Fiona Fernandez: Intangible and invisible

Updated: Dec 05, 2016, 07:59 IST | Fiona Fernandez

More of India’s intangible treasures across the arts, culture and textiles ought to get better recognition at the state, national and global level

In Mumbai’s backyard, the Warli art form has been under serious threat of extinction, but we don’t see any initiative to save it. Representation pic
In Mumbai’s backyard, the Warli art form has been under serious threat of extinction, but we don’t see any initiative to save it. Representation pic

Last week, in some pleasant news for its fans and followers, yoga was added to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural treasures. The world heritage committee added in its note that yoga was on the list in ‘recognition of its influence of on Indian society, from health and medicine to education and the arts.’

We were chuffed. To make it to the list of intangible cultural treasures, one that was created about a decade ago, is applause-worthy. UNESCO had initiated this list to increase awareness about these entrants; it often steps in with financial or technical support to countries of its origin in case they face difficulties to protect them. Cuba’s rumba dance and Belgium’s beer culture (how cool!) were the other mentions in last week’s additions. 2016’s list throws up a fascinating, eclectic mix, ranging from the Peking opera, the festival of Navroze and Geet-Gawai, Bhojpuri folk songs from Mauritius.

We took some more time off to carefully scan the list of entries over the years and the mentions from India in particular. There were the Buddhist chanting of Ladakh, Manipur’s Sankirtana ritual of music, Chhau dance, Rajasthan’s Kalbelia dance, the Mudiyettu dance-drama form of Kerala, Ramlila …we were impressed. The list was an eye-opener too. Because, in the past, we’d never heard any buzz about these prestigious mentions. If these treasures from India’s performing arts and cultural diaspora have been handpicked by the world’s most representative educational, scientific and cultural organisation, it deserves celebration and publicity — in tourist itineraries to awareness in schools and colleges. It’s an unfortunate miss. Worse, there are countless performing art forms and cultural treasures that lie untapped and ignored, and face the threat of being wiped out forever, due to lack of funds and no documentation whatsoever. In Mumbai’s backyard, the Warli art form has been under serious threat of extinction, but we don’t see any initiative to save it.

Another observation on the list (updated since 2008) was the absence of any entrant from India’s rich textile legacy. In contrast, Indonesia’s Batik print finds two mentions – first, as the textile print and secondly, for the training and education backed by its government to protect the textile and support its Batik Musuem (yes, there’s one entirely dedicated to the textile weave). For a country that prides itself of its handloom industry, weaves and artisans, this is dismal. Shouldn’t the gods in the textile ministry have been working overtime to identify, especially rare weaves that are close to being phased out, and ensuring that they survive industrialization and other threats, let alone pushing to make it to a prestigious list where they get a global eye, and perhaps, patronage to sustain it?

After all, aren’t these mini revolutions supposed to be the essence of Make in India?

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones... wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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