Sankirtana amongst 31 nominations for UNESCO intangible cultural heritage of humanity

NEW DELHI , October 30 (MIC): The item – “Sankirtana, ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur” nominated from India is among 31 nominations to be decided for inscription on the Representative List of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity at the eighth session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee in Baku, Azerbaijan on December 2-7, 2013.

The Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage consists of 24 representatives from the States Parties elected by the General Assembly of States Parties. The committee members are Albania, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, Grenada, Indonesia, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Madagascar, Morocco, Namibia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Peru, Spain, Tunisia, Uganda and Uruguay.

As resolved at the seventh session of the Intergovernmental Committee held at UNESCO Headquarters at Paris 0n December 3-7, 2012; the Subsidiary Body for evaluation of nominations for inscription on the Representative List in 2013 was established. The body consisting of five State members namely Spain, Czech Republic, Peru, Japan, Nigeria and Morocco examined the nominations submitted by the States.

The Body satisfied the criteria of the Sankritana of Manipur for inscription on the Representative List. Criteria are 1)Transmitted from generation to generation through formal and traditional education, Sankirtana music and dance reinforce the social and spiritual cohesion among the Vaishnava communities of Manipur; 2) Inscription of Sankirtana on the Representative List could contribute to the visibility of intangible cultural heritage while encouraging intercultural dialogue and promoting respect for cultural diversity;3)Proposed safeguarding measures include research projects, documentation, awareness-raising activities and education programmes with the involvement of the bearers of the element and national institutions; 4)Representatives of the Sankirtana community including masters and relevant organizations and associations participated in the nomination process and provided their free, prior and informed consent; and Sankirtana is included in the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage main
tained by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, and extensively documented by the Akademi and other institutions.

Sankirtana is practised primarily by the Vaishnava community of the plains of Manipur, a State in north-eastern India, and also practised by the Vaishnava Manipuri population settled in the neighbouring States of Tripura and Assam.

Starting with ritual observances which involve singing and dancing in the temples of Manipur, Sankirtana encompasses an array of arts performed also in the home and the street to mark occasions of religious import and stages in the life of the Vaishnava people inhabiting the Manipur plains.

Sankirtana practices centre on the temple, where performers narrate the lives and deeds of Krishna through song and dance. In a typical performance, two drummers and about ten singer-dancers perform in a hall or domestic courtyard encircled by seated devotees. The dignity and flow of aesthetic and religious energy is unparalleled, moving audience members to tears and frequently to prostrate themselves before the performers.

Sankirtana has two main social functions: it brings people together on festive occasions throughout the year, acting as a cohesive force within Manipur’s Vaishnava community; and it establishes and reinforces relationships between the individual and the community through life-cycle ceremonies. It is thus regarded as the visible manifestation of God.

The Sankirtana of Manipur is a vibrant practice promoting an organic relationship with people: the whole society is involved in its safeguarding, with the specific knowledge and skills traditionally transmitted from mentor to disciple.

Sankirtana works in harmony with the natural world, whose presence is acknowledged through its many rituals.

The viability of the element has been ensured by social support that has kept the art alive through centuries. Every Manipuri of Vaishnava faith is involved with the form, either as a performer or patron. King Bhagyachandra, who conceived the Nata-sankirtana form, was himself a great performer.

It may be mentioned that after the declaration of “Kutiyattam: Sanskrit Theatre”, “Tradition of Vedic Chanting” and “Ramlila: Tradional Performance of the Ramayana” as masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage by UNESCO, the Government of India has launched a special scheme for the preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage in India, which is managed by Sangeet Natak Akademi. If the proposed element, Sankirtana of Manipur, is inscribed on the Representative List of UNESCO, it will receive substantial support under this special scheme.  

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