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Folktales From Northern India

Folktales From Northern India
Item Code: NAS637
Author: Sadhana Naithani
Publisher: Shubhi Publications
Language: English
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 9788182900684
Pages: 476
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.50 X 6.50 inch
weight of the book: 0.72 kg
About the Book

Collectors in the nineteenth and early twentieth century’s unearthed a wealth of stories from around the world and published them in English translations for the delight of general readers, young and old. Most of these anthologies have been long out of print.

The ABC-CLIO Classic Folk and Fairy Tales series brings back to life these key anthologies of traditional tales from the golden age of folklore discovery. Each volume provides a freshly typeset but otherwise virtually unaltered edition of a classic work and each is enhanced by an authoritative introduction by a top scholar. These insightful essays discuss the significance of the collection and its original collector; the original collector's methodology and translation practices; and the original period context according to region or genre.

Certain to be of interest to folklorists, these classic collections are also meant to serve as sources for storytellers and for sheer reading pleasure, reviving as they do hundreds of folk stories, both reassuringly familiar and excitingly strange.

About the Author

Dr. Sadhana Naithani is assistant professor at the Center of German Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her doctoral thesis, "Politics of Love," is a study of German folk songs. Her postdoctoral research and publication in the history of folklore research have focused on the interface between nineteenth-century European folkloristics and colonial folklore collections compiled in India By British colonial administrators. The postcolonial perspective in her writing has brought forth the role of native scholars in the compilation of those volumes. Folktales from Northern India is the first volume ever to be published under the joint authorship of a colonial administrator-scholar-William Crooke-and his Indian scholar-associate-Pandit Ram Gharib Chaube. Sadhana Naithani's articles have been published in the Journal of Folklore Research and in Folklore.


I One of the new forms of generation and communication of knowledge in colonial India was the emergence of ethnographic periodicals, instituted by colonial officers, in the second half of the nineteenth century. They were printed at the government presses and, though not official publications, they were quasi-official in their scope and objective. They were largely "miscellanist" in nature, carrying small notes of information on subjects around which the journal was conceptualized; were generally ethnographic; and were meant essentially for the use of the British resi-dents of India who were also their major contributors and subscribers. One of the first such journals was the Punjab Notes and Queries (PNQ), instituted by Captain R. C. Temple in 1885. From the onset, the journal refused to accept any writing critical of the government. PNQ wished to inform readers about various aspects of India and Indian life, ranging from archaeology to ethnography (Morrison 1984). When the editor of PNQ, Captain Temple, was called to lead the military campaign against Burma in 1885, he handed over the journal to his contemporary in the Indian Civil Service, William Crooke.

In William Crooke's hands the periodical was renamed North Indian Notes and Queries (NINQ). Though it was intended, even by William Crooke, to be a continuation of PNQ, NINQ differed from its predecessor in many ways. At a time when the study of India was based more and more in philological and archaeological sciences dealing with ancient texts, edicts, coins, and other material remains of ancient India, NINQ was to concern itself with the living India, the contemporary India. And in its concern with the real, it placed itself in the rural society-its every-day culture, its age-old customs, its local gods and godlings whose fame remained within the boundaries of the village and around whom no great religious institution existed or had grown-and in the fictional narratives that the rural society enjoyed, transmitted, and produced (Crooke, NINQ 1891). Though William Crooke in his theoretical writings advocated a survivalist approach, we see in the organization of NINQ that a modern paradigm of anthropology and folktale study was emergent. And this is the first feature in which NINQ was unprecedented by any other journal, including PNQ.

The difference is not merely formal, but essential to the perspective. And while William Crooke did not write another lengthy editorial after the first "Introductory," the concern with the live and the popular religion and narratives of the rural populace of northern India was a belief that grew with him. Three decades later he held the opinion "that our (British) ignorance of many important aspects of Hinduism is stupendous. Most of the existing manuals are based on the analysis of the sacred books, and the much more vital question, the working everyday faith of the immense rural population, has been studiously ignored." (Crooke Papers, MS 132). While PNQ had a rather muddled perspective, NINQ was clear and conscious to begin with, and radical in its more matured stages.

Following from this perspective, the clear format of NINQ emerged. Unlike its predecessor, it was not a jumble of little notes sent by various British residents of India. After 1893, NINQ had only four sections: Popular Religion, Anthropology, Folktales, and Miscellania. The differentiation between Popular Religion and Folktales shows once again the modernity of 1VINQ's paradigm. Popular religion was also based on storytelling, but NINQ differentiated between the religious lore and the social, secular narrative-the folktale, which may have a religious basis but is still essentially different from a religious story.

The fact is that in the Indian context, the western scholars were faced with an overwhelmingly oral culture. Orality cut across the boundaries between the so-called classical and folk cultures. And it is within orality that various types of discourses were located. As Lutz Riihrich has shown in his Marchen and Wirklichkeit (Folktale and Reality, 2001), legend, myth, and folktale not only are different types of narratives but create different relations between the tellers and narrative. One may "believe" in a legend, but one "enjoys" a folktale. Both are fiction, but they affect people's rela tion to their reality in different ways at different historical times. And therefore, I consider the differentiation achieved in the format of NINQ, and the independence it granted to the folktale, a step that has remained unappreciated for its relative modernity.

The format and perspective of NINQ were not the only factors that distinguished it from other colonial ethnographic writing. A crucial difference lies in the fact that almost all the entries in NINQ were by Indians. There are hardly any contributions by common British residents. Its section "Folktales" carried narratives told and recorded exclusively by Indians. This is probably the most important distinguishing feature of NINQ: A discourse is created here and it is a discourse partly created by Indians themselves. Although there are a vast variety of narrators-cooks, attendants, water carriers, peons, traders (actually small shopkeepers), and others-some of the narrators and those who recorded tales are rather constant and appear again and again. Let me recount a few of those in the following and attempt to place them in their sociohistorical context.

There are many recorded tales that were told by one Akbar Shah Manjhi. As the name reveals, he was a Muslim of the Manjhi, or Manjhwar, community, which is one of the biggest tribes in the Mirzapur District. At the time of collecting these tales, 'William Crooke was posted as the Revenue Collector of District Mirzapur, which had a large tribal population. These tribes had been of immense interest to Crooke and were the focus of his four-volume work Tribes and Castes of North India, published later in 1896. It is therefore not surprising that William Crooke came in contact with Akbar Shah Manjhi in the early 1890s. In his short article written a decade later (Crooke 1902, 302-307) Akbar Shah Manjhi was the only narrator whom he mentioned by name. Crooke described him as

a quaint old blind man, Akbar Shah Manjhi, who used to support himself by going about to marriages and other feasts and amusing the people by his tales. This old man came readily to my camp, and was quite pleased to stay there indefinitely so long as the camp suttler had an order to provide him with food. He would sit at my tent-door at night and reel off tales ad libitum. The difficulty of understanding his curious patois was successfully overcome, and a large number of tales were taken down in the usual way and translated as opportunity occurred. (Crooke 1902, 306)

True to the repertoire of a professional storyteller, Akbar Shah Man-jhi's stories are limited neither by religion nor by themes. He tells tales of Hindu Gods, which are his folk versions of mythological stories, and he tells tales from a famous cycle of tales-like those of Emperor Akbar and his witty Minister Birbal-but these are rather unusual tales from the cycle. He narrates about the "virtue of faith" as well as "a tale of two queens." These tales show that Akbar Shah Manjhi's repertoire was very varied. It carried secular narratives, stories based on religion, long legends, and cyclical stories, and he must have been able to narrate to a variety of listeners on a variety of occasions. The North Western Provinces and Oudh, the present state of Uttar Pradesh, had a mixed population com-prising Hindus and Muslims. Though the former were in majority, the influence of Islam in the region has extended beyond the religious, as it was one of the major areas of Mughal rule. And thus the region had been open to Persian influences, from language to stories, since the sixteenth century at least. At the same time the region also comprised the main locales of two great Indian epics-the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Akbar Shah Manjhi's name and tales are like a catalog of all these factors. His last name shows his tribal origin, while the first and the middle show that his tribe had converted to Islam. His stories show that the boundaries between all these were fluid, especially as far as a professional storyteller was concerned. His narration to William Crooke is, however, symbolic of his contemporary world: that Akbar Shah Manjhi, a tribal professional storyteller, was narrating to an Englishman, who was the highest colonial official of the district and a representative of the biggest colonial empire. In this moment of narration mentioned by Crooke, when Akbar Shah Manjhi, "the quaint old blind man," must have come either to. Crooke's residence in Mirzapur or to his jungle camp, there were centuries of global trade and politics that had made this moment possible-both for William Crooke and for Akbar Shah Manjhi. And in the same moment the tales of this "quaint old blind man" were to be immortalized and communicated across seven seas. The act of the narration of a folktale by an Indian storyteller to a British civil servant was not such a simple, day-to-day event as it seemed. It is not possible to know what the "quaint old blind man" thought of the not-so-young British civil servant, and how much of the communication was really one-to-one.

Yet the fact that Akbar Shah Manjhi came back again and again, narrated so many tales, and was remembered by Crooke shows that there was something interesting for him as well, and he probably enjoyed telling his tales to yet another new listener, probably without questioning what the returns were and for whom. In that respect he was certainly "quaint," while Crooke was part of the global economy and power structure. And the process in which they were involved, though from very different positions, connected them in an inseparable manner. Akhbar Shah Manjhi's narrative will always be known in Crooke's mother tongue.

The case of Akbar Shah Manjhi brings many important issues of folkloristics to the fore: one, that the narration of even a traditional oral narrative is an act based in contemporary reality; two, that the collection of folktales by colonial British administrators in India was essentially different from that of their contemporary European folklorists in Europe.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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