Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 12.COM 11.B.12

The Committee

  1. Takes note that India has nominated Kumbh Mela (No. 01258) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Kumbh Mela (the festival of the sacred Pitcher) is the largest peaceful congregation of pilgrims on earth, during which participants bathe or take a dip in a sacred river. Devotees believe that by bathing in the Ganges one is freed from sins liberating her/him from the cycle of birth and death. Millions of people reach the place without any invitation. The congregation includes ascetics, saints, sadhus, aspirants-kalpavasis and visitors. The festival is held at Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik every four years by rotation and is attended by millions of people irrespective of caste, creed or gender. Its primary bearers, however, belong to akhadas and ashrams, religious organizations, or are individuals living on alms. Kumbh Mela plays a central spiritual role in the country, exerting a mesmeric influence on ordinary Indians. The event encapsulates the science of astronomy, astrology, spirituality, ritualistic traditions, and social and cultural customs and practices, making it extremely rich in knowledge. As it is held in four different cities in India, it involves different social and cultural activities, making this a culturally diverse festival. Knowledge and skills related to the tradition are transmitted through ancient religious manuscripts, oral traditions, historical travelogues and texts produced by eminent historians. However, the teacher-student relationship of the sadhus in the ashrams and akhadas remains the most important method of imparting and safeguarding the knowledge and skills relating to Kumbh Mela.

  1. Decides that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:   Kumbh Mela – which attracts millions of spiritual seekers and visitors – represents a syncretic set of rituals related to worship and ritual cleansing in holy rivers in India. The file describes the element as an important event in the spiritual lives of Hindus and non-Hindus alike. It is a social ritual and festive event that is closely linked to the community’s perception of its own history and memory; the file provides a clear explanation of the rich and diverse cultural significance of the element, as well as the roles and responsibilities of the bearers. Knowledge and skills related to the element are transmitted through the teacher-student relationship. The element is compatible with existing international human rights instruments since people from all walks of life, without any discrimination, participate in the festival with equal fervor.

R.2:   The inscription of the element would underline its contribution to cultural diversity and creativity, as well as tolerance and learning. The element encapsulates a large body of knowledge comprising spiritual wisdom and know-how related to nature and the universe. Since many of the pilgrims that participate have different origins, creeds and traditions, the inscription of the element would promote respect for dialogue. The values it carries, such as religiosity and social dialogue, could inspire similar events and gatherings. As a religious festival, the tolerance and inclusiveness that Kumbh Mela demonstrates are especially valuable for the contemporary world.

R.3:   The viability of the element is primarily ensured by saints and sadhus teaching their disciples about traditional rituals and chants. Other safeguarding measures focus mainly on running the festival and addressing the related constraints, such as crowd management and control. The State Party has established a set of measures that are implemented with the participation and support of the bearer communities, the government and non-governmental organizations in two phases. Short-term measures include the Kumbh Mela Fellowship for research, workshops and campaigns, and the Cultural Heritage Outreach Program for schools. Medium-term measures comprise the digital archiving of the ritualistic procedures of all the akhadas, the development of cultural tourism and the restoration of the river waterfront, which is essential for safeguarding the cultural space. The government and non-governmental organizations take care of the logistics and infrastructure, comprising: security, accommodation, hospitality, sanitation and transport facilities.

R.4:   The nomination was initiated within the community of bearers. The process was supported by the Holy men of the various akhadas, members of temple trusts, non-governmental organizations, eminent scholars and State Party officials through meetings organized in the cities where the festivals take place. The stakeholders involved in the management of the Kumbh Mela expressed their free, prior and informed consent to the nomination.

R.5:   Kumbh Mela was included in the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2016. The Sangeet Natak Akademi is India’s apex body on culture responsible for maintaining the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The inventory was drawn up with the active participation of the community bearers, who were consulted at every stage of the nomination process. The inventory can be accessed through the website link provided and is planned to be regularly updated.

  1. Inscribes Kumbh Mela on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Invites the State Party to avoid the use of inappropriate vocabulary and concepts when referring to intangible cultural heritage, such as ‘intact’ and ‘purest form’, which run counter to the constant recreation of living traditions;
  3. Encourages the State Party to take due consideration in its safeguarding measures of any risks to the element associated with tourism and increasing visitor numbers, including those impacting the environment;
  4. Further encourages the State Party, when submitting nomination files in the future, to avoid standardized consent letters, ensuring that they are as varied as possible.