More reliable than Wikipedia, India’s pioneering knowledge portal is here

More reliable than Wikipedia, India’s pioneering knowledge portal is here

By PREETI SINGH | | 30 April, 2016
A panel discussion on “Culture Futures” at the launch of Sahapedia.

The country’s first-ever online interactive platform on Indian, and broadly South Asian, heritage was launched recently when “Sahapedia” began serving as an ever-growing encyclopedia on histories, arts and cultures of the subcontinent. Lending fresh spirit to the Sanskrit word “saha” meaning “together with”, this people’s platform on heritages and their interesting cross-connections has now gone online, facilitating users to be recipients as well as donors of an ever-increasing knowledge bank on varied instances of human excellence.

The event began with a 30-minute recital by classical vocalist Dr Subhadra Desai who sang on various verses from Dhammapada , verses of 9th-century poet from Tamil region and 14th-century poet from Kashmir, ending with Kabir’s Bijaks that symbolise the cultural synthesis of India. These verses were translated for the audience in English.

Sahapedia.org, which is the country’s pioneering interactive platform on Indian and South Asian cultures, took off after five years of intense research carried out on a cooperative basis, opening windows to novel encyclopedic content, images and videos on subjects under a wide range of tangible and intangible heritage.

Artiste-author-researcher Dr Sudha Gopalakrishnan, who is Executive Director and one of the founders of Sahapedia, welcomed the gathering at the inaugural function. 

Addressing the crowd, she said “Five years is perhaps a very long time to launching a site but right from the start we were aware of the scope and vastness of what we were trying to do. The online platform had vast scope for cross-referencing content across domains. All these would be constantly linked to the Sahapedia library, helping to bring out new links across disciplines.”

The former head of National Mission for Manuscripts, Gopalakrishnan went on to say the following in her welcome address:

“For instance, Dashara and Eid involve various narratives, rituals, performative and celebratory aspects. Sahapedia’s content on each of the topics includes text articles, images, audio-video records (still, sonic and moving documentation), maps, timelines, lineage trees and much more and it is backed by a team of researchers and collaboration with institutions, has a wide variety of possibilities such as creating content in different formats, initiating discussions and reviewing as well as sharing material.”

Sahapedia.org not only serves information, but also promotes publication of reliable contributions from users — after review by empanelled subject experts. Also, it is not a place restricted to recording history; instead, the portal dynamically supplies information on current and emerging practices by allowing space for carrying out critical debates.

Carrying reliable and expansive information on multiple disciplines ranging across visual arts, music, literature, cinema, dance, architecture, ecological systems, cuisine, percussion and oral histories among others, the portal can be accessed at www.sahapedia.org, announced the not-for-profit organisation’s president S Ramadorai, who chairs the National Skill Development Agency, after launching the platform.

“For now, much of the content is in English. Efforts are already on to incorporate Indian languages in a big way,” the former TCS chairman said at the inaugural function in Delhi. Heritage education will be the focus, so as to kindle interest in the new generation about a range of knowledge straddling ancient and modern history, he added.

Sahapedia.org not only serves information, but also promotes publication of reliable contributions from users — after review by empanelled subject experts. Also, it is not a place restricted to recording history; instead, the portal dynamically supplies information on current and emerging practices by allowing space for carrying out critical debates. The platform, rippling with scholar-curated modules on a variety of topics, offers a rich multi-media experience, also propped by the library, which has multiple old articles, journals, books and images from various institutions and authors. Sahapedia, where users have an option to filter content by format, offers interactive timelines that allow visitors to scroll through great historical epochs — as the gathering was shown by way of a introductory tour of the innovative portal.

A panel discussion on “Culture Futures” at the inaugural event featured accounts of field experiences by folk traditions scholar Utpala Desai, digital empowerment activist Osama Manzar, architect-musician Meera Natampally, shadow puppeteer Ramachandra Pulavar and actor-director-publisher Sudhanva Deshpande. The panellists, most of whom have worked with Sahapedia on a range of content, also dwelt on their experiences with Sahapedia.

Sahapedia is different from Wikipedia as it is a unique source that aims to “informs, educate and act”. It is different to any other site as it is a portal offering rich media which includes text, images and videos, according to the site’s designers. In order to maintain credibility, while anyone may access content, they cannot edit or add to the published information. It also offers heritage education for the young by offering well-curated content that also includes “oral histories”, interviews that tap into the knowledge of the older generations.

Talking about the uniqueness of this portal, Sudhanva Deshpande said, “For me, the key area of difference between Sahapedia and other sites such as Wikipedia is that something which enables experts garner knowledge themselves in digital form. In my mind, the unique thing about Sahapedia is that inter-connections it makes. Culture is not a static thing. It is not limited to any one arena. Everything is connected to so many things: it is connected to geography, to language and many other aspects. The fact is Sahapedia has this ambition to make these connections to different aspects of cultures visible. That is why it is unique.”

Similarly, Osama Manzar said, “This site offers a multi-faceted and multi-media-enabled experience, which is richer as compared to other sites. It is more visual, has videos and audios and added inputs based on years of experience, which makes it better than others. You cannot compare it with Wikipedia, which is very flat. But Sahapedia provides you with first-hand experience, documentation and it has content based on experts’ research on it.”

Ashoke Chatterjee, former head of the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, who has also contributed in various areas of arts and sustainability, lauded Sahapedia for providing access to knowledge as well as scope to share and add to it simultaneously. After the panel discussion, Sahapedia Secretary Vaibhav Chauhan proposed vote of thanks.

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