With the ‘Durga Puja in Kolkata’ being included in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the autumn festival started early with the State on Thursday with the West Bengal government organising a rally to celebrate the global recognition.
Almost a month before the Durga Puja festival, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee led a grand colourful rally in the city thanking UNESCO for including the festival in the coveted list. Thousands of people, which included the representatives of different clubs, participated in the rally singing and dancing along the five-kilometre stretch from Joransanko Thakurbari to Red Road.
“Thriving ground for collaborative artists”
Durga Puja in Kolkata, a centuries-old tradition was inscribed in the list in December 2021. The festival has been described by the UN organisation “as the best instance of the public performance of religion and art, and as a thriving ground for collaborative artists and designers”.
Speaking at the event in Kolkata, Eric Falt, Director and UNESCO Representative to Bhutan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka said that he did not expect anything so big and had personally not seen such an enthusiasm around an inscription as he was witnessing, for inclusion in ‘Durga Puja in Kolkata’. Durga Puja celebrates what is best about the intangible cultural heritage, Mr. Falt said adding that he would be back in the city later that month to participate in pre-puja festivities.
UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Secretary Tim Curtis said that in inscribing Durga Puja in Kolkata on the list the intergovernmental committee for safeguarding the intangible heritage noted, “Durga Puja has undergone positive change and inclusiveness such as through the transition in the public sphere as community pujas and transformation as a non- denominational community festival”.
Mr. Curtis added that the committee’s decision ended by commending the concerned organisations by involving the marginalised groups of individuals and women. “This is indeed an example of the transformative and dynamic nature of a living heritage,” he added.
“This is indeed an example of the transformative and dynamic nature of a living heritage”Tim CurtisUNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Secretary
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who walked the entire five-kilometre stretch said that with the celebration, the festival had started in the State. She thanked UNESCO for including the festival in the list and said that the survey by the British Council a few years ago had pegged the creative economy around the Durga Puja at about ₹40,000 crore. Ms. Banerjee was referring to a survey by the British Council in 2019 which had pegged the creative economy at ₹33, 372 crore. Ms. Banerjee said that while religion was a personal affair “festivals are for all”. Ms. Banerjee had increased the honorarium for Durga Puja clubs organising community pujas from ₹50,000 to ₹60,000. This cash incentive was going to cost ₹258 crore to the State exchequer.
The Opposition parties have claimed that the grand celebration of inscription of Durga Puja of Kolkata was an attempt to divert the attention from the allegations of corruption being leveled against her party leaders. “This procession is @mamataofficial‘s desperate attempt to divert attention from the corruption & scandals. Bengalis are smart people & realise that due to Sangeet Natak Akademi’s efforts (Central Govt Institution) Durga Puja received UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status,” the Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari tweeted. Communist Party of India (Marxist) State Secretary Mohammed Salim said that the Chief Minister wanted to portray a picture as if there had been no Durga Pujas before she assumed power. The CPI (M) leader said that attempts were made to divert the attention from the recruitment scam and corruption charges against TMC leaders.