Kerala's Mudiyettu, Chhau of east India and Kalbelia of Rajasthan included

The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) inscribes three Indian performing-art forms, the Mudiyettu, a ritual theatre of Kerala; the Chhau dance, a tradition from eastern India; and the Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This annual list, unlike the World Heritage list that focuses on monuments and natural sites, spotlights performing art forms of outstanding value and are vulnerable due to lack of support.

This inscription, the UNESCO expects, would provide better visibility for such intangible heritage, help improve the awareness of their significance and offer international assistance to promote and preserve them.

The Mudiyettu, the ritual dance drama annually performed after the harvest of summer crops in Kerala, is more than 250 years old. This art form involves elaborate drawings on floors, masks made of areca nut fronds and playing of drums. What was once well patronised, now has only three traditional families of regular performers.

The Chhau dance, known for its crafted masks and mock combat movements, is prevalent in the tribal parts of Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. The economic backwardness of the area, an extensive survey by the Sangeet Natak Akademi reveals, has had a negative impact on the artists of the Chhau and their art. Similarly, the Kalbeli community of snake charmers from Rajasthan are also impacted. As a result, their songs and dances, which are characterised by movements and music that evoke serpents, are affected and are in need of support.

It makes it obligatory on the various governments (132 of them) who have ratified the UNESCO's Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and who nominate heritage elements, to ensure that necessary measures, including legal and financial, are undertaken to safeguard them. On its part, the UNESCO would facilitate international cooperation, provide financial assistance and extend support for studies, provision of experts, training and creation of infrastructure.

Every year various governments forward nominations for inscribing in the Representative List. In addition, separate nominations are also sent for inscribing in the Urgent Safeguarding List. This list focuses on art forms “whose continuous recreation and transmission” are threatened and are in need of immediate support.

This year, the UNESCO received 54 nominations for the Representative List. The subsidiary body, after reviewing them advised seven nominations to be withdrawn, rejected one and recommended the rest for the inscription. Six nominations were received for the Urgent Safeguarding List of which two were withdrawn, one was rejected and three were recommended for inscription. All the three nominations proposed by India for the Representative List were recommended.

The Fifth Session of the UNESCO Inter-governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, that is under way in Nairobi, accepted this recommendation. So far, about eight Indian heritage elements, including these three, have been inscribed in the representative list.