On Friday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared that the Kumbh Mela was India’s ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’. The largest human gathering, an event which can be seen even from the space, was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UN body. The Kumbh Mela was one of the 33 new additions to the prestigious list this year. The list includes various forms of expression that testify to the diversity of the intangible heritage and raises awareness of its importance.
Considering its cultural value and significance of this move by the world body, sharing his happiness over the news, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that it was a matter of ‘immense joy’ for him.
The list describes Kumbh Mela as “the festival of the sacred Pitcher” where pilgrims bathe or take a dip in the Ganges river. The statement from UNESCO read, “The congregation includes ascetics, saints, sadhus, aspirants-kalpavasis and visitors. The tradition plays a central spiritual role in the country, encapsulating a diverse range of cultural customs. Knowledge and skills relating to Kumbh Mela are mainly imparted through the teacher-student relationship, but transmission and safeguarding are also ensured through oral traditions and religious and historical texts.”
The decision to let Kumbh Mela be a part of the list was taken by the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage meeting in Jeju, South Korea. Some of the other additions on the list include Bangladesh’s traditional art of Shital Pati weaving, which basically refers to the art form of weaving strips of green cane into a handcrafted mat, usually used for prayer purposes.
Prior to Kumbh Mela, there were many other entrants who entered the prestigious list by UNESCO. Koodiyattam a dance from Kerala was inscribed in 2008. Mudiyett: a ritual theatre of Kerala was inscribed in 2010. Vedic Chanting and the famous Hindu festival Ramlila where the traditional performance of the Ramayana is given was inscribed in the year 2008.
In the year 2009, Ramman, a religious festival and ritual theatre of the Garhwal Himalayas was inscribed in the list. Folk songs and dances of Rajasthan, Kalbelia and the Chhau dance which is a traditional dance wearing masks from eastern India was inscribed in the year 2010. Among the new entrants in the list was Yoga, which was listed last year and the Parsi festival, Navroz.
Kumbh Mela is held every third year at one of the four places by rotation: Haridwar, Allahabad (Prayag), Nasik and Ujjain. That means that the Kumbh Mela is held at each of these four places every twelfth year. Ardh (“Half”) Kumbh Mela is held at only two places, Hardwar and Allahabad, every sixth year. Ardh Kumbh Mela will be celebrated in Allahabad in 2019.