The tag came after at least three years of research, negotiations and deliberations by the Union Ministry of Culture and researchers led by Tapati Guha Thakurata.
NEW DELHI: The West Bengal government under Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday organised a mega show to celebrate and thank UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) for conferring the “Heritage” tag to Kolkata’s Durga Puja. The tag came after at least three years of research, negotiations and deliberations by the Union Ministry of Culture and a team of researchers led by Tapati Guha Thakurata from the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.
Tapati, who is Director and Professor of History at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, told The Sunday Guardian that it was in 2018 when the Union Ministry of Culture approached her with the idea of sending the name of Kolkata’s Durga Puja to the UNESCO for the cultural heritage tag. “Since I had already written an exhaustive book on Durga Puja, it did not take me much time to prepare the research paper that needed to be given to UNESCO. I was told that the deadline was tight and we needed to deliver quickly. So, I hired a team of researchers who assisted me in getting all the documents in place and helping me with the photographs etc. Within seven months, we were able to provide whatever was required to the Ministry regarding Durga Puja of Kolkata,” she told this newspaper.
She further added that the proforma of UNESCO required to be filled was an exhaustive document as it required multiple aspects that needed to be filled and explained to the body as to why Durga Puja should be granted the international cultural heritage tag. “I had hundreds of photographs that I could share with UNESCO that depicted Durga Puja of Kolkata, but the proforma said only 10 photos so it was difficult to select just 10 photos to show what Durga Puja is in Kolkata. It was a bit challenging. We also hired a filmmaker to make a 10-minute film on Durga Puja, which was showcased to the UNESCO team. Moreover, we also had to take consent from a lot of stakeholders including Puja committees, government organisations, media organisations, among others,” Tapati said.
The Sunday Guardian reviewed the nomination file, which was submitted to the UNESCO by the Union Ministry of Culture and taken up at the UNESCO’s 16th Intergovernmental Committee for The Safeguarding of The Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2021. It was on 16 December 2021 after due deliberations, that Kolkata’s Durga Puja was declared as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The UNESCO’s nomination file sent from India consists of 19 pages that have answers to every detailed question about the festival and its impact on humanity and human lives. Some of the questions were, “Who are the bearers and practitioners of the element? Are there any specific roles, including gender-related ones or categories of persons with special responsibilities for the practice and transmission of the element? If so, who are they and what are their responsibilities?”; “How are the knowledge and skills related to the element transmitted today?”; “What social functions and cultural meanings does the element have for its community nowadays?”; “How could the inscription of the element on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity contribute to the visibility of the intangible cultural heritage in general (and not only of the inscribed element itself) and raise awareness of its importance?”; “Please explain how this would be achieved at the local level. Please explain how this would be achieved at the national level.”; “Please explain how this would be achieved at the international level.”; “How have communities, groups or individuals been involved in planning the proposed safeguarding measures, including in terms of gender roles, and how will they be involved in their implementation?”
Apart from these questions related to the participation of government, safeguarding of culture etc., were also asked. For all these questions, a detailed research report was presented by Tapati and her team to the UNESCO through the Ministry. Tapati said that now that Durga Puja has been accorded “Heritage” status, she is elated, but the government and all stakeholders concerned must ensure that it is important for all of us to be able to hold on to this tag.
Asked what happens from now and what changes for Durga Puja with the heritage tag, she said, “Durga Puja has now got international recognition with an international branding. It is for the government to ensure they are able to market this properly to attract international tourists. What was more local for all these years has now become international.”