India’s Intangible Cultural Heritage

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Cultural heritage
Over time, many cultures are being destroyed. The new generations are forgetting their old customs and culture. Because of this, today many languages, dance, painting, festivals, etc. are on the verge of being destroyed. All these things are the precious gems of human culture in a way and to save them, we should make efforts in every way. While working in this direction, UNESCO has made a list of intangible cultural heritage.
UNESCO is trying to save this heritage by declaring a list of intangible cultural heritage. UNESCO has made a separate list of the intangible cultural heritage of every country.

 

This list was first made in 2008 when the Convention of the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage was implemented. The program, composed in 2010, has the main two lists.

A representative list of all the intangible cultural heritage of humanity and the list of those that need urgent need for the protection of intangible cultural heritage – in which the covers included those heritage that need immediate remedies.

Indian culture is more than 5000 years old. UNESCO has been providing financial and other assistance to many non-governmental organizations and government for carrying this culture developed along the Indus and the Ganges River. This assistance is being given to protect the things included in the list of India’s intangible cultural heritage.

What is Cultural Heritage?

We are all aware that cultural heritage refers to the cultural legacy that has been passed down from generation to generation and is still practiced today. However, few people are aware that UNESCO has classified cultural heritage into two broad categories. It is either a tangible or intangible cultural heritage. As we all know, tangible items are those that can be perceived with our senses, whereas intangible items cannot. Similarly, tangible cultural heritage refers to tangible items such as paintings, monuments, sculptures, and so on, whereas intangible cultural heritage refers to oral traditions, rituals, etc. 

India like every other country, has a list of both tangible and intangible cultural heritages. UNESCO went a step further in its goal of preserving cultural heritages by presenting India‘s Representative List of Humanity’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. In this article, we will identify and discuss those intangible cultural heritage of India. 

What Is Intangible Cultural Heritage? 

The things that represent the Intangible Cultural Heritage include: 

  • Oral traditions and expressions 
  • Performing arts 
  • Social practices 
  • Rituals and festivals 
  • Knowledge and habits concerning nature and the universe 
  • Traditional skills 

UNESCO’s goal is to preserve the knowledge and skills associated with artisanal work and craftsmanship, which are intangible aspects of cultural heritage. 

India’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List from 2008-2021 

2021Durga Puja in Kolkata 

Durga Puja was included in the list of intangible cultural heritage of India in the year 2021. It is a festival celebrated mainly by the Bengali diaspora residing in West Bengal. “Durga” is the goddess and “puja” is worship. Therefore, Durga Puja implies ten-day worship of Goddess Durga. To honor the goddess, artisans create idols out of clay taken from the Ganga River. On the inaugural day of Mahalaya, eyes are painted onto the idols to breathe life into them. 

People celebrate the festival with great pomp and joy. On the 10th day, a grand procession is taken out where the idols of Goddess Durga are immersed in the holy Ganges that signifies “home-coming”. Durga Puja is a beautiful display of art and religion where many craftspeople, designers, and artists collaborate together. It is the time of year when boundaries are blurred and people gather to celebrate the occasion. 

2017- Kumbh Mela 

Kumbh Mela is the largest spiritual congregation of saints or ascetics in four pilgrimage sites, namely Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain. The Mela is held rotationally in the four cities in a periodic cycle of twelve years. On this occasion, saints dip themselves in the holy Ganges or other rivers to wash their sins away and rid themselves forever from the cycle of birth and death. The Kumbh Mela is attended by a huge population barring all differences. 

The event also captures ritualistic traditions, cultural customs and practices and has immense astronomical, astrological and spiritual significance. Also, different social and cultural activities are a part of this culturally diverse festival. Knowledge and skills are not only dissipated through manuscripts or oral traditions but also that between a guru and his disciple. 

2016- Nawrouz, Novruz, Nowrouz, Nowrouz, Nawrouz, Nauryz, Nooruz, Nowruz, Navruz, Nevruz, Nowruz, Navruz 

New Year in countries like Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan etc is known as Novruz, Nowrouz, Navruz etc. On this day, gifts are exchanged, new clothes worn and special meals are shared with loved ones who gather around a table. 

This occasion is celebrated for two weeks where one gets to see street performances, public rituals with fire and water, traditional sports and a display of handicrafts. These activities are an example of cultural diversity that inspires community solidarity and peace. 

Yoga 

Yoga is one of the intangible cultural heritage and a practice involving postures that is about achieving a mind-body balance. In other words, yoga is harmonizing the sun and the moon within ourselves. Apart from poses, one can perform breathing exercises, chanting, meditation etc. 

Yoga is 5000 years old and is one tradition that is handed down through generations between a guru and his shishya (or disciple). This immensely beneficial practice is now learnt from diverse sources (yoga training centers, yoga hermitages, schools, community centers, online sources etc.) available. One can even refer to the manuscripts and ancient texts for knowledge on yoga. 

2014- Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab, India 

The Thatheras of Jandiala Guru manufactures brass and copper utensils in Punjab. These metals are believed to be good for health. The cooled cakes of metal are molded into curved shapes to create cooking vessels, plates etc. The process requires careful temperature control that is achieved by tiny stoves buried in the earth. 

Traditional polishing materials like tamarind and sand are used to make it shiny before crafting designs on its surface. These utensils are used for various purposes and the skill is inherited orally from father to son. It is not merely a source of livelihood but portrays work ethic, family structure and one’s status within society. 

2013- Sankirtana, ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur 

Sankirtana is a Manipur Vaishnavi community performance in a temple or domestic courtyard. Two drummers, ten singers, and dancers perform the story of Lord Krishna’s life and deeds. Since the performance is aesthetic and evokes intense devotion and longing for God, the audience frequently prostrates and is moved to tears. Sankirtana has tremendous religious significance and is regarded as the visible manifestation of the Almighty. The knowledge and skills of Sankirtana are passed down from mentor to disciple in order to carry on the cultural tradition. 

2012- Buddhist chanting of Ladakh 

Buddhist monks chant sacred texts that have been handed down by the followers of Buddha. Chanting is of immense consequence as it leads to one’s spiritual and moral development. Often cymbals, drums, bells, trumpets are played to give rhythm to the chanting. The Buddhist monks dress up in costumes and sit indoors and chant. Chanting is often accompanied by dancing in monastery courtyards. The chanting of each sect in Buddhism (Nyngma, Kagyud, Shakya and Geluk) is unique. The senior monks train the acolytes in this practice until chanting is learnt by heart. 

2010- Chhau dance 

Chhau dance is a semi-classical Indian dance from eastern India that enacts stories from the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana donning on masks. Here, mock combat techniques are practiced and stylized gaits of animals are birds, and actions of women engaged in chores are imitated. There are three different styles from Seraikella, Purulia and Mayurbhanj that are performed. The traditional artists teach Chhau dance to the male dancers. It is a cultural tradition that unites people from different social backgrounds or livelihoods. 

Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan 

The Kalbelias of Rajasthan blend their former livelihood of a snake charmer with that of folk songs and dances. The two musical instruments that are played during the performance are khanjari and poongi. The clothes of the dancers are stitched with silver threads and mirrors which is a specialty of Rajasthani attire. The composers of the songs often sing spontaneous lyrics, improvising on them while the women dance and twirl in their black skirts. The tradition of Kalbelia is transmitted orally and there is no book narrating on the same. Kalbelia is the identity and pride of the people of Rajasthan. 

Mudiyettu 

Mudiyettu is a ritual dance that performs the mythological battle between Goddess Kali and the demon Darika. It is a lively enactment where Narada importunes Shiva to annihilate Darika. Shiva tells Narada that the demon will be killed at the hands of a female Goddess. The entire village takes part in this enactment. After harvesting, the performers reach the temple on a particular day. Undergoing fasts, they draw Goddess Kali on the floor with powdered colors and worship her. Mudiyettu instills mutual cooperation and collaboration from different castes. The traditional values, ethics, moral codes and aesthetic norms are transmitted from the senior performers to their apprentices. 

2009- Ramman 

Ramman is a religious festival that is held in the twin villages of Saloor-Dungra in Uttarakhand. It venerates the tutelary god Bhumiyal Devta. The festivities are carried out in the temple.  

Different caste has different roles to play. The elders perform, the Brahmans pray and the Brahmans donne masks of Narasimha. It is a multiform cultural event that houses theatre, music, historical reconstructions, traditional oral and written tales. To keep the culture alive, the communities aim to transmit the knowledge to their successive generation and also intends for its propagation outside boundaries. 

2008- Kutiyattam, Sanskrit theatre 

Kuttiyam is one of the oldest living theatrical traditions from Kerala. Here, eye and hand gestures are performed that require rigorous training to master these complex muscle shifts. Kuttiyam is performed in theatres called Kuttampalams situated within a temple. A single act often takes upto 40 days to complete. Earlier, this tradition to only some individuals but it is gradually opening up to more audiences. The knowledge was of secretive nature and transferred from the male actors to their trainees but now, more people can access it. 

Tradition of Vedic chanting 

The Vedas composed by Aryans 3,500 years ago consists of Sanskrit poetry, rituals, incantations, philosophical discourses etc. It is the sacred foundation of the Hindus. There are four types of Vedas, namely Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The Vedas also consists of scientific and mathematical concepts like the value of zero. The oral tradition of the Vedas and the procedure for right chanting is trained by Brahmin priests to practitioners from an early age. 

Ramlila 

Ramlila is a performance from the epic Ramayana that takes place during Dussehra. The story of Ram’s exile is taken from Ramcharitmanas, greatest text on Hindu literature composed by Tulsidas. The performance of Ramlila may last 10 days to an entire month. Ramlila recounts the dialogues and the battles that take place between Rama and Ravana. Even audiences perform during the staging of the Ramlila. Villagers contribute to Ramlila in multiple ways by preparing effigies, mask and constume-making etc. 

Final Thought! 

Most of these intangible cultural heritages of India are on the verge of being destroyed. Either these cultural heritages are being replaced or forgotten due to reasons like lack of proper funding or the takeover by the media. These cultural traditions, rituals, incantations, dances, songs, folklore are the true gems of Indian culture. We should make efforts to preserve them in every possible way so that these valuable old traditions continue to be transmitted over generations keeping the spirit of unity, customs and collaboration alive. 

Do you belong to any of these cultural traditions mentioned above? Can you name other tangible cultural heritages of India? Leave your comments in the comments section below. 

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