Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Patua women painting a scroll, West Benga ©

ICH Inventorying Efforts and Practices in India

An inventory generally refers to a comprehensive list of tangible items, such as property, goods on hand, contents in an area. So within this idea, one must wonder whether it is possible in the field of culture to inventory each item.

In the field of intangible culture heritage, the experts admit that inventorying is a major challenge in safeguarding endangered items. The major issue, however, is to make a standard format to cover all the details of a particular ICH item or to let it be exclusive with each element. If we examine, conventional collection management systems, site surveys and mapping methodologies are inadequate for dealing with living heritage elements. Therefore, the need arises to discuss the issues of inventorying, listing, safeguarding, and raising awareness at length with local communities and to evolve methods for their appropriate documentation.

Documentation alone cannot help preserve and sustain an element since documentation is a mere archiving tool, though it is helpful in the revitalization of an element and as a reference. Professor Galla said, “Documentation can easily induce freezing the element of the transliteration process captures it in time and space.”1Amareswar Galla, “inDivisible: Locating Intangible Heritage in Museums” (Paper presented at the National Conference on Museum and Intangible Cultural Heritage, Seoul, Republic of Korea, October 26–31, 2012.

Addressing the issue of inventorying, the question of how do we transform our current approaches and practices arises. To articulate the process of inventorying as a tool for safeguarding and sustaining an ICH element, we need to create public awareness and to launch programs through educational institutions. There is a need for trained professionals who can play an important role in preparing a database/register of ICH.

In a country like India where inestimable ICH elements exist, the process of making an inventory is difficult. In India, people live their heritage in everyday life. It is a part and parcel of their lives. Sometimes it seems quite confusing as to which element is to be added in a register or inventory and to why it should be added when it has long been an integral part of life. Also one must bear in mind that similar elements may exist among different communities. There is need to adopt a more flexible approach because the diverse communities and cultures define such elements in vastly different ways within the operational context in their respective local community and environment.

There are several inventory-making formats in the ICH field—especially in the areas of oral tradition, dance, traditional music, manuscripts, crafts, and traditional knowledge about nature—that have been undertaken by different ministries, public institutions, private entities, NGOs, or individuals. There have also been some attempts to create databases at local and regional levels in India. However, the purpose, scope, quality, and formats of these inventories or registers are often varied, and consequently there is no comparability among the databases, which makes integration and consolidation difficult. Even when there is an effort to make a standard format, there is a lack of human resources to undertake actual data collection. In many instances, inventories or registers lack comprehensive information because the data was initially collected without any standard formats, which evolved later, and therefore, comprehensive information about the elements is lacking at the data collection level itself. A methodology for mapping and conducting surveys of cultural zones needs to be put in place in a more comprehensive and sustainable manner. The vastness of the Indian territory and the abundance of its heritage are often inhibiting factors for many institutions to undertake an inventorying exercise. There is an urgent need to draw up inventories or national registers of ICH elements and registers of living human treasures and to develop strategies for preserving and sustaining ICH.

The first, in a most visible and in most identifiable form, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) has uploaded the Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory on its website. The list of the items and format of inventory are as in table 1.

The IGNCA has put all the information in a standardized format. As this inventory also mentions the art form and consent from the community, along with images and videos, it can evolve into a comprehensive inventory in the country.

Since 2011, the Sangeet Natak Akademi has been the nodal agency endorsed by the Ministry of Culture Government of India for Intangible Cultural Heritage programme.2 As the first step in making a national ICH inventory on its website, it offers a collective database of many well-known institutions and organizations engaged in safeguarding culture. The national database also has links available on the website ( in) to the current and ongoing nomination, documentation, attachments, and audiovisual materials of the included elements. The format of inventory is given in table 2.

The responsibility of safeguarding cannot be left to the government alone but should be organized through a sustained collaboration among local bodies at the village administrative level (gram sabha, gram panchayat, etc.) as well as to state and national bodies.3Part of discussions on inventory making with Professor Molly Kaushal, HoD, Janapada Sampada, IGNCA, New Delhi. The ICH inventory should reflect the diversity, richness, and plurality of India’s cultural heritage.

In terms of significance, priority, and benefit to the community and the world as a whole, a national inventory or register is required to document the multifaceted aspects of India’s ICH, its ethnic and cultural diversity, and its plural composite cultural nature as well as and the sheer volume of ICH present in its territory.

Table 1. List of items and the format of the inventory managed by the IGNCA 4Source:
No. Name of Element Detail (PDF) Consent (PDF) View View
1 Buddhist Chanting of Ladakh: Recitation of Sacred Buddhist Texts in the Trans-Himalayan Ladakh Region, Jammu and Kashmir, India. Description Consent Images Video
2 Chaar Bayt: A Muslim tradition in lyrical oral poetry, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, India. Description Consent Images Video
3 Dashavatar: Traditional folk theatre form, Maharashtranand Goa, India. Description Consent Images Video
4 The Festival of Salhesh, Bihar, India. Description Consent Images Video
5 Hingan: Votive Terracotta Painted Plaque of Molela, Rajasthan, India. Description Consent Images Video
6 Kalbelia: Folk Songs and Dances, Rajasthan, India. Description Consent Images Video

Table 2. Format of the inventory managed by the Sangeet Natak Akademi 5Source:
No. Name of Element Detail (PDF) Consent (PDF) View View Other reference links
1 Kutiyattam, Sanskrit Theatre
2 The Tradition of Vedic Chanting
3 Ramlila—the Traditional Performance of the Ramayana
4 Novruz, Nowrouz, Nooruz, Navruz, Nauroz, Nevruz
5 Ramman: Religious Festival and Ritual Theatre of then Garhwal Himalayas Description Video
6 Chhau Dance Description Consent Images Video,,

Notes   [ + ]

1. Amareswar Galla, “inDivisible: Locating Intangible Heritage in Museums” (Paper presented at the National Conference on Museum and Intangible Cultural Heritage, Seoul, Republic of Korea, October 26–31, 2012.
3. Part of discussions on inventory making with Professor Molly Kaushal, HoD, Janapada Sampada, IGNCA, New Delhi.
4. Source:
5. Source: