Now BJP, Trinamool fight over Durga Puja's UNESCO intangible cultural heritage tag: What is it?

Last year, UNESCO included Durga Puja on the list of 'Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity'. Now, politicians in West Bengal are fighting over who should be given credit for it

FP Explainers September 26, 2022 18:45:09 IST
Now BJP, Trinamool fight over Durga Puja's UNESCO intangible cultural heritage tag: What is it?

Durga Puja became a part of UNESCO's intagible cultural list last year. ANI

Durga Puja is the pride of the people of West Bengal. Last year, it was awarded a most-coveted United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) intangible cultural heritage (ICH) list. Now the Trinamool Congress and Bhartiya Janta Party are squabbling over it.

According to a PTI report, Union Minister of State for Education Subhas Sarkar slammed TMC for taking credit for the Centre’s hard work in ensuring that Durga Puja gets recognition.

Sarkar said, “The state government had no role in getting the ICH, but it is now very active in hijacking the credit. The Union government and its ministries played a key role in ensuring that we get this recognition. The TMC dispensation cannot show even one letter it had written to the Centre on getting the tag.”

As a response to Sarkar’s comments, Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim said the BJP has a habit of “hankering” for credit.

According to a report by Indian Express, Meenakshi Lekhi, the Union Minister of State for Culture of India said, “Applications to get the UNESCO tag for Kolkata’s Durga Puja were made earlier too, but those were rejected. A fresh effort was made under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and we got the recognition.”

Hakim also referred to an earlier claim made by BJP that TMC doesn’t allow Durga Puja in West Bengal. “If that was the case, how come UNESCO has recognised it? The BJP’s lies are now out in the open,” he said.

What is intangible cultural heritage?

According to UNESCO, cultural heritage does not end at monuments or cultural objects. It also goes on to include traditions that people inherit from their ancestors like oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events or knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

In the wake of growing globalisation, UNESCO says that intangible cultural heritage is an important factor to maintain cultural diversity. An ability to understand intangible cultural heritage helps different communities to engage in intercultural dialogue and encourages mutual respect for different ways of life.

Now BJP Trinamool fight over Durga Pujas UNESCO intangible cultural heritage tag What is it

Graphic: Pranay Bharadwaj

The intangible cultural heritage list tries to safeguard elements that require urgent measures to keep them alive. The list also helps to mobilise international support and cooperation for stakeholders to undertake safeguarding measures.

What are the criteria for getting the tag?

To become a part of the prestigious list, State Parties are required to demonstrate that an element which they are nominating for inscription fulfils the definition of intangible cultural heritage as mentioned in Article 2 of the convention.

Apart from this, parties are also required to demonstrate the urgent need of safeguarding a cultural heritage element because its facing grave threat and cannot be expected to survive without safeguarding.

How did Durga Puja get the tag?

Kolkata’s most famous festival of the year, Durga Puja, earmarked its name on the list last year.

The decision was taken at the 16th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The meeting was attended by representatives of States Parties, non-governmental organisations, cultural institutions and other stakeholders.

The UNESCO website said, “Durga Puja is seen as the best instance of the public performance of religion and art, and as thriving ground for collaborative artists and designers. The festival is characterised by large-scale installations and pavilions in urban areas, as well as by traditional Bengali drumming and veneration of the goddess. During the event, the divides of class, religion and ethnicities collapse as crowds of spectators walk around to admire the installations.”

Do any other Indian traditions have this tag?

The government of India last month nominated the traditional dance form Garba for inclusion in the intangible cultural heritage list.

UNESCO’s IHC Secretary Tim Curtis said that the nomination will be considered for the next year’s cycle only, according to a report by Mint.

Currently, 14 cultural heritage elements from India have been made part of the prestigious list. Some of these include the Kumbh Mela, Novruz, traditional brass and copper utensil-making tradition of the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru in Punjab, Sankirtana of Manipur, Buddhist chanting of Ladakh, Chhau dance, Kalbelia dance of Rajasthan Mudiyettu of Kerala, Ramman festival of Garhwal, Kutiyattam Sanskrit theatre, Ramlila, and Vedic chanting.

What about festivals from around the world?

Other festivals from around the world like Portugal’s Community festivities in Campo Maior, the pomegranate festival called Nar Bayrami of Azerbaijan, Peru’s Hatajo de Negritos and the Hatajo de Pallitas which is celebrated as a part of Christmas and Festivity of Las Parrandas in Cuba are on the list.

Worldwide, even some dishes are mentioned on the list. For example, Haiti’s traditional soup joumou was added to the list in 2021, Mexican cuisine was granted the tag in 2010 and Tajikistan’s traditional dish called Oshi Palav, which is known to bring together people from different backgrounds, was given the ICH tag in 2016.

With inputs from agencies

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