First Durga Puja after UNESCO recognition, culture ministry to honor Kolkata artisans


This year’s Durga Puja, which is considered to be one of the biggest festivals around the world, is more special as UNESCO has inscribed Durga Puja in its Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This is the first Indian festival to figure in the UNESCO list.

To promote India’s intangible cultural heritage, the Minister Of State For Culture And External Affairs, Meenakshi Lekhi on Thursday, September 22, highlighted the inscription of Durga Puja in the UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and urged people to celebrate this international recognition of the festival.

The minister also acknowledged the invaluable contribution of the artisans involved in making the idols for the Durga Puja and the Pandals which give the festival its fanfare and fervor.

On December 15, 2021, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO inscribed ‘Durga Puja in Kolkata’ on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during its 16th session, taking place virtually from 13 to 18 December 2021.

As a ten-day celebration, Durga Puja represents the collective worship of the Hindu Goddess Durga. During this time, masterfully designed clay models of the Goddess are worshipped in “pandals” or pavilions where communities get together and celebrate. Several folk music, culinary, craft, and performing arts traditions add to the dynamism of this celebration.

While Durga Puja is one of the most important festivals of West Bengal, India, it is widely observed across the country and in major cities of the world by the Bengali diaspora. Over the years, the Indian city of Kolkata has emerged as the geographical and cultural heart of the national and global celebrations of the festival.

The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity currently has 492 elements.  It includes forms of expression that testify to the diversity of intangible heritage and raises awareness of its importance. By enhancing the visibility of communities’ cultural practices and know-how, UNESCO aims to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage of communities globally.

The 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage promotes the protection of knowledge and skills necessary for traditional artisanship and cultural practices transmitted from generation to generation, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, and knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe.

Durga Puja is an annual festival celebrated in September or October, it marks the ten-day worship of the Hindu mother-goddess Durga. In the months preceding the festival, small artisanal workshops sculpt images of Durga and her family using unfired clay pulled from the Ganga River.

The worship of the goddess then begins on the inaugural day of Mahalaya, when eyes are painted onto the clay images to bring the goddess to life. It ends on the tenth day, when the images are immersed in the river from where the clay came.

The festival has also come to signify ‘homecoming’ or a seasonal return to one’s roots. Durga Puja is seen as the best instance of the public performance of religion and art, and as thriving ground for collaborative artists and designers.

The festival is characterized by large-scale installations and pavilions in urban areas, as well as by traditional Bengali drumming and veneration of the goddess. During the event, the divides of class, religion, and ethnicities collapse as crowds of spectators walk around to admire the installations.

To celebrate the artisans’ immense contribution to the festival, a special function has been organized by the Ministry of Culture on 24 September at the Indian Museum in Kolkata where a select group of 30 artisans and artists who are intimately involved in Durga Puja celebrations, will be honored.

The honorees include people who make Durga idols, members from Raj Baris, pandal makers, artists, the Dhakis (drummers), the priests, the artisans who make jewelry for Durga idols among others.

Lekhi emphasized on the concerted efforts of the government in promoting the culture and heritage of India. She said, “India has been selected to the Intergovernmental Committee of UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) for the 2022-26 cycle. Along with achieving this feat, India has sent ‘Garba’ as the next consideration in the UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.

The Ministry of Education acts as a nodal agency for UNESCO in India while Ministry of Culture is involved in preparing dossiers for inscriptions on the UNESCO list and the Ministry of External Affairs mobilizes international support to get the proposal voted successfully at the UNESCO.

The minister informed that with the help of Sangeet Natak Akademi of the Ministry of Culture, the dossier for Durga Puja was prepared and sent to UNESCO. She added, “Nominating the Durga Puja in Intangible Cultural Heritage list, is the country’s pride. We took everybody’s advice into consideration and then nominated Durga Puja as the Intangible culture of the country because cutting across states, it is celebrated by everyone. In this process, it brings everyone together, it’s unity in diversity”.


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