UNESCO’s heritage status

Source: By Santanu Chowdhury: The Indian Express

The UNESCO on 15 December 2021 accorded heritage status to Kolkata’s Durga Puja festival. Durga Puja in Kolkata has just been inscribed on the intangible heritage list. Congratulations India,” the organisation said in a tweet attaching an image of the goddess with the hashtag #livingheritage.

A statement issued by the West Bengal government said, “The 16th Committee of UNESCO for safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in its meeting held on 15th December 2021 in Paris has inscribed Durga Puja in Kolkata on the representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of Humanity.”

What is Durga Puja?

Durga Puja, also known as Durgotsava or Sharodotsava, is an annual Hindu festival of West Bengal where people pay homage to Hindu goddess Durga. It is the biggest religious festival in Bengal and is celebrated to mark Durga’s victory over Mahishasur (buffalo demon). The city of Kolkata is the centre of this festival where more than 3,000 community Durga pujas are held during the 10-day festival, excluding the large number of pujas performed in Bengali households.

The puja is also celebrated by Bengali communities residing in other states, notably in Tripura, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Assam, Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring country Bangladesh.

Since 2016, the Mamata Banerjee government in the state has been organising Durga Puja Carnival on Red Road to attract global attention for the festival and boost the tourism sector. In this carnival, a procession of popular Durga pujas from across Kolkata and adjoining districts, accompanied by colourful tableaux, is held. The parade of Durga idols is also accompanied by cultural programmes which showcase various art and dance forms. In 2019, the central government nominated Kolkata’s Durga Puja for the 2020 UNESCO Representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

What is ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’?

According to unesco.org, “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, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.”

The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity has 492 elements currently. With the inclusion of Durga Puja in total 13 Intangible Cultural Heritage elements from India have now been inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List.

Other elements from India that feature in the list:

Koodiyattam: A Sanskrit theatre of Kerala; Mudiyett: a ritual theatre and dance drama of Kerala; Vedic chantings: recitation of sacred Hindu; Ramlila: the traditional performance of the Ramayana; Ramman: a religious festival and ritual theatre of Garhwal, Uttarakhand; Kalbelia: folk songs and dances of Rajasthan; Chhau dance: a classical dance form of Odisha and West Bengal; Ladakh Buddhist chantings: recitation of sacred Buddhist texts in Ladakh; Manipuri Sankirtana: a ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur; Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab; Yoga: ancient Indian physical, mental and spiritual practices originating in ancient India; Kumbh Mela: mass Hindu pilgrimage held at Haridwar of Uttarakhand, Nashik of Maharashtra, Prayagraj of Uttar Pradesh and Ujjain of Madhya Pradesh.