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Bohag Bihu on way to being UNESCO’s ‘intangible cultural heritage’

 GUWAHATI, Sept 23 - Bohag Bihu is on its way to getting a place in the list of intangible cultural heritage under the UNESCO, with efforts being stepped up by the North East Zone of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in association with global cultural heritage experts to fetch this status to the major festival of Assam.

 The move, according to experts, would give an exclusive international recognition to Bihu, contributing in both its preservation and promotion at the international level.

The ICOMOS is an international non-governmental organisation that rallies its network of experts to serve UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention.

“After a number of web presentations about the Bihu, its origin and evolution, the dance form, musical instruments etc., the global experts of ICOMOS have conveyed to us that Bihu, especially Bohag Bihu, fulfils the criteria of getting enlisted as an intangible cultural heritage,” Dilip Changkakoty, member of ICOMOS NE Zone told The Assam Tribune.

The ICOMOS International Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICICH) is one of the many international scientific committees of ICOMOS, which allow members from around the world to form networks of expertise in particular areas of cultural heritage. Members include internationally renowned specialists in their fields.

“After being created as a separate zone for the North East a couple of months back, we have taken the initiative to make the world aware about the cultural specialities of Assam and the North East. With a number of cultural experts from Assam on board, we organised a web session on September 20 for the international level culture heritage experts to showcase different aspects of Bihu, and its role as a melting pot for cultures and traditions of different communities and tribes. The presentations have earned lots of positive response from global specialists, paving the way for the cause,” Changkakoty said.

From Assam Changkakoty and Dr Sanjib Kumar Borkakoti of ICOMOS India (North East Zone) are also the experts of global ICICH. In a proactive approach, Dr Hee Sook Lee-Niinioja, global president of ICICH had requested all members of ICICH in different parts of world to attend the online events on Bihu.

According to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, the term ‘intangible cultural heritage’ means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage.

“This international recognition to Bihu would mean a greater international exposure to Bihu dance, songs, traditional Assamese ornaments, textile, etc. It will open a world of opportunities to our artistes and artisans alike,” Changkakoty added.

So far, altogether 18 cultural elements from India including yoga, Vedic chanting, Manipuri Songkirtan, etc., have been recognised as intangible cultural heritage.

Dr Mrinalini Atrey, expert from ICOMOS expressed hope that coming together of experts from across the globe in a web session on Bihu would make a case for enlisting Bihu in the list of world’s cultural heritage. “Bihu festival is the perfect blend of different tribes and clans who have made Assam their home. It is an organic whole, and is a true representative of Assam and its heritage. It must get a seat in the world heritage list,” she mentioned.

Backing the cause, Munish Pandit, vice-president of ICOMOS-ICICH said for any kind of cultural heritage, ICOMOS can help in its safeguard. “Though the actual carriers of any cultural heritage are the local people who follow it, the global platform can provide some framework in terms of its documentation or its recognition,” he added.

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