Durga Puja is a classic fusion of religion and culture, regarded with a lot of pride and celebrated predominantly by the Bengali community. Many regard it as an emotion more than a festival.
While it is celebrated in many parts of the world, too, an official global recognition was impending. But now, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage has inscribed ‘Durga Puja in Kolkata’ on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The decision came during the 16th session, taking place virtually from December 13 to 18 this year.
Eric Falt, the director UNESCO New Delhi, said in a press statement: “I would like to offer warm congratulations to India, its people and especially all those who worked on the nomination dossier. I am confident that this inscription will offer encouragement to the local communities that celebrate Durga Puja, including all the traditional craftspeople, designers, artists, and organizers of large-scale cultural events, as well as tourists and visitors who partake in the inclusive festivity that is Durga Puja.”
What is Intangible Cultural Heritage?
According to unesco.org, “cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts”.
Thus Durga Puja, an ancient festival celebrated in the country for many centuries, has found a place on this list. In total, 14 Intangible Cultural Heritage elements from the country have now been inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List.
The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity has 492 elements currently. According to a press release, it includes “forms of expression that testify to the diversity of intangible heritage and raises awareness of its importance”. UNESCO intends to enhance the “visibility of communities’ cultural practices and know-how”, aiming to “safeguard the intangible cultural heritage of communities globally”.
Durga Puja is a five-day festival which begins on the fifth night of the nine-day Navratri festival and ends on the tenth day, which is Dashami. During this time, people collectively worship and invoke Goddess Durga, who is regarded as the feminine energy of the cosmos, also known as ‘Shakti’.
Though originating in West Bengal, which has the largest Bengali community in the country, the festival — as mentioned earlier — is celebrated in many other parts of India, and also the world.
During this time, intricately-designed clay models of the Goddess are worshipped in ‘pandals’ and pavilions where people get together. Folk music, culinary, craft, and performing arts traditions are a part of the celebration.