Folklore is created and enjoyed by the lower castes and classes who often use it to champion their values and to raise themselves above their social circumstances. Most Indian folklore has a religious character and may be associated with sacred rites or festivals. Folklore heroes are frequently defied and worshiped in their communities. Collections of Indian folktales have circulated in written form throughout Indo-European world for centuries and have inspired numerous translations and derivatives. India has a rich tradition of folk painting and the decorative arts which is appreciated and enjoyed all over the world today.
Several popular modern board games, including Chess, Parcheesi and Snakes and Ladders, originated in India. Much of Indian folklore has a religious character. Hinduism , the religion of the majority of the citizens of India, is a heterogeneous faith with diverse local manifestations. Folk religion in Hinduism may explain the rationale behind local religious practices, and contain local myths that explain local religious customs or the location of temples.
These sorts of local variation have a greater importance in Hinduism than comparable customs would have in religions such as Christianity or Islam. Social stratification and the Hindu caste system also influence the character of Indian folklore. Members of poorer classes and lower castes have traditionally not had access to the formalized Sanskrit literature of the educated Brahmins, and have developed oral traditions of their own that sometimes mimic and sometimes parody that literature.
The great pan-Indian epics, such as the Ramayana , Bhagavadgita and Mahabharata , were oral traditions long before they were written down in Sanskrit, and drew from numerous local myths and heroic legends, but over the centuries they have become standardized. While these standardized literary epics promote a strong sense of national identity, indigenous oral epics embody local legends, occupations, culinary traditions, community heroes and the customs of specific castes and sub-castes.
Oral folk epics seek to strengthen the legitimacy of local rituals and practices, and to preserve a history of the names of all the important people and places in a community. They are typically performed as offerings to local deities or at religious festivals. The heroes of local oral epics are often from lower castes, such as cowherds, farmers or cobblers, and the singers who perform these epics are also from lower castes. The desire for upward social mobility is evident in these epics as these heroes become divine or achieve great material success, and local deities increase their status.
Indian folktales may be used to teach religious precepts or moral lessons to the young, or simply to entertain. The oral tradition is one of the oldest continual traditions in the world. Several written compilations of Indian folk tales have been in existence for more than a thousand years, and have circulated through the Indo-European world, inspiring numerous translations and derivatives. Many of the same themes are found in the folktales of other cultures, either because of cultural contact or because they are so universal that they occur wherever people live together in a community.
The original Sanskrit text, now long lost, and which some scholars believe was composed in the third century B. However, based as it is on older oral traditions, its antecedents among storytellers probably hark back to the origins of language and the subcontinent's earliest social groupings of hunting and fishing folk gathered around campfires. It illustrates, for the benefit of princes who may succeed to a throne, the central Hindu principles of Raja niti political science through an inter-woven series of colorful animal tales. The five principles illustrated are:.
Hitopadesha is a collection of Sanskrit fables in prose and verse, similar to, though distinct from, the Panchatantra. No other work by this author is known, and the ruler mentioned has not been traced in other sources. The stories feature animals and birds as the protagonists and are written so that the moral lesson of each tale is clear and obvious. From the Persic it was translated into Arabic in , and thence into Hebrew and Greek.
It circulated widely in its homeland. The Emperor Akbar, impressed with the wisdom of its maxims and the ingenuity of its apologues, commended the work of translating it to his own minister Abdul Fazel, who put the book into a familiar style, and published it with explanations, under the title Criterion of Wisdom. It has some representative in all the Indian vernaculars.
The word Jataka most specifically refers to a text division of the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism, included in the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Sutta Pitaka, comprised of poems, arranged by increasing number of verses. A commentary of prose stories provides context for the poems. Alternative versions of some of the stories can be found in another book of the Pali Canon, the Cariyapitaka, and a number of individual stories can be found scattered around other books of the Canon.
Epigraphic and archaeological evidence, such as extant illustrations in bas relief from ancient temple walls, indicate that the Jataka Tales had been more-or-less formally canonized from at least the fifth century. The fables of Jataka are intended to impart values such as of self-sacrifice, morality , and honesty. Many of the stories found in the Jataka have been found in numerous other languages and media—many are translations from the Pali but others are instead derived from vernacular traditions prior to the Pali compositions.
Sanskrit see for example the Jatakamala and Tibetan Jataka stories tend to maintain the Buddhist morality of their Pali equivalents, but re-tellings of the stories in Persian and other languages sometimes contain significant cultural adaptations. Some of the apocryphal Jatakas in Pali show direct appropriations from Hindu sources, with amendments to the plots to better reflect Buddhist morals.
India possesses a large body of heroic ballads and epic poetry preserved in oral tradition, both in Sanskrit and the various vernacular languages of India. One such oral epic, telling the story of Pabujii, has been collected by Dr.
John Smith from Rajasthan; it is a long poem in the Rajasthani language, traditionally told by professional story tellers, known as Bhopas, who deliver it in front of a tapestry that depicts the characters of the story, and functions as a portable temple, accompanied by a ravanhattho] fiddle. The title character was a historical figure, a Rajput prince, who has been deified in Rajasthan. Gene Waghair, tells the story of Balachandra and the Andhra Kurukshetra War, which weakened the power of Vengi Chalukyas and paved way for the emergence of Kakatiyas as a great Telugu dynasty. The Tulu folk epic Siri tells of Siri, a royal heroine who, during an annual Siri festival, is believed to confer her powers on women in trance.
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Ancient heroes of the Sanskrit epics, historical figures and modern heroes of the Indian independence movement are well known to everyone and occupy a place in written literature, but their greatest presence is in the Indian cultural sub-system. Indian folk heroes are most popular.
Regional heroes, local and tribal folk heroes are alive in the collective memory of the people with diverse language, religions and cultural traditions.
Folklore and Northeast Indian History
The Banjara epics feature heroines, reflecting the "Sati" cult. Oral epics have resulted in "counter texts," variations of classical epics in which the heroes and heroines do things that would be impossible in a classical epic, such as a younger brother becoming a hero and killing his elder brother.
Folk heroes are sometimes deified and are worshiped in a village or region. The protagonists of Indian folklore are often romantic as well as mythical heroes. Like formal classical epics, which are often performed in a religious context, oral epics such as the Kalahandi epics are performed as both sacred ritual and social entertainment.
The scientific study of Indian folklore, using anthropological disciplines and methods to conduct systematic surveys, began after Indian independence. Under the British Raj , administrators reported on local cultural knowledge and folklore in order to better understand the people they wanted to rule. Christian missionaries sought to learn folklore so that they could create religious literature for evangelistic purposes.
Early collectors felt more freedom to creatively reinterpret source material, and collected their material with a view to the picturesque rather than the representative. Kipling had spent a good part of his early life in India, and was familiar with the Hindi language. His two Jungle Books contain stories written after the manner of traditional Indian folktales. Indian themes also appear in his Just So Stories, and many of the characters have names from Indian languages. During the same period, Helen Bannerman wrote the now notorious Indian-themed tale of Little Black Sambo, which represented itself as an Indian folktale.
After Indian independence in , scholars began to search for their national and local identities through legends, myths, and epics. During the s, Indian folklorists trained at universities in the United States began to employ modern theories and methods of folklore research. Academic institutions and universities in India established departments to study the folklore of their respective regions, particularly in south India, with the aim of preserving their cultural identity and languages.
They have produced thousands of trained folklorists, and in the last five decades, much has been done to collect and preserve folklore. Contemporary Indian folklorists include Jawaharlal Handoo, V.
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Vivek Rai, Komal Kothari, M. Muthukumaraswamy, Birendranath Dutta, B. Reddy, Sadhana Naithani, P. Finnish folklorist Dr. Lauri Honko conducted important field work on the Siri Epic, and by analyzing tales and Indian art, classified rituals into three main categories, rites of passage, calendrical rites and crisis rites, stressing the importance of interpreting these within the context of the religious culture.
American Peter J.
Claus made a critical study of the Tulu Epic, which originated in the Tulu language, which never had a written form, and derive from non-Vedic sources. The tales are enacted as narrative songs in the Mysore area of Southern India, traced back to the sixteenth century, based on rice paddy songs of the women who are in trance.
The linguistic diversity of India, with 24 officially recognized languages, and hundreds of non-official living languages, is such that the folklore of different regions can only be compared by translating it into a common language. Since , a number of epics have been collected and translated into English, with critical notes and introductions.
Not merely folktales but all forms of oral traditions — proverbs, aphorisms, anecdotes, rumours, songs, impromptu folk street plays — mirror the culture and values of the land in which they take place.
They have also helped in binding vastly differing mores and customs of even a single given place. India is one place where the speech of even the most illiterate farmer is filled with lofty thoughts and metaphors. By preserving and adopting many a tale and numerous songs and plays peppered with the proverbs and aphorisms of the region, Indian Literature has played a huge role in binding together vast cultures in an unseen way.
The role of Indian Literature in maintaining and fostering cultural unity and identity in the vast land such as India cannot be diminished. Indian folk literature holds out a strong and loud message for other parts of the world where these art forms have disappeared thick and fast in consonance with rapid industrialization and globalization. Folk literature and folk art forms are not merely carriers of culture or philosophical poems, but rather the expressions of strong self-reflections and deep insights accrued therein. Simple life, self-reflection and treading the path of the righteous contained in traditions.
Again, folk traditions are not merely platforms for holding high moral ground having no relevance to the present day reality. Several folk plays like ChaakiyarKoothu and VeethiNaatakam are used even today as satire plays and commentaries on the current social and political reality. Same holds true for many folk songs from the vast pages of Indian literature.
It is also true that when recorded and propagated in a printed form these folk literatures also gain mass reach which is otherwise confined to a smaller space and reach out only to smaller groups and communities. Through medieval Indian literature to 20th century we see the reality of Indian literature holding up for oral traditions contrary to popular perception when it is very true of European cultures and others where they have almost completely lost folk literature.
Most recent example of this phenomenon we can see in the effort of famous Rajasthani folklorist, Sri Vijay Dan Detha. In the modern democratic India, folk literature is pursued both within the academia and outside it unlike many other cultures. Efforts of Sahitya Akademi and other similar organizations form part of this collective attempt to preserve and disseminate Indian folk literature.