Legal Documentation of Durga Puja Inscribed in the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO-2021

Durga Puja in Kolkata

Inscribed in 2021 (16.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Durga Puja is an annual festival celebrated in September or October, most notably in Kolkata, in West Bengal of India, but also in other parts of India and amongst the Bengali diaspora. 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. Thus, the festival has also come to signify ‘home-coming’ 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 a 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. [UNESCO]

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DRAFT DECISION 16.COM 8.b.15

The Committee

Takes note that India has nominated Durga Puja in Kolkata (no. 00703) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Durga Puja is an annual festival celebrated in September or October, most notably in Kolkata, in West Bengal of India, but also in other parts of India and amongst the Bengali diaspora. 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. Thus, the festival has also come to signify ‘home-coming’ 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 a 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.

Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1: The bearers and practitioners of the element include families, Puja committees, priests, drummers, artists and craftspersons. Transmission is done in varied ways within the different groups of practitioners, such as within families, community Pujas, art school students and through the hereditary practices of priests and drummers. The element is also an inclusive practice in that it involves marginalized groups such as unmarried women, widows, sex-workers and transgender persons. The element has undergone relative positive change and inclusiveness, such as through the transition from traditional family Pujas into the public sphere of community Pujas and transformation into a non-denominational community festival.

R.4: The preparation of the nomination file was carried out by the research team established at the Jadunath Bhavan Museum and Resource Centre. During the preparatory stages, the research team identified the main communities, groups and individuals who participated in the process. The consent of the communities concerned with the festival was obtained during the research team’s fieldwork and a public stakeholder meeting, during which the representative groups were informed in detail about the process and the purpose of the nomination. The element is a public festival and is not governed by any restrictive customary practices.

R.5: The element has been included in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of India (UNESCO) – National Inventory since 2011 and is administered by Sangeet Natak Akademi in New Delhi. The element was researched and documented by the Jadunath Bhavan Museum and Resource Centre, in collaboration with various stakeholder communities. The inventory is updated annually.

Further considers that the information included in the file is not sufficient to allow the Committee to determine whether the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity are satisfied:

R.2: The information provided explains that the inscription will increase the awareness and visibility of the element, but does not offer a reflection about intangible cultural heritage in general. The nomination presents the inscription as a labelling initiative that could increase the economic potential of the element, which is not the objective of the Representative List. Furthermore, the nomination emphasizes the granting of uniqueness to the element, which does not contribute to the objectives of the Convention as set out in its Article 1.

R.3: In its current state, the element is viable thanks to the measures implemented by the groups concerned with the various components of the element, including artisans and architectural groups. The file explains that steps have been taken for managing traffic, crowds, and sound and environmental pollution. However, the safeguarding measures proposed do not sufficiently address threats to the element regarding over-commercialization, increased tourism and possible impact on the environment, especially if the element were to be inscribed. Furthermore, the safeguarding measures are communicated as potentialities and not as actions that would be undertaken with certainty.

Decides to refer the nomination of Durga Puja in Kolkata to the submitting State Party and invites it to resubmit the nomination to the Committee for examination during a following cycle;

Further invites the State Party to ensure that the safeguarding measures adequately address the potential negative impacts of over-commercialization and increased, undue tourism on the element, keeping in mind that all safeguarding measures should be aimed at enhancing the viability of the element;

Commends the concerned organizations for their initiatives to involve marginalized groups and individuals as well as women in their participation of safeguarding the element.

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Letter of Consent for the nomination of Durga Pujas of Kolkata in UNESCO Heritage List [PDF]

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NOTE: The Convention provides in Article 29 that States Parties shall submit to the Committee reports on the legislative, regulatory and other measures taken for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage in their territories. The Committee examines those reports, in accordance with Article 7 (f), and summarizes them for the General Assembly.


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