Dharohar, one of the units of the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) Society focuses on cultural research and preservation. ADRI takes a holistic view of social sciences and attempts to understand social, economic and political changes within the cultural context. The essential purpose of Dharohar is to enrich such a holistic understanding of society.
Culture, as is well known, is a comprehensive term which implies the pursuit of perfection in all walks of life, including all the mental and material possessions of the human species – speech, knowledge, beliefs, customs, art and technologies. Social thinkers have long been concerned about its content, history of its development and nature of relations among different dimensions of culture. These investigations have however not remained merely academic. The quest for all-round progress in social, economic and the political arena in developing countries during the second half of the last century has also lent some of those investigations at least a diagnostic character, if not a direct exercise in identifying an effective intervention strategy. Almost unequivocally, these studies have stressed the limitations of confining the issues of development to economics alone. Such an approach is certain to cause on unsustainable asymmetric development in the mental and material spheres of society, thus arresting the development process of both. The development experience of the last fifty years in India is an apt illustration of such a dilemma, and the experience of Bihar is only a more lamentable version of the same saga. Thus when ADRI was in the process of being set up and a vision for its relevance, existence and growth was concretized, it had consciously underlined the role of culture in the process of development.
ADRI's initial approach to such an understanding of development was incorporated in its research agenda. But it was soon realized that the cultural regeneration for Bihar demanded a wider agenda which is not limited to research alone. On one hand it requires promotional interventions to resurrect its rich cultural traditions; on the other, there is also a need to initiate a social process of multiplying civil society organizations dedicated to the spread of cultural activism deep into the populace inhabiting its towns and thousand of villages. All these required a specialized centre and it was actualized in 1995 in the form of Dharohar, the Cultural Heritage Museum of ADRI. The timing was indeed very appropriate, coinciding as it did with the International Cultural Decade (1988-98) of United Nations, aimed at underlying the role of culture in development. The task of organizing Dharohar was, however, not easy. The centre had to interact with a number of scholars and cultural activists of formulate a specific agenda which would ensure an impact on the cultural scenario in Bihar and yet be manageable, given its limited physical, financial and human resource base.
Dharohar aims at 'discovering and documenting' various folk art forms of Bihar, many of which face the danger of extinction. Further, Dharohar activities are aimed at 'promoting' the performance of folk arts, more frequently and in wider areas. Dharohar also helps performing folk artists in 'experimenting' with their own specializations leading to innovations which help them regain relevance and recognition. In this age of science and technology when markets alone decided the existence or extinction of a social practice, aesthetics have been relegated far behind and are ever threatened by new force. Dharohar attempts to identify these threats and ways to meet them. Finally, Dharohar maintains a museum displaying artifacts and other objects related to traditional living in rural areas, especially those which have important social, ritual or aesthetic relevance.