Folk songs and folk plays are like the most cherished indigenous fruit. Say, mango of Salem or dainty malai plantains of Palani hills. Folk literature, the quintessential fruit borne by a tree called society, is nurtured by a boil peculiarly and unmistakeably its own, a tangy fruit that encapsulates the warmth, sweetness the aroma and the peculiar piquancy of the soil that sustains it. Folklore is inextricably wedded to the soil out of which it evolves. Probably, it is the most authentic expression of its milieu and mores, its bias, pet likes and dislikes hopes and aspirations of the community in which it is born.
It is not easy to identify the author of a folk work. A man, artistically disposed, with a flair for spining a good yarn may gurgle his delight and rhapsodize his admiration of, say, a flaming patriot, a dashing knight or a pair of love besotted man and woman who dare and defy great odds. What matters is the stuff that he signs of is evocative. It captures the imagination of the com-munity and the folks take it to their hearts. In course of time the songs are on their lips and are passed to their descendants. It becomes part of their ethos.
It is not possible to determine the genesis of folk literature. It is as old as joy and love, courage and patriotism, courtship, friendship and hero worship. Tolkappiyam, one of the oldest and profoundest works of literary criticism and exposition, styles nattuppurap papal (folk music) as pannati and says pattin iyal pannatti iyalpu (panaati is but the nature of song). In other words, music is the plank on which stands folk literature. It has to, and often does, pulsate with mirth and joy. And what better vehicle of expression can there be to human happiness than music and dance, stamping of feet and clapping of hands of a merry cluster?
Folklore is the best means to read the pulse, to study the peculair genius of a society, the desires, aspirations, pet aversions of a people, their amusements and beliefs, their gods, rituals and sacraments, and so many small but not inessential aspects of a society that lived a truer and fuller life because that society did not have to face pressures and tensions of a jet age.
Literature is created by bards and cherished the learned. Folklore is fashioned and fostered by simple rustics. Aru Alakappan says: "Folklore is one among many rivers that mingle with the ocean called literature".
Folklore has its origin in an exuberant, gifted individual. But before long it gains votaries among the rude rustics regaled by simple, unadorned songs straight from the heart and (so) go straight to heart. For ages, these rustic songs, transmitted orally in the community, never got printed. They were transcribed on palm-leaves. And a few dedicated men fought heavy odds in having them printed. Nateca Castiri was the laudable doyen of them all in Tamilnadu.
There are some factors common to folk literature.
1. The works are mostly anonymous.
2. Perpetuated by oral tradition till recently.
3. The age of the works defy precise .determination.
4. No fixed rules of prosody govern them.
The songs are sweet and simple, and marked by repetition and the swell of heaped poetic argument. The folk literature are of various types. There are folk songs, folk fables, folk tales set to music, and puranas or epics folksisized to suit the indigenous taste and milieu. This, work Pulittevan falls under the class - 'Folk tale set to music', - a folk ballad.
A word or two about folk tales set to music may not be out of place. These tales are loudly and formally chanted out and a cluster of persons lap up whatever is said. The narration couched in a simple and lucid language is woven around a story and approximates to a ballad as it is understood in English context. But the folk songs of India, especially of Tamilnadu is lengtheir and characterized by numerous refrains and catchy, alliterative reiterations. Not only is the narrative is within the reach of the unlettered or none too well educated rural folks, but the legend is done up in such a way that it is soulful, evocative and move the audiences with the stirring deeds of his or her forbears. These folk songs or ballads which belong to the Tamil land are found to have the following as their staple topic: (1) fables of gods and goddesses, (2) puranic stories, (3) social tales and (4) historical episodes. The legend of Pulittevan falls under the fourth category.
Folklore plays a vital role in helping us understand the customs and ethos of a society, its culture and history. For, the study of folk literature sheds as much light on these things as archaeological finds and inscriptions do. "A nation's history cannot be arrived at in full, unless folk literature is added unto other available sources which illumine a nation's history" opines.
On these lines, the ballads which extoll Pulittevan, Kan Cakipu and Kattapomman, lend themselves to deepen the understanding of persons, engaged in unraveling the history, engaged in the study of literature and socio linguistics. All these men were engaged in contesting the British imperial expansionism, and their lives as portrayed in the ballads are to a certain extent instructive of the political and social history of the Palaiyakkars (chieftains of palayams) and their subjects, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
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