UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) thrives to preserve the cultural expressions of the world. Read here to know about the significance and efforts of the Convention.
India has been elected to the Intergovernmental Committee of UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) for the 2022-2026 cycle.
What is Intangible Cultural Heritage?
The term ‘cultural heritage’ has changed content considerably in recent decades, partially owing to the instruments developed by UNESCO.
Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as:
- oral traditions
- performing arts
- social practices
- festive events
- practices concerning nature and the universe
- the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts
While fragile, ICH is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization. An understanding of the ICH of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life.
The social and economic value of the transmission of knowledge natural heritage is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a State and is as important for developing States as for developed ones.
Intangible cultural heritage is:
- Traditional, contemporary, and living at the same time: intangible cultural heritage does not only represent inherited traditions from the past but also contemporary rural and urban practices in which diverse cultural groups take part;
- Inclusive: we may share expressions of intangible cultural heritage that are similar to those practiced by others. Whether they are from the neighboring village, from a city on the opposite side of the world, or have been adopted by peoples who have migrated and settled in a different region, they all are intangible cultural heritage.
- They have been passed from one generation to another, have evolved in response to their environments and they contribute to giving us a sense of identity and continuity, providing a link from our past, through the present, and into our future.
- Representative: intangible cultural heritage thrives on its basis in communities and depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills, and customs are passed on to of the community, from generation to generation, or to other communities;
- Community-based: intangible cultural heritage can only be heritage when it is recognized as such by the communities, groups, or individuals that create, maintain, and transmit it – without their recognition, nobody else can decide for them that a given expression or practice is their heritage.
The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity currently has 492 elements. It includes forms of expression that testify to the diversity of intangible heritage and raises awareness of its importance.
By enhancing the visibility of communities’ cultural practices and know-how, UNESCO aims to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage of communities globally.
UNESCO’s Convention for Safeguarding the ICH
The Convention of the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2003 and entered into force in 2006.
It comprises 24 members and is elected in the General Assembly of the Convention according to the principles of equitable geographical representation and rotation.
Members of the Committee are elected for a term of four years.
- To safeguard the expressions of intangible cultural heritage that are endangered by the processes of globalization.
- To ensure respect for the intangible cultural heritage of the communities, groups and individuals.
- To raise awareness at the local, national and international levels of the importance of intangible cultural heritage.
India as a member of the Convention for Safeguarding the ICH
This is an important role for India to adorn. Before this, India served as a member of the ICH Committee twice: from 2006 to 2010 and from 2014 to 2018.
This will help India strengthen and foster international cooperation through intangible heritage, promoting academic research on intangible cultural heritage.
- This aligns with the work of the Convention with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
The Ministry of Culture has appointed the Sangeet Natak Akademi, an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Culture, as the nodal office for matters relating to the intangible cultural heritage including for the preparation of the nomination dossiers for the Representative List of UNESCO.
- The Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA) makes it necessary for the stakeholders, experts/officials, etc. prior to the finalization of the dossier in respect of elements identified for the nomination.
- Being the nodal office the SNA maintains a National Inventory of ICH elements and the inclusion of the identified element for UNESCO in the National Inventory/Register etc. of the applicant member state is also a pre-requisite for inclusion in the UNESCO’s Representative List of ICH.
The Ministry of Culture makes regular Schemes, as well as organizations, make efforts toward the preservation, protection, and promotion of intangible cultural heritage in the country.
Various autonomous bodies under the Ministry of Culture have comprehensive mandates in this regard and are functioning in various spheres of preservation and promotion of intangible cultural heritage and diverse traditions of the country.
Some of the major organizations involved in the preservation of propagation of ICH are named below:
- Sahitya Akademi, Lalit Kala Akademi, Sangeet Natak Akademi
- Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts
- National School of Drama
- Centre for Cultural Resources & Training
- Zonal Cultural Centres (seven in number)
- Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya
- Anthropological Survey of India
Apart from these, there are several schemes under the implementation of the Ministry of Culture for providing financial assistance to artists & institutions involved in the promotion/propagation of the various forms of ICH.
In addition, the Ministry of Culture has implemented, since the year 2013-14, a scheme titled “Scheme for Safeguarding the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Diverse Cultural Traditions of India” with the aims and objectives of professionally enhancing awareness and interest in ICH, safeguarding, promoting, and propagating it systematically.
India has 14 intangible cultural heritage elements on the UNESCO Representative List.
The latest, Durga Puja of Kolkata was added to the list in 2021 and Garba of Gujarat in 2023.
List of Indian elements and the year of their inscription:
- The tradition of Vedic chanting (2008)
- Ramlila, the traditional performance of the Ramayana (2008)
- Kutiyattam, Sanskrit theatre (2008)
- Ramman, religious festival and ritual theatre of the Garhwal Himalayas, India (2009)
- Mudiyettu, ritual theatre and dance drama of Kerala (2010)
- Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan (2010)
- Chhau dance (2010)
- Buddhist chanting of Ladakh: recitation of sacred Buddhist texts in the trans-Himalayan Ladakh region, Jammu and Kashmir, India (2012)
- Sankirtana, ritual singing, drumming, and dancing of Manipur (2013)
- Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab, India (2014)
- Yoga (2016)
- Nawrouz, Novruz, Nowrouz, Nowrouz, Nawrouz, Nauryz, Nooruz, Nowruz, Navruz, Nevruz, Nowruz, Navruz (2016)
- Kumbh Mela (2017)
- Durga Puja of Kolkata (2021)
- Garba of Gujarat (2023)
National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)
The National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of India is an attempt to recognize the diversity of Indian culture embedded in its intangible heritage. It aims to raise awareness about the various intangible cultural heritage elements from different states of India at the national and international levels and ensure their protection.
Following UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the ICH this list has been classified into five broad domains in which intangible cultural heritage is manifested:
- Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage
- Performing arts
- Social practices, rituals, and festive events
- Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe
- Traditional craftsmanship
The present items in the list have been assembled from the projects sanctioned under the scheme for ‘Safeguarding the ICH and Diverse Cultural Traditions of India’ formulated by the Ministry of Culture.
The scheme aims at reinforcing the diverse cultural expressions that are necessary for the continuous evolution and interpretation of intangible cultural heritage in India, as well as their transmission to future generations.
-Article by Swathi Satish