So many of us have had the privilege of good night stories narrated by our grandparents. These night time stories were often filled with interesting myths and morals, and were a treat to the ears, weren’t they? Folktales and Storytelling have been with us since forever. They were a major part of our childhood while growing up. Have you ever thought about the origins of folklore and storytelling in the Indian culture and their significance? The most basic understanding of the ‘folk’ that we’ve is that they’re related to ‘traditional’ and ‘native’, and sometimes ‘rural’. However, folklores and Storytelling have a more nuanced and diverse background to them, especially in the Indian context, considering that the country is rife with so many different traditions, lifestyles, and art.
Folklores And Storytelling: The Oral Traditions
Folklores and Storytelling were oral traditions, but thanks to literature, most of these folktales and stories are now recorded in written formats. Years and years of ancient myths, dramas, and rituals in the form of prose narratives have been preserved and carried forward from generations to generations. The posterity of India’s rich oral tradition could only be preserved because of all the scholars, Saints and Writers who wrote down these stories.
One of the widely read, known and loved Tales we all must have read sometime in our childhood are the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, Jataka Tales of Buddhism, Panchatantras and Hitopadesha. These moralistic tales are built around expressions of strong self-reflections, righteousness, socio-political realities and deep insights. While these are the most famous and well-known collection of tales, India, in fact, has diverse origins of stories and folktales, from distinct communities and tribes.
The Many Indian States And Their Many Legends
India is one of the most diverse countries in the world. Its regions have produced numerous stories revolving around a vast and broad array of themes, myths, rituals, and cultures. Most pertinent is the link between folktales and culture, which is very strong since stories from these cultures form the very essence of their heritage and identities. Of course the Tales from the north India have a different origin and cultural angles. Let’s take a look at some of the folklores from different regions of India.
The folklores from Uttar Pradesh, for instance, were around the wisdom and wise words of maulvi sahbs. Meanwhile, Kerala folklores are a celebration of its origin, religion, festivities and temples. The Legends of ‘Mahabali’ and ‘Parasurama’ are two of the most read stories from Kerala’s lands. The folktales of Andhra Pradesh are even more profound and interesting since they’re centered around family, and how the family creates certain roles for the two genders: male and female. Most of these stories depict a heavy emphasis on women as the primary decision makers of the household. West Bengal, a state which has produced several artists, Writers and painters, is of course a land filled with Tales of faraway lands, of the kings and queens, demons, the Evil and good, with most of these aimed at imparting a moral lesson .
When it comes to North East India, one must remember the geographical location of the seven states. These states are the home to Pristine nature, tribal communities, biodiversity, and its socio-political girth. Naturally, North Eastern states have had a close relationship with its surrounding nature, and a large number of these folktales are in fact a reflection of this interdependence of humans on its environment. These communities, through their Legends and tales, communicate their wisdom on the conservation of nature, on livelihood, and culture.
Preserving Cultures And Traditions Through Folklores
As mentioned earlier, folktales have been preserved over time through oral traditions. They were passed down from generations to generations through vocal narrating from the mouth. Understandably, ‘listening’ became one of the core activities of the folktales tradition. This imparting of stories, myths, legends, rituals, was an attempt at entertainment, of course, but more importantly strengthening the core values of their culture, history and heritage. The stories shared among a community resolved to create a shared sense of common history and traditions.
It’s not even the stories or the Legends they narrate but the way they narrate these stories. For instance, ‘Kathakalakshepam’, which are stories with anecdotes, mostly in Sanskrit, Hindi and Tamil, are narrated along with music and dance. In Andhra Pradesh, folktales are narrated along with beating a drum. This drum is called a ‘Burra’, and, hence, the folk narratives in the state are referred to as ‘Burra Katha’. Meanwhile in Tamil Nadu, Storytelling has always been accompanied with a bow-like stringed instrument. This Holistic expression of art forms through music and dance is also what constitutes a major chunk of a community’s culture.
Folktales are the connecting thread between the palatial past and the boundless present. A lot of campaigns and efforts have been rolled out to preserve folklores through other mediums other than written records. UNESCO Categorized ‘Folklores’ as Intangible Heritage Culture under category of oral history in 2003. Folklores have been adapted into numerous performing arts like folk dances, folk paintings and murals, to maintain this ancient oral tradition in a more nuanced way. Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan, Mudiyettu, ritual Theater and dance drama of Kerala, or the Chhau dance, based on Tales of Mahabharata and Ramayana, performed by tribal population of Jharkhand and West Bengal, are some of the IHC categories through which the myths and legends of the past have still been kept alive.