The Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage inscribed ‘Durga Puja in Kolkata’ on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during its 16th session, taking place virtually from 13 – 18 December 2021.

“I would like to offer warm congratulations to India, its people and especially all those who worked on the nomination dossier. I am confident that this inscription will offer encouragement to the local communities that celebrate Durga Puja, including all the traditional craftspeople, designers, artists, and organizers of large-scale cultural events, as well as tourists and visitors who partake in the inclusive festivity that is Durga Puja”.

– Eric Falt, Director, UNESCO New Delhi

As a ten-day celebration, Durga Puja represents the collective worship of the Hindu Goddess Durga. During this time, masterfully designed clay models of the Goddess are worshipped in “pandals” or pavilions where communities get together and celebrate. Several folk music, culinary, craft, and performing arts traditions add to the dynamism of this celebration.

While Durga Puja is one of the most important festivals of West Bengal, India, it is widely observed across the country and in major cities of the world by the Bengali diaspora. Over the years, the Indian city of Kolkata has emerged as the geographical and cultural heart of the national and global celebrations of the festival.

The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity currently has 492 elements.  It includes forms of expression that testify to the diversity of intangible heritage and raises awareness of its importance. By enhancing the visibility of communities’ cultural practices and know-how, UNESCO aims to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage of communities globally.

The 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage promotes the protection of knowledge and skills necessary for traditional artisanship and cultural practices transmitted from generation to generation, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, and knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe.

Durga Puja has been inscribed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of Humanity by UNESCO in 2021. It is the 14th Indian event on the list, others include Yoga, Vedic Chanting, Buddhist Chanting in Ladakh, Chau Dance, Ramlila, Navroz, Kumbh Mela and others.

According to UNESCO, Intangible Cultural Heritage indicates ‘the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their Cultural Heritage’.

Durga Puja is a radiant celebration marking the triumph of good over evil. Ma Durga – the epitome of Matri-Shakti and destroyer of all evils symbolises the power of divine over the demonic – Chandi.

Durga, in Sanskrit means “She who is incomprehensible or difficult to reach.” Goddess Durga is a form of Shakti. Mother of the Universe, she represents the infinite power of the universe and is a symbol of female dynamism. The manifestation of Goddess Durga is said to emerge from Her formless essence and the two are inseparable.

The Goddess Durga exists in different reincarnations which include Shakti, Kali, Gauri, Uma, Parvati, Chandi, Ambika, Lalita, Bhavani, Bhagvati, Java, Rajeshwari and other forms. The name “Durga” means the ‘invincible’. Devi Durga symbolizes freedom from all evils like injustice, cruelty, hatred, ego and other forms of pain and suffering.

At Camden we indeed feel proud to uphold and showcase the rich Bengali culture and heritage to a diverse population here in the United Kingdom. As rightly said by the Hon. Mayor of London, “London’s strength lies in its diversity”.

Inscription on the ICH has given Camden Durga Puja (organised by London Durgotsav Committee: Registered Charity) an international recognition and attention. It has helped to raise awareness about the event not only within the Bengali community but also within the Indian diaspora in / around London.

During Durga Puja, we immerse ourselves in the cultural richness and ethereal ambience, creating unforgettable memories for lifetime and witness how the tapestry of Bengali culture and tradition unfolds in London.