United Nations

Culture, Heritage, Religion

The tradition of Vedic chanting


The Vedas comprise a vast corpus of Sanskrit poetry, philosophical dialogue, myth, and ritual incantations developed and composed by Aryans over 3,500 years ago. Regarded by Hindus as the primary source of knowledge and the sacred foundation of their religion, the Vedas embody one of the worlds oldest surviving cultural traditions.

The oral tradition of the Vedas consists of several pathas, “recitations” or ways of chanting the Vedic mantras. Such traditions of Vedic chant are often considered the oldest unbroken oral tradition in existence, the fixation of the Vedic texts (samhitas) as preserved dating to roughly the time of Homer (early Iron Age). The tradition of Vedic chanting is on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The Vedic heritage embraces a multitude of texts and interpretations collected in four Vedas, commonly referred to as books of knowledge even though they have been transmitted orally. The Rig Veda is an anthology of sacred hymns; the Sama Veda features musical arrangements of hymns from the Rig Veda and other sources; the Yajur Veda abounds in prayers and sacrificial formulae used by priests; and the Atharva Veda includes incantations and spells. The Vedas also offer insight into the history of Hinduism and the early development of several artistic, scientific and philosophical concepts, such as the concept of zero.

Expressed in the Vedic language, which is derived from classical Sanskrit, the verses of the Vedas were traditionally chanted during sacred rituals and recited daily in Vedic communities. The value of this tradition lies not only in the rich content of its oral literature but also in the ingenious techniques employed by the Brahmin priests in preserving the texts intact over thousands of years. To ensure that the sound of each word remains unaltered, practitioners are taught from childhood complex recitation techniques that are based on tonal accents, a unique manner of pronouncing each letter and specific speech combinations. The insistence on preserving pronunciation and accent as accurately as possible is related to the belief that the potency of the mantras lies in their sound when pronounced.

Although the Vedas continue to play an important role in contemporary Indian life, only thirteen of the over one thousand Vedic recitation branches have survived. Moreover, four noted schools in Maharashtra (central India), Kerala and Karnataka (southern India) and Orissa (eastern India) are considered under imminent threat.


UNESCO, 2008, Tradition of Vedic chanting.


International Mother Language Day

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International Mother Language Day is being observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. It was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999 (30C/62) to celebrate every February 21 as International Mother Language Day in recognition of the sacrifices of the Bangla language martyrs, who dedicated their lives for establishing the rightful place of  Bangla.

The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. The Pakistan government was mandating Urdu language as the state language in both East and West Pakistan. I salute those brave martyrs.

Bangla is the official language of Bangladesh and also, it is one of the official languages in India. It is the second-highest spoken native language in India, after Hindi. The national anthems of both India and Bangladesh were written by the Bangla Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore. I am proud that Bangla is my mother language.

United Nations have stated that the languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

শুভ ভাষা দিবস! Happy International Mother Language Day!


An Odisha tribe gets global recognition for green farming

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The tribal community of Koraput, Odisha has been chosen by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for recognition under its Globally Important Agricultural Heritage sites programme.

A decade ago, Raita Muduli, a tribal woman from the Koraput district, was introduced to a nature friendly farming system, which not only changed her condition but also got her tribe the UN recognition.

It all started after the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation – run by eminent agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan – introduced them to organic farming.

Muduli, along with Chandra Pradhan, another member of her Porja tribe inspired other people in the village to take up the system and now almost eight-nine villages are involved in the environment-friendly agriculture system.

Earlier, they were using a large amount of chemical fertiliser for farming. But then they shifted to organic methods. They are using cow-dung for manure. For preventing crops from getting infected, they prepare insecticides in a traditional manner using neem leaves and other plants found in the forest that have medicinal qualities.

The tribe produces several varieties of rice, wheat and cumin seeds. This green method of farming has almost quadrupled the annual yield in the last few years, while the profits have risen several times.

Muduli, along with Pradhan, were felicitated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the 99th Indian Science Congress at Bhubaneshwar for practising the ‘Koraput Traditional Agricultural System’.

It may also seen as the recognition of tribal peoples’ contribution to biodiversity and knowledge systems, whilst increasing attention to their natural and cultural heritage.