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What is an ashwath katte?

The Peepul tree, also known as Ashvattha in Sanskrit Literature, as well as Bo or Bodhi tree in Buddhists contexts, is a type of a Fig tree (Ficus Religiosa) and the platform around it the katte.

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The Sacred and the Public

A few years ago, when we started to study the ashwath katte, it was to understand how it develops as the small, informal public space that works both as a spatial and social unit. In 2018, a research grant from Azim Premji University allowed further work on this. The main deliverable was a detailed study of 20 ashwath kattes in Bangalore. As we started the research, we thought that it might be useful to document, to record more kattes across the city that could become another project in itself. The book "The Sacred and the Public" is that project that started out as a call for volunteers and grew to become a book only because there were so many young people who wanted to participate. 

Around the time that we completed the book, we also made the film. We wanted to share what we had discovered through experiencing the ashwath kattes at different times of the day, in different neighbourhoods across the city. The film highlights how the ritual and spatial practices at these neighbourhood community spaces help build collective memory that lends continuity to our public culture and our public spaces.  

Vanishing Ashwath Kattes

In India, there are social and religious practices intersecting with the process of urbanization at various levels. This talk is based on research that looks at how people are able to generate and sustain small, public spaces or ashwath kattes in the city of Bangalore through worshipping the peepul tree. It finds that while these are sacred spaces, they are also inclusive spaces for women, children and the elderly. The social interactions generated contribute to the collective memory of a place. It proposes that the higher the collective memory, the lesser the chances of the government encroaching upon these public spaces.

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In this exhibition, we shared the collective knowledge that was gathered on ‘the sacred and the public’ in relation to the ashwath katte with the help of our colleagues, research associates, interns and volunteers. The emphasis was not on how changes have happened at the city level propelled by the State but how transformations at the neighbourhood level have occurred through a gradual evolution of everyday practices of the people. The exhibition was a small step towards developing a people-centric approach to planning our PUBLIC SPACES and our CITIES.