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Sikkim’s Intangible Heritages: Strong Contenders for World Recognition


There are 54 Indian heritages listed in UNESCO world heritage recognition. Of these elements, 32 are classified as tangible cultural heritage, 14 as intangible cultural heritage, 7 as natural heritage, and one as mixed heritage. Sikkim has every reason to be proud of the precious Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP), the only mixed heritage site that represents India globally. KNP has a unique biodiversity and is known for its many rare and endemic species of flora and fauna.

The objective of this article is to draw attention of the concerned stakeholders including the Government of Sikkim on the cultural intangible heritages, which are viable contenders for the world recognition.

There are 14 intangible cultural heritages included on the different dates in the UNESCO World Heritage list mentioned below:

2021: Durga Puja in Kolkata 

2017: Kumbh Mela 

2016: Nawrouz, Novruz, Nowrouz, Nauryz, Nooruz,

2016: Yoga 

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

2013: Sankirtana, ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur 

2012: Buddhist chanting of Ladakh: recitation of sacred Buddhist texts in the trans- Himalayan Ladakh  

2010: Chhau dance 

2010: Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan 

2010: Mudiyettu, ritual theatre and dance drama of Kerala 

2009: Ramman, religious festival and ritual theatre of the Garhwal Himalayas,

2008: Kutiyattam, Sanskrit theatre 

2008: Tradition of Vedic chanting 

2008: Ramlila, the traditional performance of the Ramayana 


Sikkim has potentialities to add more intangible heritages in the above list.  Sikkim is rich in cultural diversity and has unique intangible cultural heritages that reflect its history, traditions, and the diverse communities that call it home.

Sikkim's intangible heritages:

Buddhist Traditions: Sikkim is known for its strong Buddhist heritages, and various aspects of this tradition contribute to the state's intangible heritages. Monastic festivals, rituals, and ceremonies, including the famous Losar (Tibetan New Year) and Saga Dawa, are celebrated with great enthusiasm. The state is home to numerous monasteries, such as Rumtek Monastery, Pemayangtse Monastery, and Tashiding Monastery, which are important centers of religious and cultural activities.

Lepcha Culture: The indigenous Lepcha community in Sikkim has a rich cultural heritage, including their own language, traditional music, dance forms like the "Kauda" dance, and unique handicrafts such as handwoven textiles.

Nepali Culture: Most of Sikkim's population is of Nepali origin, and their cultural heritages are integral to the state's identity. Traditional Nepali folk music, dances like the Maruni and Tamang Selo, and festivals like Dashain and Tihar are celebrated with great fervor. Among them, Deusi-bhailo is a unique heritage, which is also a strong contender for the World Heritage Recognition.

Bhutia Culture: The Bhutia community, which has Tibetan roots, contributes to Sikkim's cultural diversity. Their traditional dress, food, music, and dance are an important part of the state's intangible heritage.

Traditional Medicine: Sikkim has a tradition of traditional medicine known as Sowa-Rigpa, which is like Tibetan medicine. It involves the use of herbs, minerals, and spiritual rituals for healing. This knowledge has been passed down through generations and is an important aspect of Sikkim's intangible heritage.

Folklore and Oral Traditions: Sikkim has a rich tradition of storytelling, myths, and legends passed down orally from generation to generation. These stories often revolve around the natural landscape and the supernatural.

Traditional Crafts: Sikkim is known for its traditional crafts, including thangka painting, carpet weaving, and woodcarving. These artistic traditions have been preserved and passed down through generations.

Festivals: Sikkim celebrates a variety of festivals throughout the year, and these festivals often showcase the state's cultural diversity. The most famous among them is the Pang Lhabsol festival, which honors Mount Kanchenjunga and promotes unity among different communities.

These elements of intangible heritage make Sikkim a culturally rich and diverse state, reflecting the harmony and coexistence of various communities and their unique traditions.

Selection criteria:

There are many Sikkim’s intangible heritages that meet at least one of the following selection criteria, ensuring the world recognition:

(i)                 to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;

(ii)               to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living, or which has disappeared;

(iii)             to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.

The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage provides a framework for identifying, preserving, and promoting intangible cultural heritage on a global scale. It is also to be noted that the intangible heritage of Sikkim is viable to be recognized by UNESCO, which bears characteristics like i) cultural significance and diversity. i) community involvement, iii) Safeguarding measures, iv) visibility and awareness, and v) transmitting knowledge and skills.

It is time for the cultural activists and the concerned government agencies of Sikkim to come forward with a collective effort to include some of the distinctive intangible heritage in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

(The author is a communication expert)

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