Ahmedabad: UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage has listed the Kumbh Mela on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Register of good safeguarding practices.

The committee meets annually to evaluate nominations proposed by states parties to the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and decide whether or not to inscribe cultural practices and expressions of intangible heritage on the convention’s lists.

The Kumbh Mela is India’s third listing in two years, with Navroz and Yoga being added in 2016. Here’s a look at the other entries from India:

Navroz—2016

The Parsi New Year was added to list as representing a number of countries apart from India—Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. While rituals, ceremonies and other cultural events take place over a period of 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.

Yoga—2016

Yoga is of special interest to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has participated in mass demonstrations on the International Day of Yoga for the past three years. Thousands gathered at the Ramabai Ambedkar Maidan in Lucknow on 21 June this year despite continuous rain to join the Prime Minister. Addressing those gathered, Modi said he was glad to see several yoga institutes take shape over the last three years and noted that the demand for teachers is increasing. In addition to fitness, wellness is important, the Prime Minister said, words that were echoed by UNESCO: “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.”

Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru—2014

The Thathera community in Jandiala Guru, in Amritsar district in Punjab, is known for its exquisite work and has made the town a hub for jewellery and utensils. The metals that they use—copper, brass and certain alloys—are believed to be beneficial for health, and the process is passed down by oral tradition 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.

Sankirtana—2013

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 10 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.

Buddhist chanting of Ladakh—2012

In the monasteries and villages of Ladakh, Buddhist lamas 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 lifecycle rituals and on important days in the Buddhist and agrarian calendars. Chanting is undertaken for the spiritual and moral wellbeing 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 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.

Chhau dance—2010

The Chhau dance tradition from eastern India enacts episodes from epics including the Mahabharata and Ramayana, local folklore and abstract themes. Its three distinct styles hail from the regions of Seraikella (Jharkhand), Purulia (West Bengal) and Mayurbhanj (Odisha), 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. Chhau is an integral part of the culture of these communities, binding 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.

Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan—2010

Songs and dances are an expression of the Kalbelia community’s traditional way of life. Once professional snake handlers, the Kalbelia today evoke their former occupation in music and dance that is evolving in new and creative ways. Today, women in flowing black skirts dance and swirl, replicating the movements of a serpent, while men accompany them on the khanjari and the poongi, an instrument traditionally played to capture snakes.

Mudiyettu, ritual theatre and dance drama of Kerala—2010

The Mudiyettu ritual dance drama from Kerala is based on the mythological tale of a battle between Kali and Darika. Performers purify themselves through fasting and prayer, and then draw a huge image of goddess Kali on the temple floor, wherein the spirit of the goddess is invoked. This prepares the ground for the enactment to follow, in which the 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 Kali. Mudiyettu is performed annually in Bhagavati Kavus, the temples of the goddess, in different villages along the Chalakkudy Puzha, Periyar and Moovattupuzha rivers.

Ramman—2009

In late April, the twin villages of Saloor-Dungra in Uttarakhand 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 Ram 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 Narasimha.

Kutiyattam—2008

Kutiyattam, a form of Sanskrit theatre practised in 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. 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. With the collapse of patronage along with the feudal order in the 19th century, families who held the secrets to the acting techniques experienced serious difficulties. After a revival in the early 20th century, Kutiyattam is once again facing a lack of funding, leading to a severe crisis in the profession.

Ramlila—2008

Ramlila, a performance of the Ramayana, is performed across northern India during Dussehra. The most representative Ramlilas are those of Ayodhya, Ramnagar and Varanasi, Vrindavan, Almora, Sattna and Madhubani. This staging of the Ramayana is based on the Ramacharitmanas, composed by Tulsidas in the 16th 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 10-12 days, but some, such as Ramnagar’s, may last an entire month. However, the development of mass media 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.

Tradition of Vedic chanting—2008

The Vedas embody one of the world’s oldest surviving cultural traditions, and their heritage embraces a multitude of texts and interpretations collected in the four Vedas. Although they continue to play an important role in contemporary Indian life, only 13 of the over 1,000 Vedic recitation branches have survived. Moreover, four noted schools—in Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka and Orissa—are considered under imminent threat.

Source: UNESCO

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