UN project to create India’s intangible heritage inventory

13 intangible cultural heritage elements from India part of Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

New Delhi: Concerned over intangible legacies in India disappearing with the passage of time, the United Nations (UN) will soon launch a project to create an “inventory” of art forms, crafts and other intangible cultural heritage in the country.


UN Resident Coordinator in India Yuri Afanasiev said the “wiki-styled project” involving multiple stakeholders will be executed, among other means, through “crowdsourcing”.

“India is endowed with not just with the wealth of iconic monuments and landmarks and built heritage, but also home to countless intangible cultural heritage, like folk music, art forms, textile design, craftsmanship,” Afanasiev said.

But, a number of these intangible cultural heritage are “disappearing” on a daily basis and it “pains me”, the UN official said.

“We at UN India are working on a project that will seek to create an inventory of intangible cultural heritage. We will take help of crowdsourcing as well,” Afanasiev told PTI.

On October 24, the UN dedicated its iconic campus here to India’s cultural heritage, as its office in New Delhi marked the UN Day with a dazzling display of the country’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage.


What’s on the list?

A total of 13 intangible cultural heritage elements from India have been inscribed until now on the Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

These include the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage; Novruz (new year); tradition of Vedic chanting; Ramlila folk re-enactment; Kutiyattam performing art; Sanskrit theatre; Ramman, a religious festival and ritual theatre of the Garhwal Himalayas; Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan; and the Chhau dance.

“A simple tradition of producing handcrafted saris in a small town, a folk song in a village in a corner of the country, or a recipe crafted by someone’s mother or grandmother — may be disappearing because the next generation has migrated to other, big cities,” he said.

“And, this project, tentatively dubbed ‘A snapshot inventory of intangible cultural heritage’ seeks to capture them in a capsule of sorts, for posterity. So, it could document sounds, sights, techniques, styles, though photographs or other audio-visual medium,” Afanasiev said.

He said the project’s duration will span about a year.


Who’s in charge?

The UN, besides engaging with its own agencies like Unesco and UNDP, will also collaborate with several Indian ministries, such as the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Textiles.

On UN Day, Afanasiev had hailed India’s cultural diversity, saying: “I personally have a love affair with India, its rich taste, colours, sounds, smells and food.”

The UN House has been revived as the site for safeguarding the history of the seven-decade-long India-UN partnership and of India’s great contributions to the UN, he said. “We are equally proud to dedicate this compound to India’s cultural heritage, and the vibrant plural developmental traditions of the country that will provide the right environment for thinking about SDGs (sustainable development goals),” Afanasiev said.

UN House is an iconic landmark, one of the buildings designed by noted American architect Joseph Allen Stein in the Lodhi Estate area, the others being India International Centre and India Habitat Centre.

Srishti Kaur, 20, a winner of a national beauty pageant in the teen category in 2017, was among the invitees at the UN Day. She said she runs a clothing line in Noida that promotes khadi and cotton. “We as youth must take pride in our cultural heritage and promote it,” Kaur said.

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