Did you know that the French baguette has become so renowned worldwide (yes, yes, for its memes too) that it’s now on UNESCO’s intangible world cultural heritage list? Surprising right? What about India? What do we have that is so unique to us that it’s on a list specifically meant to showcase our joie de vivre as humans? Here are 5 beautiful Indian Traditions that made it to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list.
A little backdrop of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List
‘Intangible heritage’ was first mentioned in 1982, during the World Conference on Cultural Policies in Mexico City. 7 years later, UNESCO codified the term in the Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore. The idea only took off in 1997, with the re-ratified Proclamation of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
It all eventually culminated in what is now known as the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage which showcases humanity’s cultural diversity and creative expression. Who knows? Maybe one day when aliens visit Earth, we can show them this list.
Here are 5 of India’s customs and traditions that have made the list.
Undoubtedly, the least surprising on the list. When foreigners are asked what comes to their mind when they think about India, yoga comes up almost inevitably.
Yoga is a mystical practice based on the unification of mind, body, and soul. There are people who still practice yoga to eventually separate from and view mundane suffering, from a detached state of mind. On the other hand, there are more and more people who practice the ancient art for its innumerable health benefits. It has well-supported claims of physical as well as psychological healing: from lower back pain to depression.
However, yoga was only considered and added in 2016 to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List, during the 11th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
In the 11th session of the Committee, it was decided that Nawrouz would be added to the 2016 list. March 31 marks the start of the new year for the people of Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and much more, including some peoples in India such as the Zoroastrians, Baháʼís, and some Muslim communities. The term itself means Iranian new year in the Persian language.
The term also means a ‘new day. The most important tradition practiced during this time is the gathering around the ‘Table’ decorated with objects that symbolize purity, wealth, and happiness.
Traditional sports, public rituals, performances, and much more happen during Nawrouz. Elders, neighbors, friends, and relatives are visited, and gifts are exchanged. Most importantly, it promotes diversity in culture, tolerance, and unity.
3. Buddhist Chanting of Ladakh
In the monasteries and villages of Ladakh, Buddhist lamas chant sacred texts representing the spirit, philosophy, and teachings of Buddha.
The chanting is practiced every day for one’s spiritual and moral well-being as well as for the purification and well-being of the world as a whole. Due to the fact that there are two forms of Buddhism and four major sects, there are different types of Buddhist chanting, some with dances in the monastery courtyard and some, indoors. The monks wear costumes and make special hand gestures called mudras to accompany the chanting.
Originating from Kerala, Mudiyettu is a ritual dance that plays out the tale of the battle between Goddess Kali and the demon, Darika.
Narada Muni had asked Lord Shiva to contain the demon who could not be defeated by mortals. So, Lord Shiva commands that Darika will die at the hands of Goddess Kali. The ritual dance depicts this battle and ends in the death of the demon.
After the summer harvest, villagers reach the temple early in the morning and the performers fast and pray prior to the invocation of the Goddess. A large drawing of Goddess Kali is made with kolam or what is more commonly known as rangoli. Participation in the event fosters unity within all and also promotes bonding.
5. Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan
The Kalbelia community’s songs and dances are their way of life. They were once professional snake handlers but now, they evoke their former occupation in music and dance.
The women dance in flowing black skirts while the men sing and play instruments such as the khanjari (percussion instruments) and the poonji (traditional snake charmer flute). The best part is that they are known to spontaneously invent lyrics during the performance itself. The women are stunningly dressed in long flowing black skirts and mimic the movement of snakes. The songs and dances are part of an oral tradition that have no known written instructions. In 2010, it was decided that the community’s traditional traveling lifestyle and attempts at keeping their tradition alive earned them a spot on the list.
These are only some of the traditions that have made the list. We strongly encourage you to check out the others on UNESCO’s official website. We are definitely going to gorge ourselves on our beautiful and diverse Indian culture, and so should you!