Approximately 350 kilometres from Bangalore is the village of Heggodu, one of the hidden gems of Karnataka, especially for literature enthusiasts and thespians. This tiny village is the cultural hub of India, where it’s common to hear everyone: from street vendors and farmers, to shopkeepers — quote Ibsen and debate the works of Shakespeare in everyday conversations. By Tara Choudhary
The abundance of cultural knowledge in this village is a product of it being home to Neelakanteswara Natyaseva Sangha, a world-renowned drama, art and culture institute, more commonly known as NINASAM. What was founded in 1949 by a reputed Kannada writer K.V Subbanna as a small theatre initiative has grown into the powerhouse of culture in the South. NINASAM has made multiple artistic contributions to the community, including in the fields of literature, theatre and film. Its goal was to meld the gap between urban and rural Karnataka through culture and arts, and while originally it only conducted theatre workshops and published theatrical texts, it now has an entire building dedicated to theatre training, and as well as a residential theatre programme and a film society, among other things.
This village is a treat for all culture fanatics, who can visit NINASAM to absorb the wealth of cultural knowledge it has to offer, in Kannada and English. It is worth taking part in their theatre training programmes and workshops if you do make the trip because the depth and focus given to each individual and their own theatrical growth is unmatched by other commercial setups in India, where theatre is more of a business than a form of expression and art.
Along with NINASAM, while in Heggodu you must visit Akshara Prakashana, a publishing house started by K.V Subbanna in 1957. It started as a tiny publishing house meant to publish only his works, but soon expanded and started publishing work from new writers at the time, as well as translations of English plays into Kannada for the villagers. Today, it is a huge organisation that has published hundreds of texts on a range of subjects and stands as the foundation of the culturally-vibrant village of Heggodu.
You can visit the village anytime all year round as the courses are always on, however, some of the best ones take place in October. When visiting, although there are small hotels available like the Tip Top Residency and Green Embassy Hotel, it is recommended that you stay in the guest dormitories at NINASAM (if you’re enrolled in a programme), for a more holistic and immersive experience. Most hotels are also at least 20-30 minutes away from NINASAM, which is the main attraction you’ll be visiting regularly on your trip, so it can be an inconvenience for those who choose not to stay at the institute.
For those who enjoy culture and art, Heggodu is undoubtedly a treasure trove and should be next on your list of places to visit for a chance to learn about and participate in theatre and film programmes, or simply for the opportunity to discuss your favourite playwrights with the local chai wallahs.