Cultural Heritage of India: An Overview of Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Cultural Heritage of India: An Overview of Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Posted on 07-08-2023

Cultural Heritage of India: An Overview of Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage.

India, as one of the world's oldest civilizations, has a cultural heritage that encompasses both tangible and intangible assets. It is a harmonious fusion of diverse religions, traditions, and customs. The richness of Indian art, architecture, classical dance, music, flora, and wildlife, along with the inherent secular mindset of its people, form the essence of Indian heritage. Exploring a historic site is akin to traversing through the annals of history, as each ruling dynasty left an indelible mark on the Indian landscape.

The elegance of Indian craftsmanship, the intricacy of silk and cotton fabrics, and the beauty of ethnic jewelry have been cherished and passed down through generations as precious legacies. The culinary traditions in every Indian state are distinct and represent an integral part of the Indian culture.

India's cultural heritage is an all-encompassing tapestry that reflects the country's rich history and vibrant diversity. It is a treasure trove of experiences, showcasing the collective wisdom, creativity, and resilience of its people. Visiting India is akin to embarking on a profound journey through time and traditions, leaving visitors enthralled by the sheer depth and beauty of its cultural inheritance.

In the recent update, India has been selected to participate in the 2022–2026 cycle of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. This selection allows India to be part of the Intergovernmental Committee, comprising 24 members, which ensures the preservation of intangible cultural heritage with equitable geographic representation.

In recognition of its efforts in cultural heritage conservation, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) was honored with the prestigious "Award of Excellence" at the Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2022, presented by UNESCO.

Indian Railways is launching the Jagannath Express as a part of the Bharat Gaurav train initiative, timed to coincide with the upcoming Rath Yatra in Odisha, showcasing India's commitment to connecting cultural and spiritual landmarks through its rail network.

Furthermore, when India assumes the G20 presidency, it plans to host more than 200 meetings at 56 different locations throughout its one-year term. This endeavor will allow India to display its diverse cultural heritage, technological advancements, and rich traditions on the global stage during the G20 events.

Historical Evolution of Cultural Heritage of India

India boasts one of the world's most extensive and diverse collections of intangible cultural heritage, comprising songs, music, dance, theater, folk traditions, performing arts, rites and rituals, languages, dialects, paintings, and writings. This rich tapestry of cultural expressions showcases the multiplicity and uniqueness of Indian culture, making it a significant contribution to the global heritage of humanity. Recognizing the importance of preserving and promoting this intangible heritage, the idea of establishing academies of national importance was conceived.

In 1950, India declared itself an independent republic, marking the commencement of a transformative decade in its history. On March 15, 1950, the Planning Commission of India was established, and even in its initial plan, it emphasized the significance of culture in the overall development process. Culture was recognized as an integral element of coordinated national development.

Subsequently, with each successive Plan period, the Indian government took measures to shape cultural policy and establish organizations that played crucial roles in nurturing the arts and cultural sector. Noteworthy among these institutions are the National Museum, the Sahitya Akademi, the National Gallery of Modern Art, and the Lalit Kala Akademi.

Moreover, the establishment of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (1950) and the Sangeet Natak Akademi (1953) further exemplify India's commitment to safeguarding and promoting its cultural heritage. These organizations, along with others, have contributed significantly to shaping the dominant paradigms for arts and culture in India. The collective efforts of these institutions have not only preserved India's cultural legacy but also facilitated its dissemination to the world, promoting cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.

Important facts about the Cultural Heritage of India for UPSC:

  1. Indian Culture and Divine Creation: Indian culture views the universe as a divine creation, with humans considered an integral part of this cosmic framework.

  2. Ancient Culture with Continuity: Indian culture is ancient and still actively practiced today. The presence of remnants from the stone age in places like Pallavaram, Vellore, and Tinnivalli near Madras indicates India's role as a significant hub for human cultural development and expansion.

  3. Tolerance and Liberalization: India's cultural heritage is characterized by its tolerance and openness to various religions, castes, and social groups. The assimilation of multiple alien cultures has provided a nurturing environment for diverse cultural expressions.

  4. Contributions to Civilization: Indian literature and scriptures have made substantial contributions to the development of civilization, imparting knowledge, guiding right actions, behavior, and practices.

  5. Classical Social Structure: Traditional Indian culture had a well-defined social structure, involving princes, priests, monks, scholars, guild masters, and other affluent groups.

  6. Diverse Heritage: Indian cultural heritage encompasses various aspects, including architectural marvels, monuments, material artifacts, intellectual achievements, philosophy, scientific discoveries, and knowledge treasures.

  7. Contributions to Sciences: Indian cultural heritage includes significant contributions to mathematics, astronomy, astrology, physics, chemistry, medicine, and yoga by eminent scholars like Aryabhatta, Bhaskaracharya, Nagarjuna, Susruta, Charak, and Patanjali.

  8. Fusion of Ancient and Modern: Fairs and festivals in India, such as the Hemiz festival in Leh, the Carnival in Goa, and Boat Races in Kerala, blend ancient rituals, traditions, and customs with modern celebrations.

These facts highlight the profound significance of India's cultural heritage and its continuous evolution through history. For the UPSC exam, understanding these aspects will help in comprehending the richness and diversity of Indian culture and its impact on various spheres of human knowledge and civilization.

Cultural Heritage of India- Tangible

The tangible cultural heritage of India encompasses physical items, artistic creations, architectural marvels, and other tangible works that have been created, preserved, and passed down through generations within the civilization.

This category of UNESCO-recognized tangible cultural heritage includes various forms of artistic productions, such as paintings, sculptures, and crafts, reflecting the creativity and ingenuity of Indian artisans and artists. It also comprises constructed heritage, such as historical buildings, palaces, temples, forts, and monuments, which stand as remarkable testaments to India's architectural prowess and historical significance.

These tangible cultural assets hold immense cultural importance in Indian society, representing the nation's history, traditions, and artistic expressions. They provide a tangible link to the past, serving as windows into the rich heritage and achievements of India's diverse civilizations throughout the ages.

Cultural Heritage of India- Intangible

Intangible cultural heritage encompasses a wide range of practices, expressions, knowledge, skills, tools, and cultural settings that are deeply ingrained in a society's identity.

In order to showcase the diverse and rich Indian culture preserved within its intangible heritage, India has established the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). This initiative aims to raise awareness, both nationally and globally, about the multitude of intangible cultural elements found across various states in India and ensure their safeguarding.

Starting in 2013, the program focuses on strengthening and preserving numerous cultural manifestations that play a pivotal role in the continuous evolution and interpretation of India's intangible cultural heritage, ensuring its transmission to future generations.

India's intangible cultural heritage includes 13 elements that have already been inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of Humanity's Intangible Cultural Heritage. These elements exemplify the importance of safeguarding and promoting these living traditions that contribute to the richness and diversity of Indian culture.

List of Tangible and Intangible Heritage sites by UNESCO in India

Cultural heritage can be classified into two main categories: tangible and intangible. Tangible cultural heritage refers to the physical and palpable aspects of a culture that can be seen, touched, and preserved. It includes structures, historic sites, monuments, artifacts, and objects that hold cultural, archaeological, architectural, scientific, or technological significance and are deemed valuable enough to be conserved for future generations.

Tangible heritage can be further divided into movable and immovable legacy. Movable heritage refers to portable objects, artifacts, and artworks that can be transported, such as sculptures, paintings, textiles, and manuscripts. In contrast, immovable heritage refers to structures and sites that are fixed in place, like buildings, temples, forts, and other historical landmarks.

On the other hand, intangible cultural heritage lacks a physical presence and is not tangible. It encompasses practices, expressions, knowledge, skills, and traditions that are deeply rooted in a culture but cannot be seen or touched. Examples of intangible cultural heritage include oral traditions, performing arts, rituals, festivals, social practices, craftsmanship techniques, and traditional knowledge systems.

Both tangible and intangible cultural heritages are vital for understanding and preserving the identity, history, and diversity of a society. Their recognition and safeguarding are essential for maintaining cultural continuity and promoting intergenerational transmission of traditional knowledge and practices.

Here is a list of tangible World Heritage Sites in India along with their year of inscription and location:

  1. Ajanta Caves - 1983 - Maharashtra

  2. Ellora Caves - 1983 - Maharashtra

  3. Agra Fort - 1983 - Agra

  4. Taj Mahal - 1983 - Agra

  5. Sun Temple - 1984 - Odisha

  6. Mahabalipuram Monuments - 1984 - Tamil Nadu

  7. Kaziranga National Park - 1985 - Assam

  8. Keoladeo National Park - 1985 - Rajasthan

  9. Manas Wildlife Sanctuary - 1985 - Assam

  10. Churches and Convents of Goa - 1986 - Goa

  11. Monuments of Khajuraho - 1986 - Madhya Pradesh

  12. Monuments of Hampi - 1986 - Karnataka

  13. Fatehpur Sikri - 1986 - Agra

  14. Elephanta Caves - 1987 - Maharashtra

  15. Great Living Chola Temples - 1987 - Tamil Nadu

  16. Pattadakal Monuments - 1987 - Karnataka

  17. Sundarbans National Park - 1987 - West Bengal

  18. Nanda Devi & Valley of Flowers National Park - 1988 - Uttarakhand

  19. Monuments of Buddha - 1989 - Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh

  20. Humayun's Tomb - 1993 - Delhi

  21. Qutub Minar and its Monuments - 1993 - Delhi

  22. Mountain Railways of Darjeeling, Kalka Shimla & Nilgiri - 1999 - Darjeeling

  23. Mahabodhi Temple - 2002 - Bihar

  24. Bhimbetka Rock Shelters - 2003 - Madhya Pradesh

  25. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus - 2004 - Maharashtra

  26. Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park - 2004 - Gujarat

  27. Red Fort - 2007 - Delhi

  28. Jantar Mantar - 2010 - Delhi

  29. Western Ghats - 2012 - Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra

  30. Hill Forts - 2013 - Rajasthan

  31. Rani Ki Vav (The Queen's Stepwell) - 2014 - Gujarat

  32. Great Himalayan National Park - 2014 - Himachal Pradesh

  33. Nalanda - 2016 - Bihar

  34. Khangchendzonga National Park - 2016 - Sikkim

  35. Architectural Work of Le Corbusier (Capitol Complex) - 2016 - Chandigarh

  36. The Historic City - 2017 - Ahmedabad

  37. Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles - 2018 - Mumbai

  38. The Pink City - 2019 - Jaipur

  39. Kakatiya Rudreshwara (Ramappa) Temple - 2021 - Telangana

  40. Dholavira - 2021 - Gujarat

These tangible World Heritage Sites in India hold immense cultural, historical, and architectural significance, contributing to the country's rich and diverse heritage.

Here is a list of intangible cultural heritage inscribed by UNESCO from India, along with their respective years:

  1. 2021 - Durga Puja in Kolkata

  2. 2017 - Kumbh Mela

  3. 2016 - Nawrouz, Novruz, Nowrouz, Nowrouz, Nawrouz, Nauryz, Nooruz, Nowruz, Navruz, Nevruz, Nowruz, Navruz

  4. 2016 - Yoga

  5. 2014 - Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab, India

  6. 2013 - Sankirtana, ritual singing, drumming, and dancing of Manipur

  7. 2012 - Buddhist chanting of Ladakh: recitation of sacred Buddhist texts in the trans-Himalayan Ladakh region, Jammu and Kashmir, India

  8. 2010 - Chhau dance

  9. 2010 - Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan

  10. 2010 - Mudiyettu, ritual theatre and dance drama of Kerala

  11. 2009 - Ramman, religious festival and ritual theatre of the Garhwal Himalayas, India

  12. 2008 - Kutiyattam, Sanskrit theater

  13. 2008 - Tradition of Vedic chanting

  14. 2008 - Ramlila, the traditional performance of the Ramayana

These inscriptions represent the diverse and vibrant intangible cultural heritage of India, encompassing various traditional practices, rituals, performing arts, and religious festivals that hold significant cultural and social importance. The recognition by UNESCO ensures their preservation and promotion for future generations.

The cultural heritage of India holds immense significance for various reasons:

  1. Promotes Moral Principles: India's cultural heritage embodies moral principles like charity, simplicity, and frugal living, guiding individuals towards ethical conduct and values.

  2. Defines Way of Life: Cultural heritage encompasses traditions, beliefs, and ways of life, providing a sense of purpose and identity to individuals and communities.

  3. Preserving Cultural Landmarks: It involves safeguarding cultural landmarks, monuments, folklore, customs, languages, and creative expressions that are crucial to pass on to future generations.

  4. Understanding History: Cultural heritage enables people to understand their origins, the history of previous generations, and fosters a sense of togetherness and belonging within their community.

  5. Fosters Community and Connection: It promotes a sense of community and connection among people, binding them with shared values, beliefs, and practices.

  6. Cultural Identity: Cultural heritage connects individuals to specific societal values, beliefs, religions, and customs, allowing them to recognize and celebrate their cultural identity.

  7. Preservation of Diversity: It helps in maintaining and celebrating the cultural diversity of India, fostering increased intercultural understanding and tolerance.

  8. Promotes Cultural Tourism: India's diverse cultural heritage makes it an attractive cultural destination on the international tourism circuit, attracting travelers keen to experience its rich traditions and history.

In summary, India's cultural heritage plays a crucial role in shaping the collective identity, values, and traditions of its people, while also showcasing its rich diversity to the world, making it an essential part of the country's social fabric and its appeal as a cultural tourism destination.

Safeguarding the Cultural Heritage of India

The "Scheme for Safeguarding India's Intangible Heritage and Diverse Cultural Traditions" is a comprehensive effort by the Ministry of Culture to strengthen the preservation, protection, and promotion of India's vast and diverse intangible cultural heritage (ICH).

Under this scheme, various stakeholders are involved in the distribution, safeguarding, and promotion of India's rich and extensive ICH. The Ministry of Culture oversees several programs, including the Cultural Functions Grant Program, the Salary/Production Grant Program, and the Scholarship/Fellowship Programs, to support the preservation of cultural heritage.

This scheme adopts a holistic approach, encompassing all categories of recognized ICH, such as performing arts, social activities, rituals, festive events, traditional knowledge about nature and the cosmos, traditional handicrafts, and oral traditions and expressions.

For the safeguarding of tangible cultural heritage, the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act of 1904 grants the government jurisdiction over privately-owned heritage structures. Additionally, the Antiquities Export Control Act of 1947, along with its accompanying Rules, regulates the export of antiquities to protect the country's historical artifacts.

The Indian Constitution, under Article 49, plays a role in safeguarding the country's built heritage. Furthermore, ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) works toward the conservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage sites, employing scientific methodologies to preserve architectural and archaeological heritage.

Through the "Scheme for Safeguarding India's Intangible Heritage and Diverse Cultural Traditions," the Ministry of Culture aims to revitalize and rejuvenate various institutions involved in preserving India's diverse cultural heritage, ensuring its continuity for future generations.

Current status of the Cultural Heritage of India

The cultural heritage of India plays a vital role in the nation's development. It encompasses a shared set of attitudes, values, goals, and activities that bind the people together and define their identity.

India boasts 38 tangible World Heritage Sites, which include historical landmarks, monuments, and architectural marvels, reflecting the country's rich and diverse heritage.

The ancient texts such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and the system of Yoga have made significant contributions to the development of civilization by imparting essential knowledge, guiding right conduct, behavior, and practices.

Ahmedabad, located in Gujarat, holds the distinction of being India's first World Heritage City. It is renowned for its rich architectural heritage, which is integral to the city's character and continuity.

The term "Sanskriti" refers to culture in India, and Indians often refer to their culture as "Human Culture" (Manav Dharma/ Sanskriti). This cultural heritage has a wide-reaching appeal and reflects the notion of "Unity in Diversity," which is a fundamental and unspoken principle governing nature, the universe, and existence in India.

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