National Register of India’s Intangible Culture

Government to Constitute an Expert Committee to Decide on the Work of Preparing a National Register of India’s Intangible Culture

The second meeting of the Coordination Committee on Living and Diverse Cultural Traditions was held  under the chairpersonship of Union Culture Minister. The high-powered committee goes into all aspects of intangible heritage and makes recommendations on the areas of preparation of a national inventory on Intangible Cultural Heritage, archives, education and outreach programmes by using such information. The committee comprises individuals who have distinguished themselves in the field of research and promotion of Indian culture viz. Smt. Kapila Vatsyayan, Shri Sitakant Mahapatra, Prof. G.N. Devy, Prof. Kartikeya V. Sarabhai, Prof. Peter Ronald De Souza and secretaries of several ministries of the Union Government.

It was decided by the coordination committee that an expert committee should be constituted to decide on the work of preparing a national register of India’s intangible culture and to advise on a mechanism overarching inter-ministerial coordination leading to a comprehensive action plan to preserve and promote India’s intangible heritage and dying cultural traditions.

It was also decided that we should focus as much on people since without that focus on our living traditions cannot be sustained. It was decided that the objective of the coordination committee should be to oversee the preparation of an exhaustive listing of Indian cultural expressions and make recommendations regarding providing recognition and associated benefits, to the creators /originators of such unique cultural expressions.

What is Intangible Cultural Hertiage?

Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is promoted by UNESCO as a counterpart to the World Heritage that focuses mainly on tangible aspects of culture. In 2001, UNESCO made a survey among States and NGOs to try to agree on a definition, and the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage was drafted in 2003 for its protection and promotion.

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Intangible culture is the counterpart of culture which is tangible or touchable, whereas intangible culture includes song, music, drama, skills, crafts, and the other parts of culture that can be recorded but cannot be touched and interacted with, without a vehicle for the culture. These cultural vehicles are called “Human Treasures” by the UN.

According to the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) – or living heritage – is the mainspring of humanity’s cultural diversity and its maintenance a guarantee for continuing creativity.

The term ‘cultural heritage’ has changed content considerably in recent decades, partially owing to the instruments developed by UNESCO. 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.

While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization. An understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue, and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life.

The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next. The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a State, and is as important for developing States as for developed ones.

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Intangible cultural heritage is:

  • Traditional, contemporary and living at the same time: intangible cultural heritage does not only represent inherited traditions from the past but also contemporary rural and urban practices in which diverse cultural groups take part;
  • Inclusive: we may share expressions of intangible cultural heritage that are similar to those practised by others. Whether they are from the neighbouring village, from a city on the opposite side of the world, or have been adapted by peoples who have migrated and settled in a different region, they all are intangible cultural heritage: they have been passed from one generation to another, have evolved in response to their environments and they contribute to giving us a sense of identity and continuity, providing a link from our past, through the present, and into our future. Intangible cultural heritage does not give rise to questions of whether or not certain practices are specific to a culture. It contributes to social cohesion, encouraging a sense of identity and responsibility which helps individuals to feel part of one or different communities and to feel part of society at large;
  • Representative: intangible cultural heritage is not merely valued as a cultural good, on a comparative basis, for its exclusivity or its exceptional value. It thrives on its basis in communities and depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills and customs are passed on to the rest of the community, from generation to generation, or to other communities;
  • Community-based: intangible cultural heritage can only be heritage when it is recognized as such by the communities, groups or individuals that create, maintain and transmit it – without their recognition, nobody else can decide for them that a given expression or practice is their heritage
Raja Raja Cholan
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