Ladakh’s Buddhist chanting in UNESCO cultural heritage list

The Buddhist chanting of Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, has enchanted its way into UNESCO's 2012 List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The chanting — orchestrated musical recitation of sacred Buddhist texts by lamas for the spiritual and moral well-being of their people —shares the list with 27 cultural traditions from across the world that include Spanish fiesta of the patios in Cordova, Hungarian folk art of Matyo, weaving of Ecuadorian Toquilla straw hat, Azerbaijani performance art of the Stringed Tar, and Japanese religious performance art of Nachi No Dengaku.

These traditions, UNESCO said, are intangible "heritage practices and expressions that help demonstrate the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance". As for the chanting — nominated for the list by the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts and the Ministry of Culture — it is a pervasive cultural practice not only in monasteries where monks chant daily but also among villagers who recite on special days, the UNESCO said. To preserve it, it needs to be documented and disseminated and its ardent practitioners, the monks, provided better living conditions so they can continue the tradition and pass it on to future generations.

That, indeed, is how the tradition has survived: young disciples learn it under the strict tutelage of senior monks. Yet, the chanting styles differ from sect to sect and monastery to monastery. The nomination dossier lists seven styles — Shargangrima, Nashthan Phyagzod, Kunrig, Rigmachutuk, which are performed by monks wearing copper masks, silk robes and special shoes, Chod, a secret practice usually performed in cemeteries, Guru Mantra and Guhyasamaj Tantra.

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