The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Wednesday inscribed “Durga Puja in Kolkata” on the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.
“Durga Puja in Kolkata has just been inscribed on the #IntangibleHeritage list. Congratulations #India,” the UN agency tweeted along with a photograph of an idol of the goddess.
According to UNESCO, the festival was the only Indian one to make it to its list of 20 events and traditional activities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the UN agency’s decision as a “matter of great pride and joy for every Indian”.
“A matter of great pride and joy for every Indian! Durga Puja highlights the best of our traditions and ethos. And, Kolkata’s Durga Puja is an experience everyone must have,” Modi posted on Twitter.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said it was a proud moment for Bengal. “Proud moment for Bengal! To every #Bengali across the world, Durga Puja is much more than a festival, it is an emotion that unites everyone. And now, #DurgaPuja has been added to the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. We are all beaming with joy!” she tweeted.
In its website, the UN agency said that the festival is “seen as the best instance of the public performance of religion and art, and as a thriving ground for collaborative artists and designers”.
“The festival is characterized by large-scale installations and pavilions in urban areas, as well as by traditional Bengali drumming and veneration of the goddess. During the event, the divides of class, religion, and ethnicities collapse as crowds of spectators walk around to admire the installations,” it said.
As many as 36,946 community pujas are organized across the state every year. Of these, around 2,500 are held in Kolkata. In recent years, several organizations had urged UNESCO to recognize the festival.
“Durga Puja occupies the heart of every Bengali. Mamata Banerjee has made the best efforts to promote the festival as a national event. She has given a grant of ₹50,000 to each of the clubs and also held the carnival. Her efforts and that of the puja organizers have succeeded,” senior Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha member Saugata Roy said.
For major Durga Puja organizers, including Forum for Durgotsav, which represents the leading 500 Durga Pujas of Kolkata, it was a long-cherished dream to see the festival find a prominent space on the global map.
“The recognition as a world heritage will not only attract more international tourists to Kolkata and Bengal, I believe it will also lead to foreign investment in the festival,” said forum founder Partho Ghosh.
State Bharatiya Janata Party vice-president Jay Prakash Majumdar said that UNESCO’s recognition was a gift for millions of Bengalis.
“This is a recognition for a culture that has been inculcated and built over several centuries. The UNESCO has recognized the superlative emotion behind the celebrations,” he said.
Yoga as an “ancient India practice” and the Kumbh Mela, considered the world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims, were inscribed on the list in 2016 and 2017, respectively. India now has 14 intangible cultural heritage elements on the UNESCO list.