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Yoga joins race for UNESCO honour, ‘sport’ tag a hurdle

According to UNESCO’s definition, “intangible cultural heritage” is manifested as oral traditions and expressions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices, and traditional craftsmanship.

Written by Divya A | New Delhi |
December 8, 2015 3:17:08 am
yoga, unesco, yoga unesco, yoga day, yoga as sports, Intangible Cultural Heritage list, yoga ICH list, india news, world news, UNESCO news The Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA), which takes care of the intangible cultural heritage of India, sent a detailed dossier to UNESCO, stressing the pan-Indian, and now global, expanse of yoga, the health benefits of the practice, and how it is practised by all communities and religions. (Source: Express file photo)

AFTER making headlines with the International Yoga Day, India is now pushing to get the practice added to the prestigious Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) list. Recently, a dossier nominating yoga for the next Representative List of the ICH was sent to UNESCO.

“After seeing the UN’s and the world’s response to the first-ever Yoga Day in June, the government is confident of the ‘ancient Indian practice’ making it to the prestigious list,” said an official from the culture ministry.

The Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA), which takes care of the intangible cultural heritage of India, sent a detailed dossier to UNESCO, stressing the pan-Indian, and now global, expanse of yoga, the health benefits of the practice, and how it is practised by all communities and religions. The SNA falls under the purview of the culture ministry.

“There were other indigenous items being considered for nomination, including some rare musical and dance traditions, but the committee decided to nominate yoga on a priority basis, over and above everything else,” said Helen Acharya, Secretary, SNA.

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But there may be a spanner in the works. Only recently, the government recognised yoga as an ‘Olympic sport’. According to UNESCO’s definition, “intangible cultural heritage” is manifested as oral traditions and expressions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices, and traditional craftsmanship. With yoga being declared as a sport, it doesn’t fall in any of the above categories for eligibility as ‘cultural heritage’.

An official from the Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO, Paris, admitted this lapse.

“This recent development may affect the nomination of yoga for the Representative ICH list, but the dossier was sent much before yoga was declared as a sport. It will now depend on the subjective opinion of the jury members whether they take the new move into consideration or not,” he added on condition of anonymity.

But Acharya thought otherwise. “One should look at the two aspects of yoga separately. While taking into consideration its heritage aspect, I don’t think the UNESCO jury will be affected by its inclusion as a competitive sport. Yoga is a multi-faceted discipline,” she said.

The result for India’s bid will be announced in December 2016.

“Each country can nominate only one item every two years. Since thatheras (the community of copper and brass utensil makers based in Punjab) were inscribed on the list in 2014, India can’t compete this year. That is why for yoga to be inscribed on the list, we have to wait till 2016,” added Acharya.

Over the years, from India, Koodiyattam (Sanskrit theatre from Kerala), the tradition of Vedic chanting, Ramlila, Kalbelia and Chhau dance have made it to the prestigious list. Even though the Representative ICH List does not attribute any standard of exclusivity to the inscribed element, the nomination dossier has to enlist measures that the state will take to safeguard the practice, so that it is preserved for generations to come. Interestingly, no other Olympic sport is part of the said list.

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