Articles and Reviews

Monday, November 29, 2010

Oral Mahabharatas and Varnashrama Discourse -Part 5

On the basis of the analysis attempted till now of the Bharatha-narratives, both written and oral, the following  conclusions could be hazarded:

(1)     Of the three categories of Bharatha-narratives, those in the second category (the post-Vyasa Bharathas in different Indian languages) can surely be seen as ‘ alternative’ or ‘counter’ or ‘subversive’ narratives.  For, consciously, either owing to the poet’s different religion or regionality, the post-Vyasa Bharathas oppose and reject / qualify the ‘varnashrama ideology’ of the Vyasa Bharatha.  Their opposition to that ideology may take any number of forms: rejection of Draupadi’s polyandry, portrayal of Karna as a noble but ill-fated tragic character, humanization of Duryodhana, rejection of miraculous incidents (divine origin of the birth of Pandavas), etc.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Oral Mahabharatas and Varnashrama Discourse -Part 4

 ( 4 )  Differences in Characterisation

(a)     Draupadi:  Whereas in literary-written Bharathas Draupadi belongs to a prestigeous Kshatriya clan, the oral narratives depict her as either an incarnation of Shakti or as a spirit / demon born to destroy the warring classes.

Birth: In all the three oral Bharatha-narratives, Draupadi is of unknown parentage; she is found wandering in a jungle by the Pandavas and then she is brought home, with the promise that they will marry her.  But in the literary Bharathas, she comes out of fire when the king Drupada conducts a yagnya; and she is brought up as a proud Kshatriya woman.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Oral Mahabharatas and Varnashrama Discourse -Part 3

(3)  Janapada Mahabharatha: 6

     This narrative, as long as 36,000 lines, is  popular among the agricultural communities of Karnataka and chosen parts of it are performed during festivals and on special occasions.      Since the singer has been exposed to the traditional  Mahabharatha- story through films, plays, and Television, his narrative, consisting of both prose and poetry,  closely follows  the literary Bharatha-versions.  However, there are many significant variations and I give below only the variations.

(1)  Inset stories:  The independent stories of ‘Brahma Kapaal,’ ‘Bhimesh linga,’ ‘Gaya,’ ‘ Markandeya,’ and such are added to the main narrative.

(2)Regional / local details:  Festivals, rituals and practices such as ‘the Karaga ritual,’ ‘Konti worship,’ ‘ black-magic of Keralites, ‘the geneology of the Jogi community,’ and such, prevalent mostly in the southern part of Karnataka, find their place in the narrative.

(3)Characters: At the level of  characters, those of Draupadi, Krishna’s nephews, and Vichitravira stand out as totally different from those found in the literary versions of the Bharatha-story. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Oral Mahabharatas and Varnashrama Discourse -Part 2

(2)  Janapada Bharatha Kathegalu:  (Folk-tales of the Bharatha) 5

          The singers of these narrative songs belong to the Gauda, Jogi, and Kunabi communities, living in the northern part of Karnataka.  They sing these songs that narrate the various parts of the Bharatha-story independently during the harvest season and festivals.  The main function of these performances appears to be entertainment.

     The  27 parts,  sung by  different individuals,  are as follows:  
(1) Baava monk falls in love with a boatman’s daughter and she gives birth to  four children.  The first one flies to the sky as soon as he is born; the other three grow up as Aadashi, Gantashi, and Dantashi.  The latter two once suspect their own mother’s behaviour with Aadashi and in remorse commit self immolation; out of the  fire four people emerge: they are Pandoraja, Kailoraja, Kunti and Gandori.  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Oral Mahabharatas and Varnashrama Discourse -Part 1

                   “JHUG JAAYEN VAARTA AAGE HA” :1

     The hold the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha narratives have had on Indian imagination for at least two millennia is both fascinating  and intriguing.  Since the time Vyasa and Valmiki composed their epics in Sanskrit, those epics  have been re-told, re-interpreted, and revalued in every Indian language, in every mode and in every form of literature and arts.    What A. K. Ramanujan says of the Ramayana holds true of the Mahabharatha also:  both constitute as it were the ‘second language’ of India2.

     Such a phenomenon of telling and retelling the same narrative  through the ages raises many questions not easy to answer.  Does this phenomenon reflect a lack of  imagination and slavish reverence toward tradition in the Indian mind?  On a different level, how do we view these retellings of the classical epics?  Are they different versions of  ancient and hoary ‘original’ works, or, are they revisions, revaluations, and subversions of the ‘original’ works?   And, in this confluence of literary re-tellings, where do we place the oral versions? 

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Bedas of Halagali


 Sad days  came upon them  – on those who wielded swords;
The angry fighters of Halagali – they were indeed doomed.   
 It was decreed from the foreign Company government:
‘The arms and weapons of all  have to be seized by force;
Swords and scimitars, knives and sickles of all sorts,
Axes and lances, bows and arrows, muskets and shotguns,
Blades, bullets, powder – everything has to be seized;
Those who hide anything should be jailed for three years,
And those who resist should  be put to sword.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Political Narrative

     In general, to the rural, illiterate and simple singers of oral narratives, political matters are too distant and too complex to talk about.  Hence it is that the bulk of oral literature tends to be a-political.  However, the policies and acts of the British colonial power in India were so heartless and exploitative that they affected the lives of even common people in this country.  

Monday, November 01, 2010

‘Riwayat’ : “Water for the Tank”

Riwayat’ : “Water for the Tank”    

 The term ‘Riwayat,’  as H. M. Bilagi, who has collected many such narratives and has made a study of them explains, is originally a Persian term meaning ‘ story’ or ‘an incident.’  Since they are to be sung during the Muslim Moharram festival, they are also called ‘Moharram songs.’  

The saint-poet, Shishunala Sharif of the 19th century, is supposed to have introduced this rare form to Kannada, with his more than a hundred riwayats on different subjects.  After he popularized this form, many others have written riwayats, especially in and around the district of Bagalkot in north Karnataka.  In form, they resemble ‘Lavani’ or ballad: the narratives begin with a refrain (‘chaala’) to be repeated after each stanza, and then in each stanza there are certain lines to be sung in a high pitch (‘eru’) and certain others in a low pitch (‘ilu’).  The last stanza of each narrative bears the name of the poet and, often, his teacher.