UNESCO’s Contribution to Intangible Cultural Heritage: Spotlight on Bangladesh


On the bright morning of the first day of Baishakh, a lady dressed in a beautiful Saffron Jamdani weave takes a rickshaw ride to the Mongol Shovajatra. Without anyone telling her to do so, she enjoys the Baul songs, becoming a storyteller of the significance of Bangladeshi culture and its connection to people’s hearts. Cultural heritage is like a mix of things that show who a nation is. Without culture, people are just living creatures on Earth. This culture has added many colors and ideas to human history. All the good ideas have come because of the diverse world. That’s why UNESCO decided to acknowledge this diversity and its importance to societies.

The woman riding the rickshaw is a living example of this acknowledgment. She represents the importance of keeping and celebrating different cultures. UNESCO’s recognition is like a big approval, saying that Bangladesh’s cultural heritage is valuable to the world. So, the Baishakh morning is more than just a celebration; it’s a live painting where the past, present, and future come together. The lady on the rickshaw is a symbol of her nation, carrying traditions that last through time. This cultural journey, unplanned and natural, shows the strength of a heritage that proudly stands between old ways and modern times. Bangladesh’s cultural identity, the collective memory of its communities forms a rich mosaic, reflecting their faith, ethnic origins, creativity, and centuries-long interactions with diverse cultures. Shaped by its unique geographic location and enriched by the continuous flow of traders, travelers, and religious preachers, Bangladesh’s culture maintains a distinct indigenous character.

UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage

UNESCO, as the specialized United Nations Agency in culture, assumes a central role in assisting nations in preserving their cultural heritage. In contrast to tangible heritage, which includes physical artifacts, intangible heritage encompasses traditions passed down through generations. This encompasses oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, and the associated knowledge and skills.

Besides, UNESCO’s creation of Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage serves as a crucial step in globally safeguarding and recognizing significant cultural legacies, fostering awareness of their importance. This overview sheds light on the lists, emphasizing their role in appreciating and celebrating the diverse cultural expressions found worldwide. It also outlines the criteria for inclusion and the functions of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage serves as a cornerstone in these preservation efforts. Unlike tangible heritage, which involves physical artifacts, intangible heritage comprises traditions passed down through generations. This includes oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, and the associated knowledge and skills. Bangladesh demonstrated its commitment to these endeavors by ratifying the convention in 2009, signaling its dedication to establishing mechanisms for promoting and safeguarding its intangible cultural heritage.

Bangladesh’s Intangible Cultural Heritage: A Symphony of UNESCO Recognitions

In the esteemed UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Bangladesh proudly holds five entries that represent the soul and essence of the nation. These include the heartfelt Baul song (2008), the traditional artistry of Jamdani weaving (2013), the lively Mongol Shobhajatra (2016), and the skilled craft of Shitol Pati weaving from Sylhet (2017). Each entry is a vibrant testament to the cultural richness of Bangladesh, providing a nuanced insight into its cherished traditions.

The latest addition, ‘Rickshaws and Rickshaw Painting in Dhaka’ (2023), unveiled during the 18th session in Kasane, Botswana, is a captivating milestone for the people of Bangladesh. The unique connection between Rickshaws and the populace forms a cooperative structure deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric of the nation, adding another layer to the mesmerizing tapestry of Bangladesh’s cultural heritage.

Bangladesh’s Intangible Cultural Heritage: A Diplomatic Triumph with UNESCO’s Recognition

Bangladesh and UNESCO share a special connection in protecting and showcasing the country’s cultural traditions. This goes beyond just physical monuments and includes things like traditions, rituals, and performing arts. When UNESCO recognizes Bangladesh’s cultural heritage, it’s not just about our rich culture but also a big win in diplomacy. It shows that Bangladesh uses its unique cultural identity in a different way for diplomatic success, telling the world about our rich culture and uniqueness.

This recognition is like a badge of honor for Bangladesh, showing our success in diplomacy. By highlighting our cultural identity, we send a strong message to the world about our country’s richness. This different approach to diplomacy is a proof of Bangladesh’s active role in the global stage, proudly showcasing our cultural significance.

As we work together with UNESCO, we’re not just preserving our unique traditions but also showing the world the importance of these cultural aspects. Bangladesh and UNESCO working hand in hand is a sign of our shared commitment to protect and promote our cultural heritage. This collaboration strengthens the friendship between Bangladesh and UNESCO, showing our joint dedication to keeping our cultural tapestry alive and vibrant.

Significance of UNESCO Recognition for Bangladesh’s Intangible Cultural Heritage

Firstly, the recognition of intangible cultural heritage emphasizes the uniqueness of cultures and regions. In a world where human life and societal dynamics continually evolve, each society possesses its distinct ideas and choices. UNESCO’s acknowledgment of these characteristics reflects its commitment to embracing the diversification of global cultures. For Bangladesh, this recognition is a celebration of its cultural diversity and a testament to its ability to compete on the global cultural stage.

Secondly, joining UNESCO’s elite list of cultural heritage exemplifies Bangladesh’s distinctive identity. It showcases the country’s ability to coexist under one roof with diverse groups that wholeheartedly embrace this diversity. The widespread acceptance of cultural symbols like Jamdani or rickshaw painting across Bangladesh serves as a powerful expression of unity among the Bangladeshi people, symbolizing a shared nationality and nationalism.

Thirdly, despite the transformative impact of digitalization on global culture and activities, Bangladesh has adeptly merged its historical cultural roots with the digital and globalized world. This harmonious blending underscores the vital role of intangible cultural heritage in preserving cultural diversity in the face of globalization’s rapid changes.

Lastly, beyond its cultural significance, the article delves into the socio-economic value of transmitting intangible cultural heritage. The transmission of this knowledge proves essential for both minority and mainstream social groups in both developing and developed states. The section explores how the knowledge and skills embedded in intangible heritage contribute to the well-being and cohesion of communities. In essence, Bangladesh’s intangible cultural heritage emerges as a dynamic force, not only preserving diversity but also fostering unity and resilience in the face of evolving global dynamics.

To conclude, Bangladesh’s recognition by UNESCO stands as a global celebration of diversity. From the soulful Baul song to the vibrant artistry of Rickshaws and Rickshaw Painting, these entries vividly represent the essence of Bangladesh’s traditions. Beyond a mere acknowledgment, UNESCO’s recognition signifies a diplomatic triumph and an active global role for Bangladesh. It underscores the dynamic nature of Bangladesh’s traditions and their enduring value in a changing world. As the journey with UNESCO continues, Bangladesh’s UNESCO recognitions become not just a celebration of its cultural wealth but also a universal tribute to the intangible threads that connect humanity.

– S. M. Saifee Islam is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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