Celebrating India’s Intangible Heritages

“India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters.
I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.
I shall always strive to be worthy of it….”

We have been reciting this pledge for more than 10 years of our schooling. We have pledged our devotion to our country and to its rich and varied heritages. But what exactly are we striving to be worthy of? What is heritage? And further, what is cultural or intangible heritage?

Heritage are such things that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. Such heritages can be of two types:

  1. Tangible Heritage: Heritages that have a physical existence. Objects, artefacts, buildings, places and monuments form a part of tangible heritages.
  2. Intangible Heritage: Intangible cultural heritage is commonly defined as not having a physical presence. It includes living manifestations and traditions that we have inherited from our ancestors.


The Intangible Cultural Heritage includes things of the following domains:

  1. Oral traditions and expressions, including language, e.g. songs, lullabies, storytelling, communal labour songs, etc.
  2. Performing arts (e.g. music, dance, traditional theatre, puppet-plays, painting, calligraphy, etc.)
  3. Social practices, rituals, and festive events (e.g. festivals, processions, games, mourning ceremonies, weddings, etc.)
  4. Knowledge and practices concerning nature and universe (e.g. medicine, architecture, navigation systems, methods of utilizing clean energy, management systems, etc.)
  5. Traditional craftsmanship (e.g. knowledge and skills of pottery-making, felt-making, textile-making, wood-work, metal-work, jewelry-making, musical instrument making, etc.).

It is important to understand and show respect for both tangible and intangible elements and it’s equally important, if not more, to safeguard them. This has been one of the main motivations driving the conception and ratification of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Since 2008, UNESCO has been creating a list of intangible cultural practices from around the world and safeguarding them. While India is a repository of an astounding wealth of living patterns and modes of heritage with about 1400 dialects and 22 officially recognised languages, several religions, various styles of art, architecture, literature, music and dance, and several lifestyle patterns, we have no shortage of traditions that we’re sure should deserve a place on the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritages of India!

But for now let’s celebrate 13 such cultural heritages that have been recognized by the international body and stand as proud testimonials to our rich, cultural past.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  1.  Tradition of Vedic chanting (2008): The ritualistic chanting of Vedas was a part of the rich oral traditions of the “Guru-Shishya Parampara”. Although Vedas are an important part of Hinduism, only 13 Vedic recitation branches have survived from over 1,000 different branches. These recitation schools are now only found in Maharashtra (central India), Kerala and Karnataka (southern India) and Orissa (eastern India).
  2.  Ramlila (2008): The traditional performance of the Ramayana where the stories of the Hindu Epic are performed by actors in front of the masses was declared a Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
  3.  Kutiyattam, Sanskrit theatre (2008): Native to Kerela, the Kuttiyattam is India’s oldest theatre form. The performers or actors go through a very rigorous training in sophisticated breathing control and subtle muscle shifts of the face and body for ten to fifteen years.
  4.  Ramman (2009): A religious festival and ritual theatre of the Garhwal Himalayas, India. 18 people play 18 characters, wearing 18 masks to dance on 18 beats to celebrate the 18 puranas.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  1.  Mudiyettu (2010), a ritual theatre and dance drama of Kerala. It is performed for purification and rejuvenation of the community. It is the enactment of the mythological tale of a battle between the goddess Kali and the demon Darika. The ritual is a part of the Bhagwati cult. It is performed in just 4 districts of Kerela during the four-day festival dedicated to Goddess Kali after the summer harvest.
  2.  Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan (2010): Kalbelia is a sensuous form of dancing, which mimics the movements of snakes in some sense. Dressed in black with mirrors and other ornaments, the women allure with their fluid dance moves, while the musical instrument ‘poongi’ and songs are sung by men.
  3.  Chhau dance (2010): Chhau is semi-classical form of tribal dance, combining martial arts, storytelling, mock combat, acrobatics, and athletics in eastern India- Orissa, Jharkhand & West Bengal.
  4.  Buddhist chanting of Ladakh (2012): A recitation of the sacred Buddhist texts in the trans-Himalayan Ladakh region, Jammu and Kashmir, India.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  1.  Sankirtana, ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur (2013): Sankirtana includes an array of art forms that are performed to mark various religious stages in the lives of the Vaishanava people of Manipur. It was started by the Manipuri Hindus in the 15th century.
  2.  Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab, (2014): The group of people who have kept the art alive and still practice it till date are called Thantheras, which literally means the metal copper. The craft is important, both in utility and ritual. They primarily use copper, brass and kansa (an alloy of copper, ton and zinc), eating and cooking in these metals is recommended by Ayurveda.
  3.  Yoga (2016): The ancient tradition of health and wellness, Yoga has gained international recognition. The ancient Indian practice is based on unifying the mind with the body and soul to allow for greater mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing.
  4.  Nawrouz, the Parsi New Year (2016): Parsees or the Persian Zoroastrians are one of the smallest communities in the world, with most of their population concentration in India. Navroz, the celebrations of the Iranian New Year is a festival that is inscribed by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage.
  5.  Kumbh Mela (2017): The holy Kumbh Mela, reputed as “the world’s most massive act of faith”, plays a central spiritual role in our country. The event summarizes the science of astronomy, astrology, spirituality, ritualistic traditions, and social and cultural customs and practices, making it extremely rich in knowledge.

These intangible cultural heritages symbolises what India brings to the world! We must take pride n our cultural heritage, promote it and definitely strive to be worthy of it. Because India is so much more than what we see around us today…

© 2018 Ashwini Nawathe, Kaleidoscope of My Life

All Rights Reserved

28 thoughts on “Celebrating India’s Intangible Heritages

  1. Quite an engaging read on heritages, Ashwini…..nicely done…any country’s greatness comes from it’s openness to embrace the future while maintaining it’s connections with the past and heritages…..:)

Leave a Reply