UNESCO, the United Nations agency for education, culture and science has recognised the “Nuad” Thai massage as part of its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on Thursday at its meeting that was held in Bogota, Columbia on Thursday. The form of massage is one among over 20 elements that have been chosen for inclusion in the list this year. The other elements include Irish harping, Portugal’s Carnival of Podence, traditional Turkish archery and Slovakia’s wire craft and art.
Till date, this list includes 13 intangible cultural heritage items from India, the most recent addition was made in 2017 when Kumbh Mela was added to the list. The first three entries were made in 2008, when Vedic chanting, Ramlila and Sanskrit theatre Kutiyattam were added.
For inclusion of an element in this list, State Parties (states that are bound by the 2003 UNESCO Convention) have to submit a nomination dossier so that it can be examined and evaluated by the Committee.
What is the intangible cultural heritage list?
The Nuad Thai massage was one among the 41 nominees that submitted their applications to be considered for inclusion in the list. Other entries included the music and dance of Dominican Bachata submitted by the Dominican Republic, Indonesia’s traditions of Pencak Silat and Kosiv painted ceramics from Ukraine among others.
The Indian entry for the list mentions the Sowa-Rigpa, which is an ancient Indian medical system popular in the Himalayan societies, especially Ladakh and some parts of Himachal Pradesh. In India, the procedure of submitting these entries is taken care of by the Ministry of Culture.
UNESCO maintains three lists under its “Intangible Cultural Heritage” banner: the list of intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding, the list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity and the register of good safeguarding practices. The UNESCO Committee meets annually to evaluate nominations that are proposed by the States themselves. In UNESCO’s words, the intangible cultural heritage of humanity list is maintained, “In order to ensure better visibility of the intangible cultural heritage and awareness of its significance, and to encourage dialogue which respects cultural diversity, the Committee, upon the proposal of the States Parties concerned, shall establish, keep up to date and publish a Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”
Some of the criteria for inclusion in the representative list are if the inscription of the element will ensure visibility and awareness of it and if the element has been nominated after having “the widest possible participation” of the community, group or individuals concerned and with their free, prior and informed consent.
What is Nuad Thai massage?
The Nuad massage teachings focus on directing blood circulation around problem areas that help in solving muscle aches. Vis-à-vis traditional massages, in Nuad massages the therapists may use their forearms and knees to apply pressure. Its roots lie in the value that Thai peasant society of the past placed in self-care when every village had massage-healers whom villagers working in the fields would visit when they developed muscle aches. Over time, Nuad has become an income-generating occupation and its system of knowledge has become more formalised.
As per the UNESCO website, Nuad is regarded as part of the art and science of traditional Thai healthcare. It is a non-medicinal, manual therapy that involves bodily manipulations through which practitioners help “rebalance” the patient’s body, energy and structure to treat illnesses that are believed to have been caused due to the obstruction of energy flow. In order to open up blocked routes, Nuad Thai therapists perform a combination of manipulations using their hands, elbows, knees and feet along with hot compresses to reduce inflammation.