The following paper was written by me, Vikas, and accompanied the CDRom which together comprised my undergrad thesis project. The paper explores the place of South Indian folk and tribal traditions in the context of modern day India. It begans by examining the distortions of Indian history, which is rooted in 18/19th eurocentric scholarship, and then tries to start creating a new, more up to date, model of history. Within this new model I try to place the terms "Folk" and "Tribal" and show how these traditions are essential to study if one wants a clearer perspective of Indian culture as a whole. I argue that folk/tribal traditions interacted closely with the "classical" traditions, often borrowing from each other. In many cases, "classical" traditions actually have their roots and origins from the folk and tribal cultures. The reverse can also be said. Basically, the paper hopes to build more awareness of the folk and tribal and provide an alternative to the classicaly dominated scholarship which is usually associated with Indian studies.
WRITTEN BY VIKAS
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
1. THE CREATION OF THE ARYAN MYTH A. THE OLD MODEL B. CONSTRUCTION OF THE "ARYAN"
2. NEW LIGHT ON ANCIENT INDIA A. BEGINNINGS OF A NEW MODEL B. THE DRAVIDIANS C. THE TRIBAL POPULATIONS
3. THE SPREAD OF BRAHMINISM AND CASTE A. CASTE IN THE SOUTH AND KERALA B. ESTABLISHMENT OF CLASSICAL CULTURE
4. MODERN DAY HINDUISM
5. FOLKLORE A. BEGINNING OF FOLKLORE STUDIES B. COEXISTENCE OF CLASSICAL AND FOLK C. CONTEXT D. FUNCTIONS OF FOLKLORE IN THE SOUTH
This paper is an examination into the distortions and politics which have surrounded Indian history, and the placement and importance of a neglected culture in India known as "folk" and "tribal." The politics of history and this neglect of folk and tribal culture, I shall show, are closely related. Throughout the paper, I will focus on South India, especially the state of Kerala, where I had conducted field research and data collection. Margaret Egnor, a well known anthropologist in South Indian studies, writes : Looking at the natural world with its wholeness and seeming unity of purpose, many people come to believe that this world must have a determinable source, a single fundamental law from which all springs and to which all tends. Looking at the cultural world with its peculiar unity, some observers have been moved by a similar belief- that there is some source for the perceived unity, and that to gain an understanding of the source is to gain an understanding of the essence of culture itself. (1) Therefore, Egnor writes, "there has always been in anthropology... a preoccupation with origins- both with the origins of culture as a unified entry, and with the origins of particular aspects of culture...."(2) However, she realizes correctly that culture was not created and defined once and for all, but rather "culture is continually being created, and that the sources of cultural organization are found not only in the past but in the present as well."(3) In South Asia, and specifically India, origins have long been a source of inquiry in anthropology. India is an extremely ancient land, and many of the traditions and institutions which exist today are also known to have existed in this ancient past. Also, Egnor writes that "there does appear to be a pattern or set of related patterns uniting the vast civilization of South Asia, patterns so fundamentally consistent beneath their variations as to suggest that they have a single cause or source." (4) For myself, an interest in origins has led me to the present project. It must be realized that India is, however, as A.K. Ramanujan writes, a land that "contains many India's" (5) within it. The amount of languages and the variety within are astounding. India has over a hundred languages, ten major scripts systems and several minor ones. Furthermore, India contains extremely old religious systems with innumerable sects and cults, diverse racial mixtures which have taken place over thousands and tens of thousand’s of years, a variety of landscapes, climates, etc. All these factors "have contributed to an incredibly complex braiding of traditions and counter traditions. It has been said that whatever you can truly say about India, you can also say the exact opposite with equal truthfulness. " (6)
For me the present project formulated in India, Benares specifically, where I was part of a study abroad program. Everyday, I and one other student had to travel back and forth to Benares Hindu University (BHU). We made friends with one of the rickshaw drivers, named Nandu, who took us to BHU each morning and brought us back to our motel at night. We would spend time together speaking, he in Hindi and broken English, us with broken Hindi and a little English. We became close in that one month period and he often invited us to his place. His place was in a poor section of town, an abandoned building with half a roof, three walls, and about 20 different families huddled closely together. They had very little. They did back-breaking labor everyday, but we could see that their spirits were not broken. On the contrary, they were extremely strong. His friends were genuinely happy to meet us, and we would often sit outside, sipping on tea, and talk about our respective countries. On one occasion, Nandu and his friends decided to sing some songs. They broke out some pots and pans and began drumming beautiful rhythms and beats with their hands. Then Nandu sang. His strong voice pierced the air. Although I could not understand the words, his voice spoke out and told of his life and the battles he was fighting everyday. His voice spoke of a beauty that I had rarely heard in music and that was the result of the life he had lived. I realized then that I was listening to a world that I had never heard or read about before. Till then, most of what I knew about India was from India's classical traditions, like the classical music of Ravi Shankar and such. This kind of beauty, however, was not part of the classical world. It belonged to the common people of India, the people and laborers who maintained the very foundation on which India rested. I felt that for once I was beginning to see a different, for me a "real", India. The next day I told them I had a tape recorder . They told me to bring it so we could record them. I did, and the smiles I saw on their faces as they listened to their own voices were smiles I could never forget. This spawned the idea for this project.
I began to do research and decided to focus on the common, the folk people, of India. This included the low caste and tribal communities which I began to discover were important in understanding Indian culture and tradition as a whole. I began to look at their histories and realized that they generally were unrecorded in literature, but that a vast amount of information was retained throughout their own traditions. Indian history, in general, has been misrepresented and misunderstood throughout the ages. First, distortions were created by the high caste and ruling classes of India, and then by the arrival of Western researchers during the period of colonial rule. Generally, scholars and academia have placed emphasis on certain aspects of India and believe they have a proper understanding of Indian cultural history. However, in order to gain a closer understanding of a culture, an anthropologist must look for sources which are not necessarily in the fore front. It is generally believed that all of India's accomplishments are contributions by the Northern Aryan culture who have created the classical traditions with which the majority of Westerners identify India. These traditions include classical music, classical performances, classical myths, etc. In reality, these traditions represent only a small and exclusive culture in a country of over 1 billion. 70% of India resides in the villages and may be classified as folk. Thus folklore, is necessary to study if one wants a clearer perspective on India. Classical culture only represents the elite, the high castes of Indian hierarchy who codified and established, previously orally and later by written literature, their culture and ways. This could at the time only be done by the rich and economically established- basically, kings, landlords, and the priests. When the British and westerners colonizers arrived later, this classical culture became the main focus of study and became further established as the "Great Tradition" by scholars who only knew about and placed value on this classical culture. Politics in Europe and the creation of the Aryan myth, which I shall examine in the first section, played a large role in creating this distortion in Indian history. However, underneath all the politics and distortions throughout Indian history, "another harmony"(7) as Ramanujan callls it, flowed and still flows today, sometimes against, and sometimes with the classical culture. This other harmony belongs to the folk and tribal communities. The relationship between classical and folk is dynamic, complex, and often blurred, but we see a remarkable continuity between them which suggests that classical and folk originate from the same source, the same foundation, and are thus of equal value. Emphasis in this study will be on South India, which is a region that also has been underemphasized in academia, since the Aryans were believed to have resided in the North. I must mention that this paper is a small part of a larger project. It should actually accompany this paper as some of the concepts will be expressed in a different media. The project is a multimedia CDrom which focuses on the folk and tribal traditions in the state of Kerala, located in South India. I, along with two other students, conducted field research and documentation there for four and a half months. We were able to document various traditions, festivals, rituals, myths, music, etc., and are now involved in organizing and presenting the material we collected. The material in the CDrom will include pictures, video, and audio components with an interactive interface allowing the user to explore the traditions of folk and tribal Kerala. Some of the material, therefore, in this paper will be derived from my own observations and research in Kerala.
1. THE CREATION OF THE ARYAN MYTH
When writing a historical paper, the historian constructing history undoubtedly becomes part of the construction. Fuerenstein et al. writes that "what we call history is a pale reconstruction of the actual events of the past." (8) Simplistic models are created which do not consider all the complexities that may have occurred. Scanty evidence is collected and construed into stories and myths. The word "speculation" is often confused with reality, which other readers believe and in turn use to perpetuate the cycle of myths created. The further back we go into history, the less evidence becomes available and more speculations are created. Historians tend to construct their own versions of history with their own biases or agendas. Generally, historians have been supported by academic and political institutions and therefore may create their versions in accordance with these forces- "they must ensure that their particular version of history does not stray too far from the accepted norm, lest they find themselves under attack or out of a job."(9) Narrow perspectives and misinterpretations often lead to faulty research and conclusions. Reputation and status become important for the historian, which often lead them to "ignore evidence and offhandedly dismiss theories that do not fit readily into the prevailing framework of explanations." (10) It must be realized, however, that old models of history have to be modified or even discarded when new evidence is discovered. This has all been especially true in the case of Indian history, which has a long history of biased research which has been accepted by students and scholars as fact. Politics, nationalism, and religious discourse all played roles in distorting the history of India and creating the theories which manifested and still remain in text books today. The most influential theory is known as the "Aryan invasion theory." Only until recently, due to new scholars, new evidence, and reassessments of old theories and old evidence, have there been attempts to throw this old model away. However, even within a new model, scholars must be careful and aware of the forces in play at the present time, and not accept everything which may be written in a text book as fact.
A. The old model
When we open any history book used in our schools today, we find that it invariably begins with a description of the Indus Valley Civilization. It usually starts off with an account of the discovery of the two major sites, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, followed by a brief description of what was found there. We will also be told how this civilization went into decline and finally disappeared by 1500 B.C. The main cause of this disappearance, we will then be informed, was the invasion of India by nomadic tribes from Central Asia called the Aryans. According to this account, these invading Aryans, who are said to have entered India through the passes in the northwest, fought and overcame the inhabitants of the Indus Valley and established themselves over much of North India. They are then said to have composed their literature, the most important of which is the Rig Veda. The history of India begins in earnest with the records of the Aryans following their invasion. This in essence is the account of ancient history found not only in school books, but also in such authoritative sources as the Encyclopedia Britannica.... [The better informed] person may also be familiar with the usual account that the inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilization which in the popular mind is synonymous with the sites of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, were Dravidians whose civilization the invading Aryans destroyed. The invading Aryans were said to be blond and blue eyed while the Dravidians were said to be dark skinned. The evidence for this we are told is found in the Rig Veda. All this we are also told has been reconstructed by great European scholars, notably Max Muller, believed by most educated Indians to be the greatest of them all. This invasion is said to have taken place around 1500 B.C., though we are not told the basis for this determination. We are also told that the composition of the Vedas began about 1200 B.C. or l000 B.C., though again, we are not told the basis for this. (11)
This is passage written recently by Rajaram, who is one of a host of new scholars who are showing that this outdated model is inaccurate and does not depict what really happened in India. This myth, however, has perpetuated for over a century and is believed by many scholars to have been created by the early European scholars. It would be interesting to see how this theory was created and how the concept of "Aryan" was misinterpreted to create a false race which has left its marks in recent European and Indian history.
of the “Aryan”
The origins of the Aryan theory go back to 18th century Europe --"to the political, racial, religious and nationalistic forces that animated the scene." (12) In the late 18th century the British began a massive campaign in India to understand the culture they had colonized so that they could more efficiently rule over them. This campaign began studies in all fields of Indian language, religion, customs, etc. When the Sanskrit language was discovered by Western scholars, it was realized that this ancient language, which was separated from Europe by a large distance, had close affinities with the modern and ancient languages of Europe. Furthermore, European myths, stories, and tales seemed to be closely related to those of the Indian continent. A new study of linguistics arose in Europe based on the study of relations between ancient and modern languages and how they evolved specifically into modern European languages. The terms "Aryan" and "Indo-European" became in vogue by many European scholars, especially in Germany and France. It was postulated that the language of the Aryan group was the parent of the European languages. Later this theory was modified to claim that Europeans and Indo-Aryans were "different branches of a common stock of people known as Indo-Europeans with their original homeland located somewhere in Central Asia or even Europe. Even today this is the view of many European scholars, who want to place the "Aryan homeland in Europe or Eurasia on scanty evidence and no literary records." (13) Germany, especially, took great interest in India and was involved with most of the research being done throughout the 19th and 20th century. Germany, at the time, was weak and suffering from political turmoil with the countries around them. Rajaram writes, "The German attachment to India was emotional and romantic... This infatuation with Indian culture and Sanskrit made its contribution to German nationalism". (14) Germans felt a close affinity with the ancient Indians. "The Indians," says Leopold von Schroeder, "are the nation of romanticists of antiquity: the Germans are the romanticists of modern times." (15) G. Brandes also referred to "the tendency towards contemplation and abstract speculation as well as to the inclination towards pantheism in the case of both Germans and Indians." (16) Furthermore "sentimentality and feeling for nature are the common property of German and Indian poetry, whilst they are foreign, say to Hebrew or Greek poetry." (17) These feelings, Rajaram believes, stemmed from the efforts of Germans and Christian Europe to give themselves an "identity that was free from the taint of Judaism." (18) For some time, due to the highly advanced and inspirational literature from the Sanskrit tradition, the Aryans became everything that was good, noble, and progressive in human history and civilization. Because of the turmoil and tension in Europe, many scholars and intellectuals quickly flocked to this belief in the Aryans. Max Muller was one such scholar from Germany who, even now, has been regarded as one of the greatest Indologists of his generation. I should note, however, that he never once visited India. Many scholars such as Poliakov, and Rajaram, (19) believed that Max Muller's studies were biased and his motives were improper: ...the East India Company was prepared to fund him [Muller] to the tune of one lakh of rupees or £10,000 --then a princely sum--if he could translate the Rig Veda in such a manner that it would destroy the belief of the Hindus in the Vedic religion. Though an ardent German nationalist, Max Muller agreed for the sake of Christianity to work for the Company, which for all practical purposes meant the British Government of India. (20) British interests during this time were in maintaining rule and dividing the people of India. Moreover, they were interested in spreading Christianity which they believed would help them administrate better. Max Muller helped popularize the concept of the word "Aryan" to represent a race, a meaning that is not found in the original Sanskrit teachings. Aryan comes from the word "Arya" which in Sanskrit means "one who hails from a noble family, of gentle behavior and demeanor, good natured and of righteous conduct." (21) Race or nationality is not mentioned in any way. People of all nationalities could be Aryan or non-Aryan according to their culture and conduct. Arya is also a honorific term, and equivalent to a sir or mister before their names. (22) For the first twenty years of Muller’s career, he, as well as many others, continued to use the term Aryan in the racial sense and the Aryan myth began to form. With all the complex interplays of the period between the warring nations of France, Germany, Austria and England in the 19th century, the myth developed and was perpetuated by people with many different motives. Poliakov writes in his conclusion the events which occurred after:
once launched by the orientalists and the German-myth makers, the new theory gained ground rapidly to become internationally accepted...thereafter the theory of Aryan origins was propagated among the masses, mainly in support of anti-semitic campaigns, though other such political passions such as Franco-German rivalry also helped it to spread...It then passed from the scientists to the demagogues to become at last the official doctrine of the Third Reich when men designated as non- Aryans were sacrificed to the gods of racialism. (23)
After the unification of Germany in late 19th century, which made it one of the most powerful nations in Europe, Max Muller changed his stance. For the next 30 years he became a staunch opponent of the Aryan race theory and wrote, "Aryan, in scientific language, is utterly inapplicable to race. If I say Aryas, I mean neither blood nor bones, nor hair nor skull; I mean simply those who spoke the Aryan language."24 This, Rajaram, writes "was a reaction to the changed political map of Europe following German unification and his recognition of his own delicate position [academic and economical] in England. " (25) He also changed his position concerning the original home of the Aryans many times over the years, contradicting himself throughout his research, but his earlier claims had already been established. I need not mention the influence of these beliefs on Hitler and the Third Reich. Frawley makes an interesting observation : It seemed to strike no one as odd--at least at that time--that this supposed invasion by light skinned people of a land inhabited by dark skinned people, happened to be an exact replay of the contemporary European experience in colonizing Asia and Africa. Substituting European for Aryan, and Asian or African for Dravidian will give us a description of any of the numerous European colonial campaigns in Asia or Africa of the time. So according to this theory, the Aryans were carbon copies of European colonizers. 26
2. New light on ancient India: the Aryan myth debunked
Due to new evidence, the Aryan invasion theory has been more or less debunked. However, the amount of research done to prove the Aryan myth has left its imprint on scholars and it is still often difficult to refute the theory. I shall now briefly go over some of the more recent findings that are most relevant to this paper. It will be shown that the people living in the Indus civilization had an extremely advanced civilization and held beliefs, customs, traditions, arts, etc., which are remarkably similar to those of the present time. First, I shall discuss some of the interesting findings at Mohenjo- Daro, Harappa and Lothal which are found in North India. These cities show an advanced urban civilization with carefully planned cities, large public buildings, drainage system and water supply. These attest to the civilization’s sophistication and understanding of sciences such as mathematics and geometry. Arts were also well known in this civilization. Pottery, sculptures, and thousands of carved seals were found around the area, depicting animals, trees, deities and other religious icons. The cities also "shared a uniform system of weights and measurements based on binary numbers and the decimal system. Articles made of copper and ornaments with precious stones show that there was a flourishing international trade."27
Other cities hundreds
of miles away show similar findings. "All this evidence," according
to Kulke and Rothermund, "support the conclusion that this period witnessed
the first emergence of a major empire in South Asia." (28) The period spoken
of is much in debate and ranges from anywhere between 6,000 B.C. to 3000 B.C.
If anything, Indus archaeology dramatically contradicts the Aryan invasion theory.
Frawley observes a paradox:
the Harappans of the Indus Valley have left profuse archaeological records over a vast region- an area exceeding a million and a half square kilometers that must have supported not less than thirty million people, assuming a population density of about twenty to a square kilometer. And yet these people have left absolutely no literary records. The Vedic Aryans and their successors on the other hand have left us a literature that is probably the largest in the world. But according to the Aryan invasion theory there is absolutely no archaeological record that they ever existed! So we have concrete history and archaeology of a vast civilization of 'Dravidians' lasting thousands of years that left no literature, and a huge literature by the Vedic Aryans who left no history and no archaeological records. The situation in fact is even more absurd, if that is possible. We now have profuse archaeological and literary records indicating a substantial movement of Indian Aryans out of India into Iran and West Asia around 2000 B.C.! So we have this bizarre situation of a theory of a massive Aryan invasion into India that left a trail in archaeology and literature going in exactly the opposite direction! (29)
The basic idea that was being propagated by most European scholars was that the Aryan civilization and language were not native to India. According to them, these Aryans were nomadic barbarians who came from the west and invaded India around 1500 B.C. "North India was then home to a civilization of Dravidians who were defeated and driven south--nearly a thousand miles--by the invading Aryans. These Dravidians were once thought to be a separate race, so the result was racial conflict." (30) Many believe for instance that the stories from the Rg Veda describe battles between the Aryan invaders and the indigenous Dravidians. "Such racial theories," Rajaram continues, "are no longer respectable."31 Many recent scholars, due to insurmountable evidence, now believe that the Aryans were indigenous to India and have spread out to the West, rather than the previous belief which held them as invaders who came in from the West. There is no mention of migration, for example, within the ancient scriptures of the Aryans. Rather there is sufficient evidence pointing to the migration of Aryans out of India into Iran, West Asia and Europe.32 Feurenstein et al. agree stating that the Aryans were native to India for many millennia.33 Furthermore, there is no memory or evidence of an invasion or population shift by the Dravidians who were supposedly displaced and driven South. Feurenstein et al. state that “if population and culture have remained the same in a given area...more than likely language has remained the same as well.”34 Talageri also agrees and suggests that the “original home of the Dravidians is to be sought in South India rather than elsewhere.”35 Furthermore, Dravidians have “no traditions of migrating southwards from the north, but have active traditions of an ancient civilization and empire in South India extending much further south into an area believed to be sunk under the seas...”36 Also, the tribes which speak Dravidian languages in other regions of India and outside, such as Brahui and Elam in Iran, suggest a migration from the South rather than the North.
A. Beginnings of a new model:
In this new model, I have established that the Aryans and Dravidians were native to India, the Aryans in the North, the Dravidians in the South, and from there spread outwards. Also I established that these labels represent cultures, not races. The racial composition in India is extremely diverse, and no definite race type can ever be established there. Therefore, the cultures of the Aryans and Dravidians may have been different, but racially they may have been similar. The tribal populations of India do not necessarily fall into either cultures of Aryan or Dravidian, but rather each has its own distinct and unique culture. Some, however, may be considered Aryan or Dravidian depending on what degree they were influenced by the languages and cultures of the Aryans or Dravidians. I will be explaining, after this section, what is meant by Dravidian and “tribal” culture.
Some scholars believe that the people of the Indus valley were early Aryans. Others claim they were aborigines of the land whose ancestors are seen among the tribal populations of India. Still others label the group as Dravidians. The confusion, I feel, arises from the fact that the Indus civilization may have itself been a confluence of many cultures, and not just one as most scholars believe. Many traits from the Indus civilization, for example, are similar to the Aryan culture while just as many others exhibited features of Dravidian and tribal culture. Evidence of fire altars, similar to those of the Vedic Aryans for example, was found at the Indus sites.37 Many of the religious seals, however, are believed by many to be more associated with Dravidian or tribal religions. These include seals depicting mother goddesses, tree deities, and the peculiar seal which scholars have designated to be a prototype of Shiva. Many scholars agree that Shiva was a non-Rg Vedic Aryan who was later accepted into the Vedic pantheon. Although the Aryans of the Rg Veda believed and had similar deities, they did not dominate as they did within the Dravidian traditions of the South or the tribal populations. Another interesting seal shows a group of men at some ritual with long tufts of hair, a style which still exists among the tribal populations of South India and elsewhere. What is interesting is that the findings at the Indus exhibit a striking continuity between the Indus civilization and modern day Indian culture and society.
Hinduism is an amalgamation of mixed beliefs between all the different cultures of India, Aryan, Dravidian, and tribal, and all the variations which exist between them. Thus, from the evidence at Indus it seems this process of intermingling was occurring even at this period, and that today’s diverse cultures have a long and complex history of interactions between these many cultures. In the North, at some time after the Indus culture, one culture slowly began to dominate, known as the Aryans, and began to influence the various cultures which existed throughout India. A process of Aryanization began, which Panikkar writes was "equally balanced by the Dravidianization of the Aryans...with the result that a composite culture evolved throughout India."38 Panikkar assumes that all of India was at one time "Dravidian" but this I believe is problematic due to Aryan elements being found at the Indus sites. Rather Dravidian should be changed to "non-Aryan." It is now being considered, due to new evidence in linguistics, that a definite relationship seems to exist between Sanskrit and the Dravidian languages- "the great linguistic schism between Aryan and Dravidian is breaking down."39 Rajaram also agrees stating, "Sanskrit is related to other languages like Kannada, Telugu and Tamil, and also to Southeast Asian languages like Malay, Thai and Indonesian."40 More research needs to be done, however, in order to understand how these two language families relate. Frawley believes that "the Dravidians were probably an early Aryan people who created their own language but maintained an Aryan culture....They have an old and massive literature and appear to be among the earliest people of the ancient world."41 It is unclear what this passage means, and what is meant by "Aryan culture." There is a possibility, however, which Frawley does not consider. Perhaps the Aryan culture may have been a later Dravidian people who created their own language but maintained a Dravidian culture, instead of the other way around. It is impossible to know for sure what happened in these remote periods, but we do know that in the North one culture began to dominate, which we have labeled as Aryan, while in the South a distinct culture known as Dravidian existed. In the South, the influence of the Aryans was much less, and the societal features of the Aryans came much later, so that the Dravidians developed along their own lines and were able to maintain essential features of their own culture which can still be seen today. This is especially true, as we shall see later, of the low caste, untouchables, and tribal populations of South India who were farthest from Aryan influence. I shall now discuss the groups that I have been speaking about through this section, the Dravidians and tribals, and focus in the southern region which is supposedly the "heart and center of the Dravidian zone."42 Because of the emphasis throughout scholarship on the Aryan cultures the North, studies of the Southern cultures, labeled as Dravidians, have been underemphasized. Because of their contribution to Indian tradition as a whole more studies need to be done.
B. The Dravidians
South India is believed to be the “heart and center of the Dravidian Zone”43 which consists of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and some parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Few anthropologists have argued that the southern tip of India could possibly be the "cradle of human civilization," and that much of human culture spread from this area. While some think Egypt may have been this cradle, L.A. Krishna Iyer for example, believes that it was from South India that "culture spread to the West and East, and that this...was really the springboard for cultural diffusion all over the world."44 Sir John Simmons in 1897, one of the few Europeans who began this theory, also referred to South India as a "cradle of the human race...this civilization was taken to Mesopotamia to become the source of the Babylonian and other ancient cultures..."45 The Southerners, due to relatively more isolation than the Northerners, developed, maintained, and preserved their own languages which diversified in the course of time into Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam and Kanarese. Tamil is believed to be the purest Dravidian language of the four, and remains to be one of, if not the oldest, existing language in the world today. Furenstein et al. write that Dravidian languages have much in common with "north Asian and European languages, including Finnish, Hungarian, old Bulgarian, Turkish, and perhaps even Japanese, which all belong to the so-called Finno-Ugric and Ural-Altaic branch of languages."46 This suggests that this language group may have been at one time widespread, or that migrations outside of India occurred very early from the South. The Tamils themselves in scripture place their origins further south in a land that has since been engulfed by the ocean.
The Dravidians of the South have been described throughout literature as being maritime people and extremely adept sea-navigators. They were well versed especially in astrology, medicine, and other sciences as well as the arts. Trade, Iyer believes, existed before 3,000 B.C. with the cultures of Arabia, Babylonia, Greece, Rome, China, etc.47 Early records from civilizations all over the world attest to Kerala being a major port for trading. J. Kennedy says that "the maritime trade between Babylon and India was chiefly in the hands of the Dravidians...As Indian traders settled afterwards in Arabia and on the east coast of Africa, and as we find them settled in China, we cannot doubt that they had their settlements in Babylon also."48 Early literature of the South Indians is known as the Sangam literature and was collected at a relatively late date, possibly as late as first century A.D. It was collected at an academy by poets and scholars. Assimilation with the Northern cultures had occurred by then.49 It is unknown what happened to literature before that period. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, however, literature was written on extremely fragile palm leafs for thousands of years. It is believed that these, as well as much of South India’s archaeological evidence, has been destroyed over time by the tropical climate and environment.
C. The tribal populations
The tribals of India constitute a unique, varied, and important part of India. Most have their own languages, their own traditions, customs, myths and ritual practices, deities, arts and performances, etc. Many of these have now been changed by the many influences which surround them, but many have also retained their essential features. The tribals exist all over India, and can be found in every state. They have been mentioned throughout anthropologists work as the "true autochones," "pre-Aryan," "pre- Dravidian," "indigenous," "aborigines," "original inhabitants of the province," etc. A time came in the British establishment, during the colonial period, when it was felt that the colonists had to learn about their constituents and their culture in order to rule them efficiently. This was because Indian culture was so fundamentally different from the culture of the colonizers. A massive anthropological and archaeological campaign began in India, by the British in the mid-18th century, to identify the people they were controlling. This campaign, they soon realized, due to the great variety of cultures and peoples in India, became a difficult and arduous process. They began to try to classify the people of India into distinct categories and labels. They found one such group scattered all over India that was "culturally distinct" in customs, religion, language, etc., and who "adhere to none of the wider creeds."50 The label "Primitive Tribes"51 was the name given to this large group which existed throughout India.
The tribes were very different throughout India, having distinct customs and traditions of their own, but the British could find no category for these various peoples, and ignorantly grouped them all together. This category was broken up into regions, and such classifications such as "Forest" or "Hill" tribes were given. According to Sir Athelstane Baines, these different tribes were the "remnants of primitive communities which have, so far, more or less escaped absorption, and have preserved in a modified but still distinguishable shape, their independent tribal existence."52 Many of the tribals remained in isolation of their own will, or because of entrenchers (dominating cultures) arriving into their land, and decided to, or had to, withdraw "to the hills and forests where they lived their own lives, and for centuries, developed upon their own lines."53 Some already lived in the forests, jungles, and hills, while others tribes were forced to leave their original homes and live in these previously uninhabitable regions. Other tribes, however, refused to be driven out, and lived usually underneath the dominating cultures, often as slaves. They became "sufficiently modified to be declared Hinduized," according to Ghurye, but were still distinct enough that they had to be grouped with the "primitive tribes" "because their culture and the culture of the ordinary Hindu villager...are most obviously distinct."54 What is meant by "ordinary Hindu" is unknown.
Some tribal people,
however, became absorbed into the dominating culture and most often would occupy
the lowest rungs of the hierarchical ladder. There are instances, as mentioned
before, when invaders were known to have degraded and enslaved much of the population
in various ways. During our field research we observed that many of the tribals'
traditions spoke of these invaders and their enslavement. We were fortunate
to meet and stay with noted anthropologist K.J Baby who has opened a school
for tribal children in the hills of Wyanad. He has written down and collected
many of the songs and myths from the Adiyar and Paniya tribes of Wyanad which
attest to their degradation and hopelessness. One song reads: "We are the
slaves of Ayyan’s (lords), we are the slaves of mamundan (lord) we are the slaves
of the lords of the hill we are the slaves of the lords of the fields"
The lords here are supposed to represent the landlords for whom the tribal people were working. Baby writes, "up to four or five decades ago... these masses were also sold, purchased and exchanged by their landlords, who assembled with their slave adivasi’s (tribals) in front of Valliyoorkavu Baghwati temple during its annual festival held in March."56 One myth of the Adiyar tribe, that Baby also recorded, tells of a time when they were ruled by the peaceful and ideal king known as Mavelimanetheyyam. "Then there were no castes and sub-castes. People of different colors lived together like multicolored soils making up one earth."57 The story continues and the king gets cheated by some new lords who steal his lands. "But however much the lords tried, these new people did not arise or obey them. So the lord sent Mali (goddess) to arouse them. Mali came with bulging eyes and a bloody tongue...seeing this fierce goddess, these people got up and ran in different directions."58 From this story the tribals tell of a period when the caste system had not existed yet, and they were not slaves. Outside cultures were responsible for bringing and imposing this system on them. Baby feels the tribals were a very "trusting people"59 and were thus easily cheated. K.J. Baby infers that at first the tribals did not want to work for the landowner, "when they wanted to protest, they used no weapons, but rather a kind of non-cooperation movement."60 The new lords also seemed to use fear against the tribals in order to control them in the form of a fierce mother goddess. Baby thinks that the goddess must have been originally one of their own benevolent goddesses, transformed into an evil aspect. Baby claims that "this new fierce dimension was superimposed upon the slave’s goddesses and the slave came to fear it, by and by."61 Here the tribals’ own religion was used by the invaders as a tool to subjugate them. It also shows that the invading culture was involved in transforming and adopting some of the tribals' deities into their own systems. These traditions are important in understanding Indian history and tradition because they represent the history and perspective of the masses who came under the control of the dominating cultures. The history which is supposedly known is only that history which was recorded by the dominant culture. I shall come back to this later in the next section.
Hinduism has influenced many of these tribes in many different ways just as their own systems have influenced Hinduism. Mr. W.G. Lacey, superintendent of the census of 1931 for Bihar and Orissa, two heavily tribal populated states of North India, comments, "an aboriginal will adopt certain Hindu customs, he will join in certain Hindu processions, he may even make offerings to certain Hindu deities, and at the same time he may adhere in the main to his old tribal beliefs and practices. It is often impossible to say when he has crossed the line to Hinduism. Again he will often call himself a Hindu for no better reason than that he believes he will thereby improve his social status...Almost all the so-called aboriginal tribes of the region have a Hinduized section, small or large...(and) they have been in fairly intimate contact with Hindus for a long time." 62 The tribes caused the British colonists many administrative problems when they were trying to categorize the tribals by religion. At first they were classified as animists. This caused trouble immediately as Sir Herbert Risely, a noted anthropologist during the early 1900's, pointed out the Hinduism was "animism more or less transformed by philosophy" or as "magic tempered by metaphysics." 63 Further he concluded that "no sharp line of demarcation can be drawn between Hinduism and animism. The one shades away insensibly into the other."64 Animism was then abandoned and changed into "tribal religions." This term, the administration realized, was extremely vague and it was unknown what the words denoted. Later the term religion was dropped and the commissioner of the census of 1931, J.H. Hutton, used the term "'Tribal' in contradistinction to Hindu, Muslim, Christian, etc."65 The commissioner further wrote that the beliefs of the tribal held are not mere vague imaginations of superstitious and untaught minds, 'amorphous' as they were described...but the debris of a real religious system, a definite philosophy, to the one-time widespread prevalence of which the manifold survivals in Hinduism testify, linking together geographically the Austro-Asiatic and Austroloid cultures of the forest-clad hills where the isolated remains of the original religion still hold out in an unassimilated form." 66 These were extremely intuitive ideas considering the time, probably due to his reading much about, and perhaps meeting some of the tribal populations. It is implied here that he considers Hinduism in its modern times to be the result of tribal Indian beliefs mixing with the systems that arrived later. This is important because I will be exploring later how tribal lore and systems are related to and may have created many of the traditions which make Hinduism. Ghurye writes about his observations, claiming that the term "tribal religions" is "sound...because of the underlying unity running through them all (the tribes). Yet it would not justify their being separately treated from Hinduism..."67 because of the intimate connection between the two.
3. The spread of Brahminism and caste
The “Aryans,” “Dravidians,” and “tribals” resided in India, sometimes in conflict with each other, although just as much conflict existed with the people of their own cultures. The cultures mingled and influenced each other, but the people in the South being more isolated than the North, was able to maintain many of their essential traditions and customs. In the North, influence was coming in from all directions, while in the South they were able to develop, with minimal influence from the North. However, a new force known as Brahminism, which originated in the North and later spread South, slowly began to take over and established itself in Indian culture as a whole. The Brahmins in Aryan culture were the priestly class and supposedly represented high spiritual values and beliefs, righteousness, and were key in maintaining and balancing the forces of the universe. Any person who acted accordingly could rise to the status of a Brahmin. The Aryans considered these people to be of the highest order and placed them at the top of the hierarchal structure which began to develop. As Aryan society became larger, the hierarchy became more rigid, and began to become officially established by the people who were ruling. This rigidity, many Brahmins and rulers felt, was important in maintaining society, although it was more important to them and their positions. In Aryan culture this hierarchy became to be known as the caste system and was at first broken into three categories, Brahmins, Kshatriya, Vaisya; which were priestly class, warrior/ruling class, and merchant/trading class respectively. Later a need for a laborer class developed, so the caste Sudras was created, being the lowest in the hierarchy. Outside this structure another category developed called the "untouchables" which included indebted labor, servants, and slaves. This group appeared due to the stratification over time of higher and lower classes, and from conquests of other tribes.
Caste at first acted upon the people in a regional area, but as the Aryan culture began to dominate and evolve, so did the hierarchal structure. New categories, as I mentioned, developed, taking into account the new cultures which merged with the Aryan culture. The caste system of today and that of the earlier periods, however, are extremely different. Today the four castes have been broken down into thousands and thousands of sub castes. In Aryan culture, caste was given authority by the scripture, but over time the original meanings behind the system were distorted by the Brahmins in order to maintain their own authority. "Sanskritic religion was... a tool of social control in the hands of the Brahmins."68 Brahmins went to the kings and rulers all over India and established a relationship with them, becoming advisors and priests to them. As time went on, an elite developed among the Brahmins, along with the rulers and kings of the various tribes and dynasties of India, who were concerned with keeping their power and exploiting the people underneath them. The caste system became rigid, and people born into a certain castes had to stay within that caste their whole life. For low castes and untouchables this meant a life of discrimination and oppression.
A. Caste in the South and Kerala
Tradition in Kerala claims there was a period when caste did not exist. The national festival known as Onam, celebrated annually, attests to this tradition. This festival is the most celebrated and the most anticipated of the year in Kerala. Legend has it that in the distant past a celebrated emperor of Asuras known as Maveli ruled the land in a period of peace and prosperity. It was believed to have been the golden age in the history of the Kerala. Popular folk songs narrate the glories of that period. "When Maveli ruled, all men were equal... leading a life of happiness, with no dishonesty nor deception..."69 and so on the song goes. Perfect harmony and community prevailed. But this golden age came to a tragic end when Maveli was expelled from his kingdom by Vamana, the dwarf incarnation of Vishnu. Due to a trick played by Vishnu, Maveli’s entire kingdom was lost. His grateful subjects, however, pleaded to Vamana that their former ruler might be permitted to visit the land once a year. This day is known as Onam. 70
Another myth also ascribes caste in Kerala with the arrival of the legendary Parasurama, who came from the North and is believed to have created Kerala by throwing his axe into the sea.71 Iyer writes that Kerala "had no caste system to begin with. There was a priestly class to minister their religious needs, but it was not elevated to the position of a hereditary caste"72 as the caste system became in the North. As more and more Brahmins started coming down South, their position on top of society slowly began to crystallize as the caste structure did. Much as they did in the North, the Brahmins approached the ruling class in the South and were "welcomed and embraced with alacrity... the changes were affected peacefully and in an orderly manner."73
Many of the early Brahmins who arrived first had to change some of their ways in order to survive in the South. Many accepted Dravidian traditions so that they would gain the support of the kings. In this way they slowly made a place for themselves in Southern society. Brahminism slowly began to "insinuate itself onto the plane of political power, not indeed directly as political actors, but as councillers and producers of ideology."74 The Brahmins in return were given land and goods which assured them of economic stability. Slowly the Brahmins began to introduce their socio-religous organization and hierarchy so that they, as in the North, would be at the top.
Previously, the Southerners had a hierarchal system, based on Dravidian systems. "Dravidian social organization was divided into seven principal classes, but caste (varna) was unknown until the advent of Aryanization." 75 At the beginning of the first millennium there were three dominant kingdoms ruling in the South. In Kerala the Cheras were the ruling dynasty. Under the Cheras, "Hinduism gained a social and political acceptance"76 which it had not enjoyed before. By now the Brahmins had been established, although the caste system had not yet fully formed. In the ninth century, however, a war known as the Hundred Years War occurred between the "Dravidian rulers of the three kingdoms in the south."77 Lermercinier continues believing that "this war caused the annihilation of the structures of the Chera kingdom, and led to the emergence of the domination of Brahmin religious systems."78
Also, Kerala was predominantly Jain and Buddhist until its decline in the 10th century. By the 12th century the two religions had few devotees, and in its place a revived Hinduism arose and began to dominate Kerala. As mentioned, this had somewhat to do with the Chera dynasty and their influence. But also it was due to great Malayali sages, such as Shankaran, who revived Hinduism, specifically Saivism, as a religion and philosophy which appealed to the populations in Kerala. 79 Although a Brahmin, his philosophies were characteristically different than the Vedantic traditions in the North. Much of the local philosophy and religion influenced the doctrines he wrote. In this way, Brahmanical structure and hierarchy became established, though as Hardgrave writes, "the process was slow and not altogether effective."80
The Brahmins did not succeed in arranging the populations of South India into the scheme of four varnas or castes. Kolenda writes that in South India there are no Kshatriyas or Vaishyas, however, Hardgrave states that many of the ruling classes were "admitted into the Kshatriyas caste, and in some instances certain princes were integrated into the Brahmin community itself." 81 However, he realizes that "the vast majority of the people remained outside the pale of caste."82 In Kerala, for example, the Nayar caste, known to have been a warrior class, has been considered to be Sudras in the Brahmanical hierarchy. Thus Kolenda concludes, "in South India there are three main blocks of castes; the Brahmins, the non-Brahmins, and the Untouchables or Adi-Dravidas (original South Indians)."83 This is simplistic model, but we see the great confusion that caste created in the South and how the majority of the people were considered low caste. The tribals and low classes of the pre-Brahmin times came to be the lowest of the hierarchy and became the untouchables and some even became, according to tradition, "unseeable." Many stories attest to the degradation of the low castes. Specific castes, for example, had to get off a road if a Brahmin was walking by or risk being beaten or killed because of the pollution the Brahmin would receive from their sight. Other writings mention the pouring of hot metal into the ears of low castes if they even hear the words from the Vedas. Many of the tribes mostly tried to stay away from this system and retracted to marginal areas maintaining their own cultures. Most of the tribals who came into mainstream society, as I mentioned previously, were degraded to the status of untouchable or low caste. The Brahmin, "often combining economic power derived from land ownership with religious authority...further separated himself from the lower castes and increased his control over them."84 Although the low caste and untouchables were at the bottom, and many tried to emulate the ways of the higher castes, they were able to maintain throughout the years many traditions which they held before the advent of the Aryans in the South. The establishment of caste led to the establishment of an elite culture which developed what we now know as classical culture.
C. Establishment of classical culture
Classical culture slowly established itself first by the elite classes and Brahmanical culture of ancient India, and finally later by European colonizers. Brahmins, kings, and other rulers wanted to institutionalize many of the systems that were in existence during that time. Due to the caste system, the scholars were usually Brahmins, and it was they who codified into Sanskrit the many traditions which prevailed. History was also written by many of these scholars, and was predominantly about themselves and the Brahmin culture. Sanskrit, however, had become a language of the elite and most authors "were of necessity bilingual: Sanskrit was their formally learned father tongue, and the language of their home and region was their mother tongue." 85 These codified forms of performances, arts, music, etc., were influenced by the authors and the cultures of which they were part. Many of the authors were influenced by folk forms which prevailed outside the comparatively small Brahmanical culture, and thus even the classical systems which are believed to be strictly Aryan or Brahmanical have extremely complex origins. This will be the topic of the next section.
But the term "classical system" as such did not technically exist until the arrival of the European colonizers in the 17th and 18th century. All over India this system of the elites began to crystallize. With the arrival of the Westerners to India, the Brahmins, who held the highest position and were the most educated, were the first to respond and welcome them. Hardgrave writes that "the literary tradition of the Brahmin gave him the initial advantage in Western education, and with the command of English, he entered the colonial administration, gaining a new criterion of status in addition to the old, together with new political and economic advantages- further widening the gap between the elite and the mass."86 By being in contact with the Brahmins, the British gained influence. This contact ended up aiding the British in the colonization of India. At the same time, the European scholars began to study mostly Brahmanical culture and Sanskrit and created what past anthropologists have labeled as the "classical traditions." This in turn further established them in India.
Classical traditions included everything within Indian culture that was institutionalized, when the Europeans arrived, by written literature. This included at first the Vedic texts but later also the epics, Puranas, and other the pan-Indian mythologies. However, many of these texts did not have specific dates or even necessarily specific authors. Many texts were left anonymous or were works which were from texts by anonymous authors. Nevertheless, Europeans first attributed this literature and traditions to the Brahmins and the Aryan race. Thus began the invention of the Aryan invasion theory and the emphasis on Aryan and classical culture. The cultures of the low caste and tribals were classified as "primitive," by the Brahmins first, and then by the incoming Europeans. They received little attention and were considered of little value by most Western scholars. This underemphasis has been maintained until recent times just as the overemphasis of the Aryan Invasion myth has. However, upon examination of modern Indian society and especially Hinduism, it can be seen that they are in no way products of strictly Aryan and Brahmanical culture, but rather an amalgamation of the many diverse cultures which have existed in India from prehistoric times.
4. Modern day Hinduism
Modern day Hinduism
is an extremely complex mix of beliefs, and practices that combined over the
millennia. It is impossible to state what exactly Hinduism is. It is unlike
most of the major religions of the world in that there is no sole authority
or scripture or tradition to which all Hindus profess. Rather, there are many
authorities and many different traditions which abound. Sontheimer writes this
Nowhere in the world do we possibly find more cohesion between tribal religion, folk religion and scriptural religion as in traditional Hinduism. In addition, we do not have in Hinduism a sharp line between religion and superstition, in the sense that there is no single obligatory, undisputed, and universally accepted authority which would make such a distinction as in strictly monotheistic religions. Nor, are in the Hindu tradition, polytheism and monotheism considered to be logical contradictions or incompatible with each other.87
This is due to the vast amount of differences in belief and practice of the thousands of different cultures and schools of philosophy and religion which developed in India through the ages. Schools, sects, cults, tribes, etc., were continually putting out various philosophies, changing old ones, adding new elements to old ones, combining, taking away, and creating today what we know as Hinduism. From these many religions such as Buddhism, Jainism, Tantra, Saivism, Vaishnavism, etc., developed.
It can be seen through a comparative examination of modern Hinduism and the religion of the Rg Veda that the two are different in many ways, although they exhibit some similar elements. Basham writes that the poets of the later books of the Rg Veda began introducing new concepts and ideas not found earlier. They were "showing a deep dissatisfaction with the older explanations and trying to find better ones."88 This may have been due to more philosophical inquiry by the poets, or perhaps new influence from other nearby cultures. These new concepts led to ideas which were fundamental to Indian religion and made Hinduism into what it is today. The doctrines of karma and transmigration, for example, make their first appearance formally in the Upanishads, an even later text which was not part of the Vedas, mostly from concepts scholars believe to have been introduced by the non-Aryans.89
In a country of 1 billion people, the village people constitute about 70% of the population. Their influence cannot be underestimated. Generally speaking, earlier anthropologists have written off folk and tribal religion as "magic and superstition" and "primitive," while the classical/scriptural religions have been called the "high religion," or "Great Tradition," and considered civilized and enlightened. However, as we shall see, scriptural and folk/tribal religion should be seen as "complementary, an organic whole and not exclusive to each other."90 Past scholars have tended to separate these two and have considered folk religion to be a corrupt form of the high religion. In turn, most emphasis has been placed on the scriptural religions while folk and tribal cultures have only now gained some value. This new found interest is because people are realizing that "a remarkable continuity exists between tribal religion, folk religion, and scriptural religions...They represent all levels and aspects of modern day Hinduism.."91 This being the case, it is equally as important for researchers to study the oral traditions of the folk and tribal population. Sarkar agrees, stating that that "the masses and the folk have contributed to the making of Hindu culture in all its phases no less than the court and the classes."92
Part 5. Folklore
A.K. Ramanujan, one of the greatest Indian folklorists, has written that in addition to the classical culture, "there is another harmony, sometimes in counterpoint and sometimes autonomous found in India's folk traditions."93 It is this other harmony which is the main focus of this section. Folklore has been and remains the powerful undercurrent of the common people, the masses of the lower castes and tribal folk, that has existed from the earliest times amidst all the politics of the powers in control, whether they were Brahmanical, Islamic invaders, or colonial Britain. Throughout Indian history there remained the people, the masses, who were involved and concerned with their own worlds rather than the worlds of the ruling forces. They were involved with the inner workings of their own universe. They practiced their own rituals, had their own belief systems, sang their own songs, danced their mystic dances, and maintained what they held sacred in their own cultures. Although they accepted other people’s beliefs, and perhaps may have assimilated new ideas into their own system, they maintained the essential and fundamental elements of their tradition. The importance of tradition, not only written but oral, is fundamental in studies of Indian culture and history. The new school of Indologists agree: "We feel that a longstanding tradition must have some basis and should be accepted unless inherently implausible."94 Histories, for example, of the folk, low caste, and tribal people were not written, or if they had been, were destroyed by Brahmanical, invading, and environmental forces. Rather it is within their oral traditions where one can find clues and traces of their past culture. I should mention that in this paper I am defining folklore to apply to the lower castes, the tribal culture and the general common people. The types of traditions I am speaking of when discussing folklore are: music, dance, rituals, ritual performances, epics, poetry, songs, myths, riddles, art, temples, deities, tales, rhymes, lullaby, ballad, prose narratives, floor designs, games, street theater, magic, graffiti- all forms being verbal and nonverbal. Ramanujan writes that "all of these expressive forms weave in and out of every aspect of city, village, and small town life."95 Cultures cannot be fully understood without recognizing these elements. Many of these forms are present among the classical culture, but these have been studied by the majority of scholars. Rather, I feel the traditions which belong to the masses, lower stratas or marginalized communities must be studied because they not only speak about their culture but their place and history within society as a whole.
These modes of expression may not always be aesthetically pleasing or poetical to many, because many are representative of the low castes, untouchables, and tribal lives. Their expressions may seem raw and blunt at times. Other times the words are considered by some to be simple and primitive. However, in my own experience, these expressions touch a part of the soul in a way that is more direct and natural. The use of metaphor and repetition is characteristic of a lot of folk forms in the South, which may seem redundant to some, but only because the scholars themselves do not fully understand it. The scholar must look at these expressions wholly; they must understand the context and history behind these forms. Folk forms do not necessarily constitute a separate sphere from the folk and tribal communities life, it is their life. Everyday they are at work with the forces of the universe which surround them, the forest, the mountains, disease, their farms, slums, etc. Blood sacrifices, for example, were once largely practiced in the South. The British discounted these practices as inhumane and primitive and made them illegal. The British officials made no attempt to understand the concepts behind them. Other examples which we witnessed, such as a ritual performance known as Theyyam, were not only a means of communicating with their deities, but underlying it was a protest against the powers that ruled their lives, or even means of accepting their place and fulfilling their duties. Folk songs may not involve a joyful occasion but rather, for example, serve to alleviate the hard labor of pulling in miles of net by fisherman. The songs are for calling the fish in, setting a rhythm for doing their work, and as a recognization and propitiation of their deities. Their modes of communication or action can be read on many different levels. Their traditions are multifaceted and multi-functional, a point I will come back to shortly. Milton Singer wrote in the past about their being two systems in India; "the Great Tradition" which is the classical/Sanskrit systems, and the "Little Traditions" which are mostly local, orally transmitted, and practiced by illiterate people- "the anonymous unreflective many." 96 His ideas now are outdated due to the realization of the complex interactions which exist between the two systems. As I shall show, these systems are not two separate entities in Indian tradition, but rather parts of one which are complementary.
A. Beginnings of folklore studies
The early stages of Indian folklore was associated with beginnings of the field of folklore itself. Once the connections between Indian and European mythology had been made in the mid 19th century, "Indian folklore became essential to the development of folklore theory. In fact, India was thought by some to be the origin of nearly all European folklore."97 In the initial periods most research was dominated by philogists and linguists studying Sanskrit. Missionaries and other government officials began in the early 20th century to collect material from the field in the modern languages of India. As more work was done on the classical literature, and many of the themes and concepts were being worked out, it was soon realized that a relationship between the Sanskrit and modern folklore of India existed. One study done by W.N. Brown found that "half of the three thousand tales [he collected] had parallels in the Sanskrit literature and concluded that the former were derived from the latter."98 His conclusion was based on speculation, although he did establish that borrowing did take place. Written traditions, he went on, replaced oral traditions and modern folklore is a product of the written literature.99 Few scholars in the mid-19th century began systematically to collect data of oral traditions. Research in folklore slumbered for a while and moved from Britain to America. It developed considerably also in India itself. Recently, a new period in folklore has arose characterized by extensive field work and applying concepts not previously associated with folklore.
B. Coexistence of classical and folk
which I mentioned before, have generally not been accepted by recent scholars
of Indian folklore who realized that oral and written traditions coexist. Borrowing
from one another has always been going on, and most modern folk tales are in
many cases as old or older than their parallels in classical literature. To
conclude as Brown had done was simplistic and ignored the dynamic and complex
interactions that exist within the realm of folklore. Ramanujan and Blackburn
have made a figure showing the cycles of transmission of traditional literature
which shows the following combinations:
written classics -> modern oral traditions
oral traditions-> written classics
oral traditions-> modern oral traditions 100
The first transmission possible is that written classics became popular and in turn started oral traditions. For example, a story was written, then read to other people who began to spread the story orally. The second involves oral traditions which existed and then later became written down by someone. The third denotes a transmission between oral traditions which were never written down. This complex allows for the possible interactions that could, and that have, taken place between these traditions. One can imagine in a country with so many people and cultures that these interactions took place in innumerous ways and degrees. A tale, for example, might originate orally, then be written down by someone. This someone might tell it to someone else, who may do the same and in turn gives rises to new written and oral versions. The written tradition in this case then actually furthers the oral tradition. The great amount of variation can also be accounted for due to the many complex interactions, the many cultures and languages of India, and due to changes by individuals.
It was generally thought that the classical system was pan-Indian, meaning that it was what bound the many various cultures and religions of India together as a whole. However, I believe along with other scholars that folk traditions are equally as, if not more, pan-Indian than the classical. This is supported by the similarities in folk stories, performances, symbols, etc., around the country that have been collected. Folk traditions travel in an infinite variety of means and ways. A story may be passed by someone who is traveling in another part of the land and may start a whole collection of stories there. The themes, motifs, and symbols are similar all throughout the folk and tribal people of India. They may convey different meanings in each region, but a basic structure and pattern can be seen which unites them. However, one must be careful when making a statement such as this. Egnor points out that, "closely examined of course, any cultural pattern or symbolic order is still incomplete, still in the process of creation, for all patterns change. alongside processes which maintain, duplicate, deny or reverse existing patterns are other processes which gradually transform them, expanding the range of possible meanings and leading in some cases to wholly new formations." 101 Thus we must also be careful of not generalizing folk and tribal culture as being one culture.
Context, which I mentioned before, becomes one of the most important elements in analysis of ritual, folklore or such . One needs to know, for example, with a myth, who the teller is, when the myth was told, where and to whom specifically, etc. Also a general understanding of the society, such as structure, taboos, religious practices, and cosmology must be known to do proper analysis. There are two contexts which are to be explored in the studies of folklore and there material that we were able to collect. The first is understanding folklore in its wider pan-Indian complex, and the second deals with its use in relation to its immediate social and performance context. Ramanujan has classified folklore into two other categories known as akam (interior/domestic) and puram (public/exterior).102 Akam, Ramanujan feels, is generally performed by women and describes "generalized human (usually familial) relationships."103 Akam includes tales, songs, and some myths, among other practices. Akam folklore is generally more neglected in research. Puram on the other hand is most often males, is performed in public, and deals with historical and communal events.104 Some examples given are epic performances, and regional myths . Gender generalizations are hard to make within India, but Ramanujan believes that in the case of akam and puram this is usually the differences. Most of the material we collected belonged in the puram field since we were involved mostly in the public sphere rather than the domestic. Also due to gender we would not be allowed to do such research.
Functions of Folklore in the South
Folklore functions in multiple ways and can be interpreted at as many levels. On one level, folklore is a method of remembering history. Many low caste and tribal populations we met throughout Kerala had myths which they kept and passed down within their group. Since most histories of the common people are unknown due to Brahmanical recording of history, it is only within their own traditions that we find clues to their histories. These myths and stories tell of their origin, or where they came from. In the case of the Kurumbas in Attapady, for example, one myth spoke of their migration from what today is known as Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. Other stories, such as the one I cited from K.J. Baby previously, told us of the Paniya tribe’s glorious days when they lived in peace, prosperity, and freedom from slavery. Other stories tell tragic tales of past heroes and past oppression.
Another function of folklore, which we observed, was to educate within the community. Many stories, myths, and rituals were intended to teach and transmit certain knowledge, whether it be morals, religion, or just relaying past experiences that contain some concept or value to be understood. Sometimes they would try to teach the children spiritual liturgy in the form of folk dramas. We observed among the Irula tribe a performance known as Ramakuthu which basically told the story of the world famous epic, the Ramayana. The performance was a propitiation to the deities, as well as a method for teaching and gathering the members of the tribe, thus strengthening the community. The performance was put on for us, although it had been planned for a later date. We felt strange that they were going to all this trouble for us, but they comforted us by telling us, "No, no please, do not think we are doing this for you, this is actually for all of us. This is for the children." Most probably they adopted the Ramayana from the classical texts although as we have been seeing it is not necessarily the case. In India there are about 400 different versions of the Ramayana so it is unsure which was original or had more influence in a particular region.
Folklore can also function as a mode of protest and resistance. Since folklore, as Choondal points out, "arises out the lowest strata of society,"105 a lot of underlying contempt and protest may be seen throughout their performances and rituals. It has been discussed how folklore should not be separated from, or placed against classical systems, but in many cases folklore may be a direct reaction to it. Egnor writes about a tradition in Tamil Nadu among a low caste group known as the Periyar.106 The tradition is known as the crying songs. The singers are women and are called crying songs because the singer weeps as she sings. Each singer makes up her own song, although sections are borrowed from others around her and other songs which are incorporated into their own. The songs usually involve some grievance the singer has against a person of higher status or the world in general. Many songs, Engor writes, are extremely deep, emotional personal statements. However, she realizes they conform to a specific set of rules, however loose the event may seem. Communication also is often indirect in the sense that the people to whom the songs may be referring usually are not the audience. Engor relayed that although upper caste people were not present, they still end up hearing about it: "the route by which a song reaches its target is not always direct."107 The rest of the audience learns about their oppression through their use of metaphors and other communicative expression. Engor hypothesizes that "the metaphors built up in the song are inchoate symbols, personalized expressions that later may become regularized into conventional idioms."108 Thus the individuals play a role in such songs, being able to accurately depict a feeling, emotion, need, etc., that was in tune with their audience. It may become established within the mind of the audience and may eventually travel throughout their community until it reaches a person of high-caste. In this way the intended audience is indirectly reached. These personal songs then act as "vehicles for new cultural meaning"109 which brings us to the dual nature of folklore: its being traditional but also dynamic. It survives and travels through its variation, but remains authoritative because of it being a tradition. "The fixity of form confers authority and familiarity, while variation allows changes in content. The first of these explains how the second eventually gains wider acceptance, and their combination explains how folklore is an effective agent of cultural innovation."110
Throughout this essay I have discussed the dynamic complex that makes up what we call Indian tradition and history. The forces which created it were historical, political, material and spiritual. Since many of the motives by individuals and groups in various cultures were not always sound, a great amount of distortion and oppression arose, mostly by the people in power. Fear of losing their positions of dominance seems to be one of the major causes, among others, of this pattern of behavior. However, once these distortions start to be realized, and the discourse which arose from them are deconstructed, a clearer picture will undoubtedly paint itself. The culture from which "Indian tradition," if there is such a concept, originated from not one, but a large plethora of cultures, which integrated their ideas and concepts to form Indian society today. It is important not, as the scholars in the past have done, to associate India only with one culture. Rather a larger perspective is needed. Sometimes it is necessary to travel the path less followed, and not believe what all the college text books and encyclopedias tell us. It is equally as important to understand the elements of culture which are underemphasized rather than overemphasized, because they nevertheless are pieces of the whole. They are only underemphasized because someone or group has underemphasized them, most likely for political reasons and gain. In the case of India, these underemphasized cultures actually contain the very elements that make up what people have labeled as "Indian tradition." We have seen this is the case with the folk and tribal cultures of South India, who are critical in understanding South Indian, as well as Indian, culture and tradition. The CDrom which I am working on deals with the Southern state of Kerala, which in itself is made up of many various cultures. The focus of the CDrom is on the folk and tribal traditions of Kerala. By carefully examining the material we collected, many of the concepts which I have examined in this essay will become clear. Studies in these fields I feel are of the utmost important in understanding cultures, and a vast ocean awaits the anthropologist in the field of folk studies, not only in India, but around the world.
Baby, K.J., Adiya
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