, charming, barely opened buds, others larger and in full bloom.

Kamal Mahal of Kukanoor Bathed in Evening Light (1906) by UnknownSandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

A view of the exterior of the structure under lights as it is preserved today at Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village. Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation has adopted three independent museums within Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village.

The Gallery of Cultural Legacy of Raja Ravi Varma at Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village, Manipal was adopted in 2019.

Ravi Varma Gallery at Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village (1906) by UnknownSandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

Gallery of Cultural Legacy of Ravi Varma

The museum, which houses the chromolithographic press equipment that was salvaged by Vijayanath Shenoy from the Ravi Varma Press in Malavli.

It houses a collection of original lithographic prints from the press, along with litho stones that were used during the printing process.

Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village is one of most well-maintained private museums in the country and the Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation is proud to have partnered with them to preserve this heritage gem.

Credits: Story

Information & Content: Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini 
Images: Courtesy Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village, Manipal
Special Thanks: Rajesh Pai, Harish Pai, Dr Pramila Lochan, (Late) Kishore Gordhan Das
Research Assistance: Vikrant Maini

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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