UNESCO and India
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
Intangible Cultural Heritage: UNESCO
The list, in brief
Listed below are the elements from India added in the UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, over the years:
-Kutiyattam, Sanskrit theatre
-Tradition of Vedic chanting
-Ramlila, the traditional performance of the Ramayana
-Ramman, religious festival and ritual theatre of the Garhwal Himalayas, India
-Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan
-Mudiyettu, ritual theatre and dance drama of Kerala
-Buddhist chanting of Ladakh: recitation of sacred Buddhist texts in the trans-Himalayan Ladakh region, Jammu and Kashmir, India
-Sankirtana, ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur
-Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab, India
-Nawrouz, Novruz, Nowrouz, Nowrouz, Nawrouz, Nauryz, Nooruz, Nowruz, Navruz, Nevruz, Nowruz, Navruz India
Kutiyattam, Sanskrit theatre/ 2008
Inscribed in 2008 (3.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2001)
Kutiyattam, Sanskrit theatre, which is practised in the province of Kerala, is one of India’s oldest living theatrical traditions. Originating more than 2,000 years ago, Kutiyattam represents a synthesis of Sanskrit classicism and reflects the local traditions of Kerala. In its stylized and codified theatrical language, neta abhinaya (eye expression) and hasta abhinaya (the language of gestures) are prominent. They focus on the thoughts and feelings of the main character. Actors undergo ten to fifteen years of rigorous training to become fully-fledged performers with sophisticated breathing control and subtle muscle shifts of the face and body.
The actor’s art lies in elaborating a situation or episode in all its detail. Therefore, a single act may take days to perform and a complete performance may last up to 40 days. Kutiyattam is traditionally performed in theatres called Kuttampalams, which are located in Hindu temples. Access to performances was originally restricted owing to their sacred nature, but the plays have progressively opened up to larger audiences. Yet the actor’s role retains a sacred dimension, as attested by purification rituals and the placing of an oil lamp on stage during the performance symbolizing a divine presence.
The male actors hand down to their trainees detailed performance manuals, which, until recent times, remained the exclusive and secret property of selected families. With the collapse of patronage along with the feudal order in the nineteenth century, the families who held the secrets to the acting techniques experienced serious difficulties. After a revival in the early twentieth century, Kutiyattam is once again facing a lack of funding, leading to a severe crisis in the profession. In the face of this situation, the different bodies responsible for handing down the tradition have come together to join efforts in order to ensure the continuity of this Sanskrit theatre.
Tradition of Vedic chanting/ 2008
Inscribed in 2008 (3.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2003)
The Vedas comprise a vast corpus of Sanskrit poetry, philosophical dialogue, myth, and ritual incantations developed and composed by Aryans over 3,500 years ago. Regarded by Hindus as the primary source of knowledge and the sacred foundation of their religion, the Vedas embody one of the world’s oldest surviving cultural traditions. The Vedic heritage embraces a multitude of texts and interpretations collected in four Vedas, commonly referred to as “books of knowledge” even though they have been transmitted orally.
The Rig Veda is an anthology of sacred hymns; the Sama Veda features musical arrangements of hymns from the Rig Veda and other sources; the Yajur Veda abounds in prayers and sacrificial formulae used by priests; and the Atharna Veda includes incantations and spells. The Vedas also offer insight into the history of Hinduism and the early development of several artistic, scientific and philosophical concepts, such as the concept of zero.
Expressed in the Vedic language, which is derived from classical Sanskrit, the verses of the Vedas were traditionally chanted during sacred rituals and recited daily in Vedic communities. The value of this tradition lies not only in the rich content of its oral literature but also in the ingenious techniques employed by the Brahmin priests in preserving the texts intact over thousands of years. To ensure that the sound of each word remains unaltered, practitioners are taught from childhood complex recitation techniques that are based on tonal accents, a unique manner of pronouncing each letter and specific speech combinations. Although the Vedas continue to play an important role in contemporary Indian life, only thirteen of the over one thousand Vedic recitation branches have survived. Moreover, four noted schools – in Maharashtra (central India), Kerala and Karnataka (southern India) and Orissa (eastern India) – are considered under imminent threat.
Ramlila, the traditional performance of the Ramayana/ 2008
Inscribed in 2008 (3.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2005)
Ramlila, literally “Rama’s play”, is a performance of then Ramayana epic in a series of scenes that include song, narration, recital and dialogue. It is performed across northern India during the festival of Dussehra, held each year according to the ritual calendar in autumn. The most representative Ramlilas are those of Ayodhya, Ramnagar and Benares, Vrindavan, Almora, Sattna and Madhubani.
This staging of the Ramayana is based on the Ramacharitmanas, one of the most popular storytelling forms in the north of the country. This sacred text devoted to the glory of Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, was composed by Tulsidas in the sixteenth century in a form of Hindi in order to make the Sanskrit epic available to all. The majority of the Ramlilas recount episodes from the Ramacharitmanas through a series of performances lasting ten to twelve days, but some, such as Ramnagar’s, may last an entire month. Festivals are organized in hundreds of settlements, towns and villages during the Dussehra festival season celebrating Rama’s return from exile. Ramlila recalls the battle between Rama and Ravana and consists of a series of dialogues between gods, sages and the faithful. Ramlila’s dramatic force stems from the succession of icons representing the climax of each scene. The audience is invited to sing and take part in the narration. The Ramlila brings the whole population together, without distinction of caste, religion or age.
All the villagers participate spontaneously, playing roles or taking part in a variety of related activities, such as mask- and costume making, and preparing make-up, effigies and lights. However, the development of mass media, particularly television soap operas, is leading to a reduction in the audience of the Ramlila plays, which are therefore losing their principal role of bringing people and communities together.
Ramman, religious festival and ritual theatre of the Garhwal Himalayas, India/ 2009
Inscribed in 2009 (4.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
Every year in late April, the twin villages of Saloor-Dungra in the state of Uttarakhand (northern India) are marked by Ramman, a religious festival in honour of the tutelary god, Bhumiyal Devta, a local divinity whose temple houses most of the festivities. This event is made up of highly complex rituals: the recitation of a version of the epic of Rama and various legends, and the performance of songs and masked dances. The festival is organized by villagers, and each caste and occupational group has a distinct role. For example, youth and the elders perform, the Brahmans lead the prayers and perform the rituals, and the Bhandaris – representing locals of the Kshatriya caste – are alone entitled to wear one of the most sacred masks, that of the half-man, half-lion Hindu deity, Narasimha. The family that hosts Bhumiyal Devta during the year must adhere to a strict daily routine. Combining theatre, music, historical reconstructions, and traditional oral and written tales, the Ramman is a multiform cultural event that reflects the environmental, spiritual and cultural concept of the community, recounting its founding myths and strengthening its sense of self-worth. In order to ensure that it remains viable, the community’s priorities are to promote its transmission and to obtain its recognition beyond the geographical area in which it is practised.
Chhau dance/ 2010
Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
Chhau dance is a tradition from eastern India that enacts episodes from epics including the Mahabharata and Ramayana, local folklore and abstract themes. Its three distinct styles hail from the regions of Seraikella, Purulia and Mayurbhanj, the first two using masks. Chhau dance is intimately connected to regional festivals, notably the spring festival Chaitra Parva. Its origin is traceable to indigenous forms of dance and martial practices. Its vocabulary of movement includes mock combat techniques, stylized gaits of birds and animals and movements modelled on the chores of village housewives. Chhau is taught to male dancers from families of traditional artists or from local communities. The dance is performed at night in an open space to traditional and folk melodies, played on the reed pipes mohuri and shehnai.
The reverberating drumbeats of a variety of drums dominate the accompanying music ensemble. Chhau is an integral part of the culture of these communities. It binds together people from different social strata and ethnic background with diverse social practices, beliefs, professions and languages. However, increasing industrialization, economic pressures and new media are leading to a decrease in collective participation with communities becoming disconnected from their roots.
Mudiyettu, ritual theatre and dance drama of Kerala/ 2010
Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
Mudiyettu is a ritual dance drama from Kerala based on the mythological tale of a battle between the goddess Kali and the demon Darika. It is a community ritual in which the entire village participates. After the summer crops have been harvested, the villagers reach the temple in the early morning on an appointed day. Mudiyettu performers purify themselves through fasting and prayer, then draw a huge image of goddess Kali, called as kalam, on the temple floor with coloured powders, wherein the spirit of the goddess is invoked. This prepares the ground for the lively enactment to follow, in which the divine sage Narada importunes Shiva to contain the demon Darika, who is immune to defeat by mortals. Shiva instead commands that Darika will die at the hand of the goddess Kali. Mudiyettu is performed annually in ‘Bhagavati Kavus’, the temples of the goddess, in different villages along the rivers Chalakkudy Puzha, Periyar and Moovattupuzha. Mutual cooperation and collective participation of each caste in the ritual instils and strengthens common identity and mutual bonding in the community.
Responsibility for its transmission lies with the elders and senior performers, who engage the younger generation as apprentices during the course of the performance. Mudiyettu serves as an important cultural site for transmission of traditional values, ethics, moral codes and aesthetic norms of the community to the next generation, thereby ensuring its continuity and relevance in present times.
Buddhist chanting of Ladakh: recitation of sacred Buddhist texts in the trans-Himalayan Ladakh region, Jammu and Kashmir, India/ 2012
Inscribed in 2012 (7.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
In the monasteries and villages of the Ladakh region, Buddhist lamas (priests) chant sacred texts representing the spirit, philosophy and teachings of the Buddha. Two forms of Buddhism are practised in Ladakh – Mahayana and Vajrayana – and there are four major sects, namely Nyngma, Kagyud, Shakya and Geluk. Each sect has several forms of chanting, practised during life-cycle rituals and on important days in the Buddhist and agrarian calendars. Chanting is undertaken for the spiritual and moral well-being of the people, for purification and peace of mind, to appease the wrath of evil spirits or to invoke the blessing of various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, deities and rinpoches. The chanting is performed in groups, either sitting indoors or accompanied by dance in monastery courtyards or private houses. The monks wear special costumes and make hand gestures (mudras) representing the divine Buddha, and instruments such as bells, drums, cymbals and trumpets lend musicality and rhythm to the chanting. Acolytes are trained under the rigorous supervision of senior monks, reciting texts frequently until they are memorized. Chants are practised everyday in the monastic assembly hall as a prayer to the deities for world peace, and for the personal growth of the practitioners.
Sankirtana, ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur/ 2013
Inscribed in 2013 (8.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
Sankirtana encompasses an array of arts performed to mark religious occasions and various stages in the life of the Vaishnava people of the Manipur plains. Sankirtana practices centre on the temple, where performers narrate the lives and deeds of Krishna through song and dance. In a typical performance, two drummers and about ten singer-dancers perform in a hall or domestic courtyard encircled by seated devotees. The dignity and flow of aesthetic and religious energy is unparalleled, moving audience members to tears and frequently to prostrate themselves before the performers. Sankirtana has two main social functions: it brings people together on festive occasions throughout the year, acting as a cohesive force within Manipur’s Vaishnava community; and it establishes and reinforces relationships between the individual and the community through life-cycle ceremonies. It is thus regarded as the visible manifestation of God. The Sankirtana of Manipur is a vibrant practice promoting an organic relationship with people: the whole society is involved in its safeguarding, with the specific knowledge and skills traditionally transmitted from mentor to disciple. Sankirtana works in harmony with the natural world, whose presence is acknowledged through its many rituals.
Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab, India/ 2014
Inscribed in 2014 (9.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
The craft of the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru constitutes the traditional technique of manufacturing brass and copper utensils in Punjab. The metals used – copper, brass and certain alloys – are believed to be beneficial for health. The process begins with procuring cooled cakes of metal that are flattened into thin plates and then hammered into curved shapes, creating the required small bowls, rimmed plates, to larger pots for water and milk, huge cooking vessels and other artefacts. Heating the plates while hammering and curving them into different shapes requires careful temperature control, which is achieved by using tiny wood-fired stoves (aided by hand-held bellows) buried in the earth. Utensils are manually finished by polishing with traditional materials such as sand and tamarind juice. Designs are made by skilfully hammering a series of tiny dents into the heated metal. Utensils may be manufactured for ritual or utilitarian purposes, both for individual and community use on special occasions such as weddings or at temples. The process of manufacturing is transmitted orally from father to son. Metalwork is not simply a form of livelihood for Thatheras, but it defines their family and kinship structure, work ethic and status within the social hierarchy of the town.
Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
Inscribed in 2016 (11.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
New Year is often a time when people wish for prosperity and new beginnings. March 21 marks the start of the year in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It is referred to as Nauryz, Navruz, Nawrouz, Nevruz, Nooruz, Novruz, Nowrouz or Nowruz meaning ‘new day’ when a variety of rituals, ceremonies and other cultural events take place for a period of about two weeks. An important tradition practised during this time is the gathering around ‘the Table’, decorated with objects that symbolize purity, brightness, livelihood and wealth, to enjoy a special meal with loved ones. New clothes are worn and visits made to relatives, particularly the elderly and neighbours. Gifts are exchanged, especially for children, featuring objects made by artisans. There are also street performances of music and dance, public rituals involving water and fire, traditional sports and the making of handicrafts. These practices support cultural diversity and tolerance and contribute to building community solidarity and peace. They are transmitted from older to younger generations through observation and participation.
UNESCO has added Yoga in its list of intangible world heritage. All the 24 members of the Intergovernmental Committee of the body at its session in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia unanimously accepted the Indian proposal of including it in the list.
The philosophy behind the ancient Indian practice of yoga has influenced various aspects of how society in India functions, whether it be in relation to areas such as health and medicine or education and the arts. Based on unifying the mind with the body and soul to allow for greater mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing, the values of yoga form a major part of the community’s ethos.
Yoga consists of a series of poses, meditation, controlled breathing, word chanting and other techniques designed to help individuals build self-realization, ease any suffering they may be experiencing and allow for a state of liberation. It is practised by the young and old without discriminating against gender, class or religion and has also become popular in other parts of the world.
Traditionally, yoga was transmitted using the Guru-Shishya model (master-pupil) with yoga gurus as the main custodians of associated knowledge and skills. Nowadays, yoga ashrams or hermitages provide enthusiasts with additional opportunities to learn about the traditional practice, as well as schools, universities, community centres and social media. Ancient manuscripts and scriptures are also used in the teaching and practice of yoga, and a vast range of modern literature on the subject available.
"The philosophy behind the ancient Indian practice of yoga has influenced various aspects of how society in India functions, whether it be in relation to areas such as health and medicine or education and the arts. Based on unifying the mind with the body and soul to allow for greater mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing, the values of yoga form a major part of the communityâ€™s ethos." UNESCO posted on its website.
Kumbh Mela/ 2017
Inscribed in 2017 (12.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
After ‘yoga’ and ‘Nouroz’, Kumbh Mela/ KumbhMela, the largest congregation of pilgrims on the planet, has been listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage under UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).
Kumbh Mela (the festival of the sacred Pitcher) is the largest peaceful congregation of pilgrims on earth, during which participants bathe or take a dip in a sacred river. Devotees believe that by bathing in the Ganges one is freed from sins liberating her/him from the cycle of birth and death. Millions of people reach the place without any invitation.
The congregation includes ascetics, saints, sadhus, aspirants-kalpavasis and visitors. The festival is held at Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik every four years by rotation and is attended by millions of people irrespective of caste, creed or gender. Its primary bearers, however, belong to akhadas and ashrams, religious organizations, or are individuals living on alms.
Kumbh Mela plays a central spiritual role in the country, exerting a mesmeric influence on ordinary Indians. The event encapsulates the science of astronomy, astrology, spirituality, ritualistic traditions, and social and cultural customs and practices, making it extremely rich in knowledge. The Kumbh Mela is held in Haridwar, Allahabad, Ujjain and Nashik.
As it is held in four different cities in India, it involves different social and cultural activities, making this a culturally diverse festival. Knowledge and skills related to the tradition are transmitted through ancient religious manuscripts, oral traditions, historical travelogues and texts produced by eminent historians. However, the teacher-student relationship of the sadhus in the ashrams and akhadas remains the most important method of imparting and safeguarding knowledge and skills relating to Kumbh Mela.
The Ministry of External Affairs said the inscription of ‘Kumbh Mela’ in the list was undertaken following recommendation by an expert body which examines nominations submitted by member countries of the UNESCO.
“The Intergovernment Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage under UNESCO has inscribed ‘Kumbh Mela’ on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during its 12th session held at Jeju, South Korea from 4-9 December 2017. This inscription is the third in two years following the inscriptions of ‘Yoga’ and ‘Norouz’ on 1st December 2016,” said the Ministry of External Affairs in a press statement.
=Intangible Cultural Heritage and Indian culture =
Indian cultural practices and expressions on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, as in 2021
DELHI: Six cultural heritage sites from India, including Varanasi’s ghats along the Ganges, Kanchipuram Temple in Tamil Nadu and Satpura Tiger Reserve in MP, have been added to Unesco’s tentative list of world heritage sites, Union culture minister Prahlad Singh Patel said.
Of the nine entries sent to Unesco by the Archaeological Survey of India, six have been accepted for inclusion in the tentative list, a mandatory requirement before a site is finally nominated, Patel said.
India’s entries included the Maratha military architecture in Maharashtra, the Hire Bengal megalithic site in Karnataka and Bhedaghat-Lametaghat of Narmada Valley in Madhya Pradesh. The six proposals were included on April 13, taking the total proposals from India to 48.
Three new cultural sites in India, including the iconic Sun Temple at Modhera, the historic Vadnagar town in Gujarat — PM Modi’s birth place — and the rock-cut relief sculptures of Unakoti in Tripura, have been added to the tentative list of Unesco world heritage sites.
The Unesco tentative heritage list is an inventory of those properties which each State Party, in this case India, intends to consider for nomination. Though adding a site on the tentative list is a necessary prerequisite for any cultural, natural or mixed heritage site to make it to the Unesco World Heritage List, its placement on the tentative list does not guarantee that it will be included in the list.
Union culture minister GKishan Reddy congratulated ASI for constantly identifying more monuements and places for the World Heritage List.
With this, India now has 52 sites on the Unesco tentative list that capture the diverse cultural and natural wealth of India. Last year, India had moved a proposal to add six sites to the list. These included the Satpura Tiger Reserve, iconic riverfront of the historic city of Varanasi, Megalithic site of Hire Benkal, Maratha Military Architecture in Maharashtra, Bhedaghat-Lametaghat in Narmada ValleyJabalpur, and temples of Kanchipuram.
Reddy said the Vadnagar municipality is a multi-layered historic town, whose history stretches back to nearly 8th Century BCE. “The town still retains a large number of historic buildings that are primarily religious and residential in nature,” he added.
Creative Cities Network
Varanasi (music), Srinagar (crafts and folk arts) and Chennai (music) are part of the network.
2023: Gwalior and Kozhikode
NEW DELHI: In an acknowledgment of their strong commitment to harnessing culture and creativity as part of their development strategies, Unesco included two Indian cities — Gwalior and Kozhikode — to its Creative Cities Network. Gwalior has made the cut in the ‘Music’ category, while Kerala’s Kozhikode has earned its place on the list in the ‘Literature’ category.
“The cities in Creative Cities Network are leading the way when it comes to enhancing access to culture and galvanising the power of creativity for urban resilience and development,” Audrey Azoulay, Unesco director-general, was quoted as saying in a statement.
The announcement was welcomed by PM Narendra Modi and Union culture minister G Kishen Reddy as a proud moment for India. Celebrations broke out in Kozhikode, where city mayor Beena Philip said the recognition was a result of the relentless effort by the city’s people, writers, journalists, and local libraries. She said Kozhikode carried the distinction of of being home to over 500 public libraries.
Gwalior, home to the Gwalior Gharana and synonymous with musicians like Baiju Bawra and Tansen was acknowledged for being a popular destination for learning Indian classical music from musicians in the Guru-Shishya Parampara.
Unesco released 55 new entries to its Unesco Creative Cities Network list on Tuesday. The UN culture body said the cities were being acknowledged for “their strong commitment to harnessing culture and creativity as part of their development strategies, and displaying innovative practices in human-centred urban planning.” “India’s cultural vibrancy shines brighter on the global stage with Kozhikode’s rich literary legacy and Gwalior’s melodious heritage now joining the esteemed Unesco Creative Cities Network,” PM Modi said.
He added, “As we celebrate this international recognition, our nation reaffirms its commitment to preserving and promoting our diverse cultural traditions. These accolades also reflect the collective efforts of every individual dedicated to nurturing and sharing our unique cultural narratives.”
Following their inclusion, the newly designated Creative Cities have been invited to participate in the 2024 UCCN Annual Conference from July 1-5, 2024 in Braga, Portugal, under the theme “Bringing Youth to the Table for the Next Decade”.