Sudha Gopalakrishnan
President, Stirring Action on Heritage and the Arts, India

India is the repository of an astounding wealth of intangible heritage with distinctive qualities of its own. The variety of geophysical features of India reflects its cultural diversity, from the Himalayan peaks to the sea coast, river-fed plains, marshlands, and deserts, all of which has helped shape its intangible culture in consonance with nature. India is a pluralistic society that combines different religions, faiths, racial communities, languages, and cultures. It has a wide range of artistic activities, traditional knowledge systems, folklore, performing arts and festivals, with about eight hundred dialects, and more than twenty officially recognized languages, several faiths, various styles of art, architecture, literature, music, dance, and lifestyle patterns from the urban and rural to the tribal.

The great challenge in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage in India is the immense diversity and multiplicity of expressions prevalent in the country. India has well-developed strategies to address the issues of documentation and revitalization of its intangible cultural heritage. There are several institutions set up by the Government of India at the national level, which are devoted to the safeguarding and fostering of different domains of intangible cultural heritage. There are national academies that were founded in the 1950s for music, dance and drama, literature, and the visual arts. They have their counterparts in the provinces, as well as diverse efforts in the voluntary and private sector to encourage and support different activities pertaining to the promotion of local and national heritage.

Broadly, there are institutions engaged in the promotion and preservation of every stream of artistic activity in the country. Between them, they organize performances and exhibitions, publish literary works, give awards in recognition of individual artistic or scholarly achievement, subsidize the work of training institutions, give grants-in-aid for research and documentation, organize and subsidize seminars, document and disseminate the arts through various media, maintain reference libraries and galleries, and publish books and specialized journals.

Given the multiplicity of heritage expressions in India and the forces of homogenization at work in the world today, the task of preservation of India’s intangible cultural heritage is evolving continuously. Intangible heritage needs to be fostered and promoted in a way that contributes to strengthening respect for diverse cultural traditions and identities, and to promoting tolerance and creativity.

For effective safeguarding of India’s intangible cultural heritage, there is an urgent need to draw up inventories on aspects relating to intangible cultural heritage, pool documentation efforts by providing resources, and taking up steps for their revitalization and transmission. Many of the existing efforts by different groups, institutions and individuals across India need to be evaluated and cultivated in terms of significance, priority and benefit to the community and the world at large. It is a shared responsibility to be shouldered through a collaboration of local effort, coordinated academic resource support, and catalyzed by visionary social responsibility.