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Seeking World Recognition for Assam's Intangible Cultural Heritage


India currently boasts a total of 42 tangible heritage sites and 14 intangible cultural heritage sites, with recent additions including Shantiniketan in West Bengal and the Hoysala Temples in Karnataka. Among these, 34 are categorized as cultural heritage sites, 7 as natural heritage sites, and one, the Khangchendzonga National Park, as a mixed-type site. With this diverse array of UNESCO-designated sites, India ranks sixth globally in terms of the number of UNESCO World Heritage sites within its borders.


Assam takes great pride in being home to Kaziranga National Park and Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, two of India's seven world natural heritage sites. However, despite this natural accolade, the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Assam has yet to find representation among the 34 tangible cultural heritage sites and 14 intangible cultural heritage sites recognized by UNESCO. This article aims to shed light on the need for stakeholders and the Government of Assam to explore avenues for including its intangible cultural heritage on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

UNESCO has outlined ten criteria for the recognition of World Heritage Sites, including factors such as human creative genius, cultural exchange, evidence of cultural traditions, and significance in human history. Assam possesses a wealth of intangible cultural heritage that reflects the vibrancy of its communities, traditions, and cultural practices. Intangible cultural heritage comprises living expressions inherited from ancestors, encompassing oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festivals, and knowledge about nature and the universe.

Any heritage meeting at least one of the above criteria qualifies for global recognition. The intangible cultural heritages listed below meet criteria number 1 to 4, as mentioned above:

Bihu Festival: Bihu, the renowned festival of Assam, holds significant agricultural importance, marking seasonal transitions. Celebrated three times a year—Rongali or Bohag Bihu (spring), Kongali or Kati Bihu (autumn), and Bhogali or Magh Bihu (harvest)—it features vibrant dances, traditional music, and festive performances.

Sattriya Dance: Originating in the Vaishnavite monasteries (sattras) of Assam, Sattriya is a classical dance characterized by graceful movements and themes revolving around Lord Krishna's life, accompanied by traditional music.

Bhaona: A traditional form of Assamese theater, Bhaona is closely linked with Ankia Naat, depicting religious and mythological narratives. It finds prominence during religious festivals, particularly within the context of Vaishnavism.


Traditional Music of the Assamese People: Assam boasts a rich folk music heritage, including devotional songs like Borgeet, Goalpariya Lokgeet, and Ojapali, deeply ingrained in the state's cultural tapestry.

Traditional Crafts and Looms: Assam's traditional crafts, including weaving, pottery, mask-making, and bamboo handicrafts, along with prized silk varieties like Muga, Pat, and Eri silk, constitute an integral part of its cultural identity.

Traditional Cuisine: Assamese cuisine, featuring dishes like Assamese curry, pitha (rice cake), tenga (sour fish curry), and bamboo shoot preparations, forms a crucial component of the state's culinary heritage.

Additionally, Assam's diverse community fabric brings forth a myriad of festivals and rituals, including Durga Puja, Eid, Christmas, and others, which significantly enrich the region's cultural mosaic.

The inclusion of intangible cultural heritage on the UNESCO World Heritage List brings forth several benefits. UNESCO recognition plays a crucial role in preserving and protecting intangible cultural heritage, raising awareness about the significance of these cultural activities, and encouraging communities to safeguard their traditions for future generations. Intangible heritage often embodies unique practices, languages, rituals, and traditions that underscore the richness and diversity of human culture. Recognition by UNESCO further bolsters the cultural identity and community pride associated with intangible heritage, affirming the value of these cultural practices and traditions on an international stage. Moreover, UNESCO recognition can stimulate tourism and create economic opportunities.

UNESCO recognition also amplifies global awareness regarding the importance of intangible heritage preservation and promotion, advocating for the safeguarding of cultural diversity and traditional knowledge. Furthermore, it aligns intangible heritage with broader sustainable development objectives, emphasizing the significance of cultural sustainability and its integration into local, national, and international development initiatives.

In summary, UNESCO's recognition of intangible cultural heritage aims to preserve, promote, and celebrate the diverse cultural practices and traditions that enrich the World Heritage landscape, fostering intercultural understanding, and promoting sustainable development.

The Brahmaputra River:

When discussing Assam, it is impossible to overlook the Brahmaputra River, as it serves as the lifeline of the region.  The Brahmaputra River, originating in Tibet and flowing through India's Assam region, holds immense cultural significance. Unlike other rivers in India named in the feminine gender, it is named in the masculine gender due to its Tibetan origin and linguistic conventions. This unique naming reflects the diverse linguistic and cultural influences on the river. Centrally important to Assam's cultural heritage, the river inspires myths, legends, and spiritual practices among indigenous communities. It supports the region's economy through agriculture and transportation, while its rich biodiversity contributes to local identity. The Brahmaputra also serves as a backdrop for cultural festivals, emphasizing its role as a cultural lifeline for Assam.



Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi