Yoga is on UNESCO’s list. But it is not the first one.
Yoga is practiced by people from all communities and has numerous health benefits (let’s just discount ridiculous claims by Baba Ramdev. Had there been no rationalists to oppose him, yoga would’ve brought back the dead). This practice has now attained global recognition after UNESCO declared it as Intangible Cultural Heritage to Humanity. Celebrate? Celebrate.
This will at least protect the religious and cultural significance attached to the practice. There are ridiculous versions of yoga throughout the world. Call it appropriation, call it ignorance. But we all know that trance yoga is miles away from any significance attached to it. And if you thought that this was the first distortion of the age old practice, do look up Motorcycle yoga, doga, Dungeons and Dragons yoga.
What is Intangible Cultural Heritage? Intangible cultural heritage simply means art forms, knowledge, skills, expressions and representations that individuals associate with their cultural heritage. These cultural heritages then have to be safeguarded by raising awareness in the local, national and international levels.
Interestingly, all the 24 members of an intergovernmental meeting supported the decision unanimously in the recent 11th session of the conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Yoga is not the first entry from India. ED gives you a brief list of all the other that have made it to the list:
1. The craft of Thatheras
The Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab use alloys of copper and brass to make utensils that they believe are beneficial for health. The designs are usually easily recognizable but our ignorant selves never bothered to investigate about them. Remember those water containers with tiny dents all around their bodies? Yep, that’s the work of Thatheras.
It is a ritual theatre festival, celebrated in the twin villages of Saloor-Dungra in Garhwal, Uttarakhand. It is not celebrated elsewhere in the Himalayan region and is endemic to these villages. The performances are an offering to a local deity – Bhumiyal devta. The theatre performances begin by enacting the birth of Brahma, cover all the significant moments in mythology, and end at the Maal Nritya which covers the historic and forgotten battle between Gurkhas and Garhwalis. Every caste in the village has its distinct ritual that they have to perform as a part of a larger ritual.
It originated in Kerala about 2000 years ago and is the oldest surviving Sanskrit theatre form in the country. Kutiyattam represents the synthesis of Sanskrit theatre and local theatre traditions of Kerala. It was very exclusive, restricted only to caste Hindus. The performances take forty days to complete. After the nineteenth century, when feudalism withered away, the threat to this art form increased because of no patronage, resulting to its endangerment. UNESCO has recognized it as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”. Do we still need a reason for its preservation?
4. Sankirtana, ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur
It celebrates and marks various events in the lives of Vaisnava people in Manipur. Traditionally, two drummers provide music to ten singer-dancers who perform for devotees that have surrounded them. Since it celebrates the relationship between and individual and the community, the art form itself is looked at the manifestation of god.
It is a ritual theatre and dance drama originating from Kerala again. It is a temple art form held after the harvest and depicts the battle between goddess Kali and the demon, Darika. It is performed in different villages along the rivers Chalakkudy Puzha, Periyar and Moovattupuzha. Performers purify themselves by fasting and praying. The young performers work as apprentice under the old ones. Hence, culture gets transmitted from a generation to the other.
India has a plethora of arts and crafts that need attention right now. It is a shame that there are some art forms recognised by the United Nations but the Indian state believes that their responsibility ends at diplomacy in their international promotion. Back home, there are no considerable efforts.
These are all second-hand arguments that we all have been placing forth, but we have to reiterate them because they are true. To ignore an art form or any linkage to a culture is to make a culture invisible on the face of the country.
If we don’t take care of our cultures, it is quite evident that nobody else would.
There is an urgent need to preserve an art form from Bihar which is now under the clutches of desecration. Read more to find out:
Launda Naach: Men Dress As Women And Dance In Front Of Sexually Hungry Men In Bihar
Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.