Indian Folklore - 1

This book represents more of a collective effort than any other I can remember having encountered before in scholarly circles. The reports which it contains are the products of workshops in each of which a half dozen or more folklorists shared their knowledge and ideas about an aspect of Indian folklore. None of the reports represents the thoughts of a single author. it is appropriate, though, that I express our collective appreciation to those who coordinated and faithfully recorded the workshop proceedings. For those of us who participated, the workshops will remembered as the most valuable parts oft e Indo-American Conference on Indian Folklore, and we have to thank D.P. Pattanayak and Jawaharlal Handoo of the Central Institute, Mysore, for scheduling them and bringing us together.

To help the reader place the papers which follow into their generic context, I should briefly describe the scene of the workshop sessions. The workshop groups each gathered for two or three hours a day for four days, each in a separate corner of the larger seminar hall of the Central Institute of Indian Languages. We met after lunch, following the three to four hour morning sessions at which individual scholars had presented their papers. We were all genuinely tired, but the high caliber of morning papers inspired in us a thoughtful mood. None of us had access to our libraries; but this had the benefit of directing our discussions toward the larger picture and the more immediate problems facing folklorists on both sides of the world. We all knew we had written reports to produce at the end of the week. We all wanted these to be as good a statement as possible of the state of scholarship in each of the different areas of folklore represented by the workshop titles. So we pressed on, and I think these workshop reports reflect a certain amount of collective courage and perseverance.

One of the most exciting aspects of the workshops was the diverse composition of the participants. For perhaps the first time folklorists, classicists, anthropologists and historians specializing in different linguistic regions and theoretical backgrounds met face to face to focus their attention on Indian folk traditions. As a result, the papers in this small book contain more general statements about Indian folklore than most other publications on the subject. And, more importantly, these generalizations are not based on stereotyped preconceptions of "the village folk" and their "lore", but instead are based on perceptions of the regularities obtained by the comparison of actual traditions.

The workshop reports also reflect the first scholarly awareness of the enormous quantity and variety of India's folk traditions, as well as the importance of their proper study. This is brought up consistently in each of the workshop reports. Why, in this day and age, should a group of scholars only now discover such a rich field of inquiry? There are many reasons. Wendy O'Flaherty reports the general level of identity crisis associated with folklore studies. Another problem, obviously, is a language barrier: each regional specialist can draw upon large and valuable collections published in one or two of India's many languages, but equally large and valuable collections in other language are simply not accessible to him because he can not read them. a third problem, emphasized in V. Narayana Rao's and Stuart Blackburn's papers, is that many of the existing collections are based on antiquated or out-right shoddy methodology. Thus, much of the existing folklore material is of limited interest to and usefulness for the modern scholar.

These workshops stand to play a significant role in the development of Indian folklore studies. Important steps were taken to correct methodological shortcomings of current folkloristic research. There were at least three areas in which important leads were developed: comparative research, research on performance traditions, and research on culture-specific patterns in Indian folklore.

Comparative research in Indian folklore is essential if we are to go beyond a piece-meal understanding of what it is all about. We must have some idea of the actual variability and commonality of a host of different aspects of folklore in order for us to come to an understanding of the relation of folk traditions to other features of culture. We can not presume certain constancies or relatives, we must demonstrate them. We must, furthermore, go beyond the simplistic and fragmentary classification of tale-types and motifs, which have been so far largely of interest in historical investigations. We must look at, for instance, variability in the nature of performances, the performers, the performers, the occasions of performance and so forth. Whole complexes - epics, as exemplified by one workshop - are usefully compared in this manner. Out ability to compare, and to draw useful conclusions from comparisons, in this sense is presently in its infancy, but it has begun.

Research on performance traditions focuses our attention directly on the distinctive essence of folklore. This is so not only in a general sense, but also, as noted by Blackburn, because it reveals a series of indigenous distinctions often already made by the various cultures of India. Of equal importance is that inclusion of performance traditions in our studies introduces whole new sets of interests and lends relevance to innumerable folk traditions previously ignored. One of the most exciting new areas for future investigation is the study of performance form, and variability in form between and within folk tradition complexes. As Blackburn points out, Indian folkloristics could lead the world in the study of performance traditions if it took up in the immediate future the suggestions set forth in this workshop.

Research on the specific themes and cultural patterns of Indian folklore, as represented by the analyses in the workshops on folk tales and folk epics, marks another important advance. Virtually all previous analysis (as opposed to description and collection) of Indian folk texts has utilized methodologies developed for use on European material. In investigating new themes (e.g., social status transformations specific to Indian social ideology) and ignoring conventional distinctions between tales, myths, legends, epics, etc., - distinctions based on definitions which do not fit Indian types well in any case - the workshops were able to go directly to some of the core concerns of Indian thought. Such patterns and themes, as well as many other kinds of imagery, metaphors, formal structures and the like, are not contained in only one or another genre but cross-cut such diverse folk forms as games, rituals, marriage ceremonies and theater. Indian folkloristics could add a great deal to complement our understanding of Indian thought which has been well explored in this manner in the past only by scholars of classical traditions.

Thus the workshops have shown the way to a number of new types of studies and new ways to study old material. Already, as I write this introduction several months after the event, I hear of plans for future conferences on the comparative study of India's oral epics, and proposals for coordinated field research projects on key culture-specific themes cross-cutting Indian folk genre. There can be little doubt that Indian folkloristics will be an important branch of study in the near future.

Peter J. Claus
California State University, Hayward