In the past century, and well into the present time, anthropological and historical studies of South India have been lacking when it comes to research done on the Indian subcontinent. More so, the cultures of the folk and tribals in the South have largely been ignored by academia in comparison to other cultures of India. For example, the university or academic community has mostly placed emphasis in Indian studies on North India, and usually with the illusive group known as the Aryans who maintain the Vedic religion and supposedly developed the classical traditions. It is also usually this group which many past scholars believe contributed all of India's great accomplishments in the fields of science, art etc. Literary work about folk and tribal traditions is only now in the past 20 years being given importance due to the work of few scholars such as A.K. Ramanujan, David Schulman, and Chummar Choondal.
This project involves studying and building what little awareness we can in this neglected field of South Indian folk and tribal traditions. Through the use of advanced multimedia and internet technology we have created an Enhanced CDrom and now this website which is on the topic of Kerala (located in the southwest of India) and its folk/tribal traditions and culture. We have used material which two other students and I collected on our trip to Kerala in 1997 where we conducted research in the field for four and a half months. The trip was made possible by a grant from the Lemelson Foundation which allowed us to purchase the equipment we needed as well as transportation.
Using high quality digital technology and equipment we managed to film 25 hours of digital video and over 35 hours of digital audio as well as a large collection of digital and normal still photographs. We were able to witness and document many unique festivals, rituals and traditions, which ranged from possession ceremonies, to serpent festivals, to tribal burial rituals, to fisherman chanting, to fire walking etc. etc. The information included many interviews from the people involved in what we saw, literary resources we found there, and what we ourselves observed. The interviews we conducted were sometimes in English, but mostly in the native language which then needed to be translated once and sometimes even twice. We were fortunate enough to have a friend who became our guide during our travels there which made this possible. The interviews we feel are the core of the project because they provided us and future readers with a first hand view of the events and issues, or even of daily life in Kerala. These are the words straight from the people we studied, and although what they say might not technically be right, what they think is of value to us when researching Kerala anthropologically.
We hope to create, an educational yet entertaining device to build cultural awareness. It will be an interactive, listening and academic tool, which may be used by a wide variety of people and institutions. This will not, however, be a beginners look into India. We shall provide as much background and context as we deem necessary, but we hope our audience will have some prior knowledge of India. We also do not want to be analytical, rather we will provide explanations of what the various elements of an event or story are, which will hopefully stimulate the users into coming up with their own analysis. Rather than giving the user our own perspective, because our own analysis may be faulty, we hope they can develop their own. We wish to provide only the facts and explanations which were given to us. This I feel will be useful for universities, scholars, professors, and students. The general public and world music lovers will also be interested in this for its entertainment and aesthetic value (audio, video, pictures, computer graphics, stories) and because of the uniqueness of the subject.
We plan to further this project into documentaries, video and audio libraries, and creating networks between people interested in these subjects. We wish to work closely with the people that are the creators and practictioners of these traditions.