UNESCO adds Jamaican reggae, Georgian wrestling and Japanese rituals to ‘intangible heritage’ list


The Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage is meeting until December 1 in Mauritius, inscribing new elements to its much coveted-list.

Japan’s Raiho-shin rituals, used to admonish laziness and teach children good behavior, was another winner. Stemming from folk beliefs that deities visit communities and usher in the new year or season, local people dress in outlandish costumes and visit houses as deities.

Practiced across many areas of Jordan, As-Samer, another new inscription, consists mainly of dancing and singing. Performed on various occasions, most commonly during weddings, UNESCO explained that poetry forms an integral part of the tradition, “expressing feelings of joy, peace, intimacy, and empathy” among those in attendance.

A historic joint bid was made by both Koreas, to include traditional Korean wrestling known as ssirum/ssireum. Fundamentally linked to land and agriculture, UNESCO’s chief was instrumental in persuading North and South to combine cultural forces, embracing both a national sport and a very popular cultural practice.

With the aim of ensuring better protection of important intangible cultural heritage across the world and in order to create awareness of their significance, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) based in Paris (UNESCO) established the intangible cultural heritage list.  UNESCO General Conference adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage as an international treaty acknowledging that cultural heritage is more than tangible objects, monuments, and places. It also encompasses living expressions and traditions. Intangible cultural heritage means the skills, knowledge, expressions, representations, practices – as well as the artifacts, objects, instruments, and cultural spaces associated with them that various groups, communities and in certain cases individuals recognize as a part of their cultural heritage. This list is published by the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Its members are elected by State parties meeting in the United Nations General Assembly. It aims at drawing attention to the importance of safeguarding the cultural heritage and is a repository of cultural diversity and creative expression.

India, known for its heritage and cultural diversity has 13 cultural heritages in the UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list. “Kumbh Mela” was the latest addition to the list. Kumbh Mela was inscribed on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during the 12th session held at Jeju, South Korea.

UNESCO intangible cultural heritage from India

  • Koodiyattam – a Sanskrit theatrical tradition practiced in a province of Kerala, traditionally performed in theatres called as Kuttampalams located in the Hindu temples.
  • Vedic Chanting – the tradition of Vedic chanting, chanted during sacred rituals and recited daily by the Vedic communities known not only for the rich content of its oral literature but also for the ingenious techniques employed by the Brahmin priests.
  • Ramlila – The traditional performance of Ramayana performed across North India during the festival of Dussehra. Most representatives are those performed in Sattna, Vrindavan, Varanasi, and Ramnagar.
  • Ramman – A religious festival in honor of the tutelary god, Bhumiyal Devta practiced in the villages of Saloor-Dungra in the state of Uttarakhand. Each of the caste and occupational groups has distinct roles in the festival.
  • Mudiyett – A ritual dance drama from the state of Kerala based on a mythological tale of the battle between Darika – the demon and goddess Kali.
  • Kalbelia – A folk song and dance form of Rajasthan. ‘Khanjari’ percussion instrument and the ‘Poongi’, a woodwind instrument are used during the performance. Kalbelia songs disseminate mythological knowledge through stories. At times, the lyrics are spontaneously composed and improvised during the performance.
  • Chhau Dance – A tradition from eastern India that enacts episodes from epics including the Mahabharata and Ramayana, local folklore and abstract themes. It is closely connected to the regional festivals specifically the Chaitra Parva.
  • Buddhist Chanting – The sacred texts chanted by the Buddhist lamas (priests) in the Ladakh region. Each of the Buddhist sects has several forms of chanting.
  • Sankirtana – Includes a set of arts performed to mark religious occasions and various stages in the life of the Vaishnava people of the Manipur plains.
  • Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making – The craft of the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru constitute the traditional technique of manufacturing brass and copper utensils in Punjab.
  • Yoga – The art of unifying the mind with body and soul for greater spiritual, mental and physical well-being. It consists of a series of poses, meditation, controlled breathing, word chanting etc.
  • Nawrouz – The Persian New year celebrated worldwide. It involves street performances of music and dance, public rituals involving water and fire, traditional sports and the making of handicrafts.
  • Kumbh Mela – The festival of a sacred pitcher where the pilgrims bathe or take a dip in the sacred river. It is one of the largest human congregations in the world. It is held in four pilgrimage places on the sacred rivers in Haridwar, Ujjain, Nashik, and Prayag.
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