Cultural Heritage of Andretta
By Mary Singh
Why did the sleepy little
village of Andretta with its Italianate sounding name, become the meeting
place of great minds?
Here’s how it happened
– First came Norah Richards, an Irish writer, dramatist and a follower
of Tolstoy. Her husband had been a Professor at The Government Collage
at Lahore. After her husband’s death there, and a short stay in
England, Norah returned to India in the mid-30’s. She settled in
Andretta where she built a beautiful English style cottage, constructed
of mud, slate and bamboo. There she taught drama to students from the
Punjab. She was made a fellow of the Punjabi University Patiala and in
return she bequeathed her house and land around it to them. The Vice Chancellor
of the University Sadar S.S. Boparai has had the house lovingly restored
by local craftsmen and masons. Even now, students from Punjabi University
come to celebrate Norah’s birthday every year on 29th of October.
They enact very professional dramas in her modest open air theatre.
From Lahore, Norah called B.C. Sanyal, the well known painter and sculptor
and Professor Jaidayal who had been her husband’s pupil. They also
built mud houses in Andretta, Later Pirthviraj Kapoor used to visit Andretta
and stay with Professor Jaidayal who had been his tutor in Lahore. Sobah
Singh, the painter of Sikh Gurus settled in Andretta and lived there until
his death in the mid-80’s. Now-a-days you can visit the gallery
where his paintings hang and buy prints of the originals. Norah also called
Sadar Gurcharan Singh the master potter from Delhi. He was responsible
for introducing studio art pottery into India. He built a house and a
small pottery for summer use in Andretta. During the time of Norah, there
were vibrant discussions about art, drama and the philosophy of living
in a rural environment. Her ideas were very sound on how one should live
in the countryside, using local materials for building houses, how you
should live in harmony with nature and encourage local people to do the
After Norah’s death in 1971 there was a lapse in cultural activities,
but now Andretta is having something of a renaissance. BC Sanyal’s
daughter Amba has started a new venture “Norah’s Centre for
the Arts”. The building housing the centre was designed by Amba's
husband K.T. Ravendran an architect from Kerala. The building mirrors
Norah’s desires as it is constructed almost entirely of local materials,
with special emphasis on bamboo – of which there is an .abundance
in Kengra. Recently Amba organized a seminar on “Art in Education”.
Twenty artists and art teachers came from Delhi to participate in lively
discussions on the subject and all its ramifications. In early June she
will organize a workshop on drama. Wherever possible, Amba includes local
people in her projects as well as involving the village school children.
Sadar Gurcharan Singh’s little summer pottery has evolved into the
thriving Andretta Pottery and Craft Society started by the Sadar’s
son Mini. The Pottery sells its rangoli patterned glazed earthenware to
FabIndia in Delhi. Mini and his manager Jugal Kishore also teach students
all about how to make and appreciate pottery. Alongside the pottery, is
a museum which has a collection of Himachel village pottery. This beautiful
craft is sadly dying out.
As all visitors to Andretta point out –
it is an idyllic spot. Because of this and its cultural heritage, it would
be marvelous to preserve it as a heritage village. The villagers would
benefit from certain improvements and visitors would continue to enjoy
its peace and tranquility.