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Madras Musings wishes all its readers a very Happy New Year!                      (ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 17, December 16-31, 2012
Safeguarding intangible heritage
By Nerupama Y. Modwel, INTACH

Born of our unique historical and geo-cultural climate, diverse elements of intangible cultural heritage have flourished in India for centuries and passed down orally through generations. This heritage has been crucial in shaping our cultural identity and in imbuing our cultural landscape with colour, vigour and feeling. The continued transmission of all that we value in this heritage is essential for the preservation of our vibrant culture for our children.

While it is heartening that there is growing concern and debate on the disappearance of our oral traditions, there is much that needs to be done for the protection of this vulnerable aspect of our heritage. In the face of a formless monoculture, many cultural practices are in danger of escaping from our living memory altogether. INTACH should focus on the study of languishing or dying art forms, and work towards their revival.

Foremost, we need to garner support for transmission of those elements of endangered living heritage which are of cultural and artistic value, bear historical significance, and are worth preserving. As a first step, it is important to undertake research and documentation to fully understand the nature of these art forms, and look into their current status – leading to an approximation of what interventions and protective measures need to be taken on an urgent basis to help in the formulation of preservation policies.

As a start, perhaps, we can put in place a formal system of protection of intangible heritage. Identification, selection and registration of diverse elements of artistic value could be undertaken to form a national list or registry. This ongoing exercise would bring up high-value intangible heritage, which is on the verge of extinction and needs active government protection.

Another important and perhaps essential measure is the formulation of heritage regulations that incorporate intangible heritage alongside built heritage, not only at the national level but at the level of local governments where they would have more teeth and maximum impact. This will result in bringing protection and promotional activities to those specific elements of intangible cultural heritage which are of value to a particular region.

At the national level, the Government must assign experts of craft know-how, cultural practices and traditional performing arts to take up identification and taking inventories of intangible heritage in different categories, research on its protection, commission documentation of high-value intangible heritage, as well as conduct surveys and workshops for training as ongoing efforts. It is also crucial to recognise individuals or groups who represent outstanding skills or arts in the field of intangible cultural heritage. While craft technique may be recognised individually, a group performing folk theatre with components of acting, costume and accompanying music would require a collective recognition as an outstanding performance group, and the transmission of their skills would also have to take place as a whole to ensure accuracy and authenticity. This recognition should result in a stipend/subsidy for the further development of their skills and to conduct training workshops for their successors. It should be followed up with a concerted push by the Government in providing all possible help for public performance to promote and broaden understanding of this heritage. Awareness creation and sensitisation at the local level through the media, students, corporates, etc. is most essential. There is a need for many more national and local cultural centres for promotional activities like exhibitions and performances, and for museums dedicated to intangible cultural heritage.

Research and documentation should be another priority. There should be extra emphasis on successor training through regular workshops or training programmes that link schemes of employment and livelihood with the traditional arts and crafts. There should also be recognition of outstanding stakeholders in their respective fields.

While there is greater public awareness of traditional art forms today, it is vital to engage children and young adults in the understanding and appreciation of their cultural roots, with inclustion of heritage studies in the school curriculum. It is ultimately this generation which will save our past for the future. – (Courtesy: INTACH Viraasat.)

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In this Issue

Confusion reigns over heritage
Chennai lags behind as a liveable city
The State to blame for power shortage
Greater focus on natural and rural heritage needed: INTACH
Safeguarding intangible heritage
The State's Legislative Assembly – 60 years and more
Animal Farm – Version 2
Driving – the Indian way...
From promoter of consumerism to consumer activist – Part II
The Mother of all Music Seasons

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