Desert Festivals celebrating Intangible Cultural Heritage

Langa musicians © Contact Base

The Thar desert shapes the cultural heritage of western districts of Rajasthan in India. Rajasthan is a potpourri of several performing arts and handicraft traditions. A series of nine festivals are being held between 10 September and 20 November, 2022 to showcase the living heritages. This is planned as a part of a project by the Department of Tourism of the Government of Rajasthan and UNESCO for strengthening ICH based cultural tourism ( We find the Langas, Manganiyars and Mirs, folk musician communities in these rolling sand dunes, who have been practicing music since generation. The tradition bearers of the vibrant Kalbelia dance, enlisted in the UNESCO’s Representative List of Heritage of Humanity, emulating the movements of snake, also live here. The colorful hand-embroidered attire of the dancers together with their customary musical instruments make Kalbelia a captivating folk art form. Rajasthan is also the abode to intricate handcrafted wonders like Durries, Jutti and Kasidakari, Appliqué and pottery. While Durries are hand woven rugs of everyday use, Jutti refers to handcrafted leather footwear and Appliqué and Kasidakari are two distinct traditions of needlework pursued by the women of this region. The hand carved pottery of Pokaran village has been accredited with the tag of Geographical Indication (GI) .

Kalbeliya dance © Contact Base
The agenda is to transform the living heritage from the ‘fringe’ to the ‘core’ of tourism activities in post pandemic times . This is in alignment with the upcoming World Tourism Day (27 September) slogan “Rethinking Tourism”. Contact Base (trading style , the implementing agency, is using its methodology called Art For Life (AFL) (, which is a culture based development model focusing on holistic development of marginalized cultural practitioners by making their traditional cultural practices the premise for inclusion and poverty alleviation, as well as strengthening art form and the process of heritage transmission to next generation.AFL promotes village, artist and art together, both individually and collectively, so that each when strengthened can work towards accrediting pride, recognition and visibility to the others. This model of ICH based cultural tourism develops village or the in-situ space as cultural tourism destinations, so that local community members can flourish by attaining the benefits of community led tourism development.

UNESCO Officials © Contact Base
1500 tradition bearers in four districts, namely Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Barmer and Bikaner are participating in these festivals centering on the rural locales’ cultural offerings as a crucial triggering point in accrediting local, national and international visibility to the rural destinations, their inhabitants and the cultural practices. Though Rajasthan is a popular tourist destination owing to its forts, palaces and sand dunes, till date there is no foot fall in the villages. It is expected that these village festivals will play an important role in promoting the destinations and improving their tourism prospects. It may also be noted that in this model of tourism, artists play the central role, not the usual role of bystander and that makes this model an example of community led responsible tourism also. Tourism stakeholders have visited these rural destinations to familiarize them with the locales and their cultural offerings, so that they in turn can motivate/ facilitate tourists to visit these villages ( High-level UNESCO officials recently visited these rural cultural tourism destinations and encouraged the practitioners .

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Photos: Courtesy: Contact Base

[Rajasthan Festival Calendar Download]