Manipur`s tradition of ritual singing, drumming and dancing set to be declared world heritage


LONDON, December 3: Manipur`s famous tradition of ritual singing, drumming and dancing and Bangladesh`s traditional art of Jamdani weaving that is also famous in India are set to be declared intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

According to UNESCO, intangible cultural heritage includes oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festivals, knowledge and practices concerning nature. On December 4, the world inter-governmental committee for the safeguarding of intangible heritage under UNESCO will meet at Baku to enlist new entries in the world register, with Manipur`s Sankirtana being India`s only entry up for consideration.

The Committee will examine 30 elements for inscription on the register among a total of 257 living traditions.

The meeting will be chaired by Abulfas Garayev, Azerbaijan`s minister of culture and tourism in the presence of 800 delegates from approximately 100 countries.

UNESCO`s Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage was adopted and ratified by 157 states parties exactly a decade ago.

Sankirtana of Manipur is included in the National Inventory prepared by India`s Sangeet Natak Akademi.

The Akademi`s archives hold approximately 40 hours of video of Sankirtana performance including 25 solo performances and 18 group performances and 22 hours of audio, which includes 15 solo artists and four group presentations.

In addition, about 5000 colour and black-and-white photographs are also available in the Akademi.

Sankirtana is practised primarily by the Vaishnava community of the plains of Manipur. According to the Akademi that nominated it for world inscription, Sankirtana has two main social functions today.

In the first instance, it acts as a cohesive force within Manipur`s Vaishnava community, bringing people together in the temple, on the streets and the home on various festive occasions throughout the year.

It says “At a time when communities around the world exhibit a tendency to break up under the pressure of economic forces, the importance of such an instrument of cohesion cannot be overstated. Secondly, Sankirtana`s social function operates in the security it provides to its large population of professional practitioners. This ensures continuing recruitment to the art and its transmission to generations of artists”.

“The inscription would bring it worldwide focus. In the absence of wider recognition, Sankirtana may well fall prey to the logic of show business which runs contrary to the spirit of the art. The government of India as adopted various schemes for the protection of the art. These provide financial assistance to professional groups and individuals, support for research projects, as well as fellowships and scholarships to talented artists”.

At the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy, Imphal, established in 1954, Sankirtana is one of the main subjects on the curriculum. The India`s National Academy for Music, Dance, and Drama has conferred awards on more than 30 gurus of Sankirtana. The theology and lore of Krishna is central to these performances. The core of Sankirtana practice is to be found in the temple, where it narrates through song and dance the lives and deeds of the Lord.

In the setting of the home, Sankirtana is offered as prayer at all life-cycle ceremonies, such as the ear-piercing ritual (for both males and females in childhood), the donning of the sacred thread (for adolescent males), marriage and the rites of passage at death.

UNESCO says “Thus pervading the life of the Manipuri Vaishnava, Sankirtana is regarded as the visible manifestation of God. The bearers and practitioners are men and women of the Manipuri Vaishnava community living in the state, and in adjoining Assam and Tripura. The performers never fix a fee for their performance. No fee is demanded by the teacher to teach Sankirtana”.

Besides being synonymous with worship, Sankirtana is linked with the important stages of a person`s life. During a marriage ceremony, the couple take their marriage vows by going round the Sankirtana Mandala; to them, the Sankirtana represents divinity, which is symbolized by the sacred fire at marriage ceremonies elsewhere in India, UNESCO said.


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