India’s Kumbh Mela and Naples’ pizza making win UNESCO ‘intangible’ status

India’s Kumbh Mela joined UNESCO’s list of “intangible heritage” Thursday, securing the coveted status alongside a host of cultural treasures including Naples’ pizza twirling.

Kumbh Mela was given the nod by the UN cultural body’s World Heritage Committee, which met on the South Korean island of Jeju.

The event has its origins in Hindu mythology which tells how a few drops from a pitcher containing the nectar of immortality are said to have fallen during a fight between gods and demons on the four locations across India which host the festival–Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar–every four years.

The 55-day Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, which was last held in 2013 and occurs every 12 years, was attended by 100 million people jostling for space to take a dip in the sacred waters of Ganga. A total of 12,000 police officers were deployed, while organisers set up 35,000 toilets, 14 medical centres, 22,000 street lights, 150 kilometres of temporary roads, 18 bridges, and new sewage facilities.

“It is a culturally diverse festival” where “knowledge and skills related to the tradition are transmitted through ancient religious manuscripts, oral traditions, historical travelogues and texts produced by eminent historians” said UNESCO’s ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ website.

The art of Neapolitan pizza making won, a horse-riding game from Iran and Dutch wind mills joined UNESCO’s culture list too. Thirty-four candidates were seeking to join the list of intangible heritage, created in 2003 mainly to raise awareness, although UNESCO also sometimes offers financial or technical support to countries struggling to protect their traditions.

The list already included more than 350 traditions, art forms and practices from Spain’s flamenco dancing to Indonesian batik fabrics, to more obscure entries such as a Turkish oil wrestling festival and the Mongolian coaxing ritual for camels.

Saudi Arabia was among those celebrating, claiming the tag for Al-Qatt Al-Asin — elaborate interior wall paintings traditionally done by women. The art, which promotes solidarity among women, is handed down through observation.

Bangladesh claimed victory with its tradition of Shital Pati, an intricate weaving craft using strips of green cane to produce mats and bedspreads.

Another winner was the traditional horseback game of Kok Boru in Kyrgyzstan, where players score points by putting a goat’s carcass in an opponent’s goal — though modern day games now replace the dead animal with a mould.

An array of traditions struggling to survive will also be given special support after being placed on an “urgent safeguarding list”.

These include a whistled language that developed in Turkey as a way to communicate across steep mountains and rugged topography but is now being threatened by mobile phones.

Morocco will also get help to protect Taskiwin — a martial dance that developed in the western High Atlas mountain range and involves shaking one’s shoulders to the rhythm of tambourines and flutes.

UNESCO said globalisation and young people’s rejection of traditional heritage had driven the practice “closer to oblivion”.

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