Unesco adds yoga to world heritage list

A yoga session under way in Nehru Park in New Delhi. The discipline was added to the Unesco list in recognition of its influence on Indian society.
A yoga session under way in Nehru Park in New Delhi. The discipline was added to the Unesco list in recognition of its influence on Indian society.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Cuban rumba, Korean haenyeo divers, Belgian beer also make cut

ADDIS ABABA (Ethiopia) • Yoga, the mind-body discipline based on ancient Indian philosophy and now practised all over the world, has made it to Unesco's intangible world heritage list.

The accolade was hailed by New Delhi as a diplomatic triumph for the country.

The practice was added to the prestigious list of things that are an "intangible cultural heritage to humanity", in recognition of its influence on Indian society, "from health and medicine to education and the arts", the World Heritage Committee said on Wednesday, an Agence France-Presse report said.

In a media briefing in New Delhi on Thursday, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said the decision emphasises yoga's role as a social practice, an oral tradition and a system of ancient and scientific knowledge.

He added that the declaration of yoga as a human treasure enables a bottom-up approach to empowerment and puts the spotlight on the many institutions and communities in India disseminating this tradition.

He said it also could help start a dialogue on the ideas of peace and tolerance, and how these can be extended to meet the goals of sustainable development.

India, he added, can play a leading role in this global dialogue on inter-cultural relations, reported Indian news site The Statesman.

The list of cultural treasures was created by Unesco 10 years ago, mainly to increase awareness. The UN's educational, scientific and cultural body, on occasion, offers financial or technical support to countries struggling to protect these treasures.

The other latest additions to the list include Cuba's rumba dance, Belgium's beer culture and South Korea's haenyeo women.

Haenyeo, who are a community of women divers from the southern island of Jeju, are the country's 19th intangible cultural heritage to be put on the Unesco list. According to the South China Morning Post, the haenyeo are women who risk their lives to dive deep into the sea without breathing apparatus. They are able to hold their breath for minutes at a time, and they collect conches, abalone and seaweed to make ends meet.

The Korean Cultural Heritage Administration said the haenyeo represent the cultural identity of Jeju island, where people in the past relied heavily on the sea to survive.

The women divers' eco-friendly way of doing business and their practice of passing down their diving know-how for generations helped them get listed on Unesco's cultural heritage list, it said.

Other Korean practices on the Unesco list include the royal ancestral ritual in the Jongmyo shrine and its music, the "pansori" epic chant, and the Gangneung Danoje festival.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2016, with the headline 'Unesco adds yoga to world heritage list'. Print Edition | Subscribe