Indian Art Forms on UNESCO’s heritage list
The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) inscribes three Indian performing-art forms, the Mudiyettu, a ritual art form of Kerala; the Chhau dance, a traditional mask dance from Eastern India; and the Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This annual list, unlike the World Heritage list that focuses on monuments and natural sites, spotlights performing art forms of outstanding value and are vulnerable due to lack of support.
The Mudiyettu, the ritual dance drama which is more than 250 years old is annually performed after the harvest of summer crops in Kerala. This art form involves elaborate drawings on floors, masks made of areca nut fronds and playing of drums. Mudiyettu, once famous and well patronised, is now performed only by three traditional families of regular performers.
Chhau dance is a genre of Indian tribal martial dance, which is popular in the Indian states of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa.
Songs and dances are an expression of the Kalbelia community’s traditional way of life. Once professional snake handlers, Kalbelia songs disseminate mythological knowledge through stories, while special traditional dances are performed during Holi, the festival of colors. The songs also demonstrate the poetic acumen of the Kalbelia, who are reputed to compose lyrics spontaneously and improvise songs during performances. They demonstrate their community’s attempt to revitalize its cultural heritage and adapt it to changing socioeconomic conditions.
The Kalbelia Community of snake charmers are also impacted and are in need of support. The inscription of Kalbelia folk songs and dances on the Representative List could help to raise awareness about the importance of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage by offering an example of a marginalized community’s adaptability and creativity;
Every year various governments forward nominations for inscribing in the Representative List. In addition, separate nominations are also sent for inscribing in the Urgent Safeguarding List. This list focuses on art forms “whose continuous recreation and transmission” are threatened and are in need of immediate support.
This year, the UNESCO received 54 nominations for the Representative List. The subsidiary body, after reviewing them advised seven nominations to be withdrawn, rejected one and recommended the rest for the inscription. Six nominations were received for the Urgent Safeguarding List of which two were withdrawn, one was rejected and three were recommended for inscription. All the three nominations proposed by India for the Representative List were recommended.
The Fifth Session of the UNESCO Inter-governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage accepted this recommendation. So far, about eight Indian heritage elements, including these three, have been inscribed in the representative list.