By Dr.Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai/newsin.asia
Through time, Indian villages have been counted as an important area of interaction. Though the village of today differs from what it was a few centuries ago, it continues to be a repository of what is called the “Intangible Cultural Heritage”.
In the 2003 conference of the UNESCO in Paris, a decision was taken to give recognition to the Intangible Cultural Heritages of the world, in the same manner as the Tangible Cultural Heritage of the world. Having been provided a platform by UNESCO, Intangible Cultural Heritage has taken centre stage over the last one and a half decades.
The latest addition from India to the UNESCO ICH list- after a conference held in Korea in December 2017,is the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in the North Indian State of Uttar Pradesh held on the banks of the Ganges.
Around 14 other cultural elements from across India have been included in the UNESCO ICH list.
The list includes Yoga; Vedic Chanting from around the nation; Sankirtana; ritual drumming and dance from Manipur; Kalbelia folk songs from Rajasthan; Chhau dance from West Bengal; Ramman festival and theatre of the Garhwal-Himalayas; Mudiyettu dance from Kerala; Kudiyattam Sanskrit theatre from South India; Ramlila from across the nation; the festival of Navroz from across the nation; the tradition of brass utensil-making by the Thatera community of Jandiala Guru in Punjab; and the recitation of Buddhist texts from the Ladakh region.
Each one of these is linked to a geographical area. And each one embodies the identity of a community. They are essentially village based. It is the Indian village which has kept them alive.
Indian villages have grown in terms of socio-cultural, economic, political and religious arrangements over the years. The importance of the village as a locale and area of interaction, and cultural creation and preservation is evident in history.
The ancient Indian text, the RgVeda (composed between c.1500 and 1200 B.C.) cites the ‘grama’ (village) as an important aggregate of families sharing the same habitation and divided into many hierarchically arranged groups with each grama headed by a gramani. The term gramani is also found later on in the Indian epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, where the village is mentioned as the most important and fundamental unit of administration. These texts also mention the role of the gramani, how he is appointed by the king and what his duties are. The gramani maintained records, collected dues and defended the village.
Indian Jain and Buddhist sources of the 5th and 6th century B.C. once again highlighted the importance of the village. The ‘grama’ was an important socio-political unit under the authority of a headman. Across centuries in the Mauryan, Gupta and Medieval periods, the identity of the Indian village further developed into a set of complex interactions, economic activities and political as well as religious life.
The Arthasashtra (generally considered to belong to 4 th. century B.C.E or between the 2 nd and 4 th. centuries C.E.) written by Kautilya or Chanakya, the Prime Minister of the Mauryan Empire under Chandragupta Maurya, mentions the village as a complex socio-cultural unit.
Still later, during the time of the Guptas (between 3 rd. century and to 6 th. century C.E) the concept of a village and village councils continued to be key local administrative units. The Vakataka Gupta discharged almost all the functions of a government. Years later, during Mughal rule (16 th.to 19 century) the Central administration did not interfere with the internal affairs of the village except in special circumstances.
By this time, the village had developed a network of relations with other political units like the town, city, pargana and the province. The administration of the village panchayat included important functions like security, education, sanitation and other civic matters. This system was further strengthened under colonial rule.
Historian Dr. A.L. Basham, in his “Cultural History of India” said: “While there are four main cradles of civilisation, which moving from East to West include, China, India, the Fertile Crescent and the Mediterranean, specially Greece and Italy, India deserves a larger share of credit because she has deeply affected the cultural life of most of Asia, and extended her influence, directly and indirectly, to other parts of the world.”
It is also important to note here that settlers and traders had been coming to India from outside via both land and sea, over thousands of years. India was never in isolation, right from the very ancient times. Centuries of acculturation, adaptation and co-existence have marked the Indian village. Socio-cultural bonds in the village have been creating and sustaining the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
It is through the villages that one can see the Intangible Cultural Heritage in modern times. This is best reflected in the languages of India. The collective memory of the nation, India’s physical, ethnic and linguistic diversities, are all preserved by its villages.
According to the last Census of India (2011), there are 22 official languages and 1652 other mother tongues spoken in India.
The tangible heritage of India is well known to the world. The many historical monuments, architecture and relics are often the source of awe and inspiration for artists, academics, historians as well as lay men from around the world. But it is the Intangible Cultural Heritage which upholds the unique identity of India, and the villages of India are the repositories of these heritages.
(Author Dr. Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai is an Indian Visual Anthropologist- specialising in Intangible Cultural Heritage, History and Popular Culture. She has worked at the SAARC Cultural Center in Colombo. She can be contacted at [email protected])