FOLKLORE AS MASS MEDIA : AN INTRODUCTION
University of Jabalpur
Where folklorists all over the world have so far engaged either I the collection, interpretation or analysis of folklore material, the major emphasis has been on the "lore" or the "folk" rather than on the "folk" who create and possess that "lore". With the advancement of anthropological and sociological researches during the past fifty years, however, the focus of attention has changed. In the words of the great anthropologists Bronislaw Malinowski: "the text, of course, is extremely important, but without the context it remains lifeless the stories live in the native life and not on paper, and when a scholar jots them down without being able to evoke the atmosphere in which they flourish, he has given us but a mutilated bit of reality"1.
In the years since Malinowski wrote this, there has been a growing realization that the questions related to the origin of folklore, or its definition, are not as important in the present context of rapid social changes and improved means of mass communication, as the problems of uplifting the poor masses who dwell in cities and towns, educating the thousands of people in non-literate sectors of the society, and inculcating the spirit of brotherhood and mutual respect. The "folk" rather than their "lore" have, therefore, received much greater attention and consideration from scholars, literary critics and social reformers alike. Folklore in India today is regarded as one of the most important and effective instruments of social engineering.
For developing societies like ours, with extremely low levels of literacy, the significance and relevance of folklore can hardly be over emphasized. It provides aid in educating the young, promotes group solidarity, serves as an outlet to suppressed emotions and provides a means of escape from disappointments and frustration. The secret of its effectiveness lies in the fact that the "folk" are not aware of its subtle ways of functioning. As a matter of fact everything is imported in the guise of entertainment and recreation. The folk do not really seem to be conscious of this. They simply participate and use folklore in their daily lives. A mother sings a lullaby, an old man narrates a tale and someone observes a custom. It is in this manner that important cultural wisdom is transmitted, imported and used where its use becomes necessary and the balance of cultures maintained. One should not lose sight of these and other characteristics of folklore when one thinks of mass communication as a factor in social change.
Before one appreciates the above role of folklore in a changing society, however, it may be appropriate to examine its nature and objectives as a mass media. Any mechanism which communicates the messages from one person to another is a medium. Its popularity and breadth of coverage depend upon its effectiveness. When such a method or mechanism is used for transmitting knowledge to the masses in general, it becomes a mass media. Its usefulness is derived from many different objectives for which it is intended. For example, it may be directed to transmit information; it may be used as a tool to change the attitudes of the people; it may be used to generate strong likes as well as dislikes or it may be used as a pedagogical device in schools to impart moral and social education. In any case, the essential quality of a good mass media is that it serves as a means to prepare people to discharge their roles effectively as disciplined citizens of a country.
Looking from this viewpoint, all items of folklore may not be equally useful or effective. Folktales may be apt to communicate a moral lesson in an amusing way, whereas proverbs may prove good guides for socio-economic reforms. Riddles, on the other hand, may serve as a good device for memory-testing, whereas folksongs may prove a better outlet for mental tensions. The role of proverbs in the Nigerian judicial system, as reported by John Messenger, is worth mentioning here. He remarks "proverbs are by far the most numerous and most frequently employed of these forms of verbal art and are used in all manner of situations: as a means of amusement, as a method of gaining favour in courts, in performing religious ritual and association ceremonies, and to give point and all color to ordinary conversations" (1965 : 299).
This is a case which shows how a single item of folklore performs different functions at the same time in a given society. Other folklorists have noted that whenever there is injustice and oppression, the victims are sure to find solace through their folksongs.
Folk drama has certain advantages over other forms of folklore. Because of its audio-visual character, folk drama has great appeal to both the literate and non-literate, Men and Women, young and old, workers and farmers, all are drawn to dramatic forms, and like the Nigerian proverbs, folk drama combines more than one objective. Different forms of folklore serve different purpose, but folk drama in particular performs several functions at the same time. It is not only of great appeal, but is also closer to the psychology of the people. In traditional societies like India, where modernity is still confined to the upper strata of the society, the traditional media of folk operas, drama, ballets and so forth, are more appealing to the masses than the modern media like the radio, and television, which the lower strata do not have access to. One might take advantage of these ways as traditional types of communication are more effective and appreciated by the masses.
As an instrument of mass media, folk drama is more effective in such societies because it easily combines entertainment with instruction. It easily reflects events of past history of a particular region, and at the same time its performance is economical. It costs almost nothing to visit a folk theatre in Indian villages and its staging does not require great expenditure. This is the reason why hundreds of men, women and children assemble to participate in folk performances whether it is the Jatra of Uttar Pradesh, the Khayal of Rajasthan, the swang and Maharashtra, the Bhawai of Gujarat, the Yakshagana of Karnataka. These folk performances last throughout the night and the spectators do not show signs of fatigue even after a whole night performance. This also explains how close such forms of folklore are to the minds of the folk.
If one traces the origin and evolution of different forms of folk drama, their nature and content, and the purpose for which they have been developed, one would find a close correspondence between the changes they have undergone and the transformations which society itself has undergone. In the earlier stages when moral, ethical and philosophical values held sway over the masses, the forms of drama that developed naturally revealed a predilection towards religious themes and sentiments. As monetary and economic values asserted themselves with their concomitant consequences, the forms of drama had to adapt themselves to new situations, challenges and opportunities. It is in this context that a detailed study of the various forms of folk drama, and the structural changes which they have undergone during the last half a century, becomes extremely important. A brief review of such developments is attempted below in order to pinpoint the interaction between changes in society, on the one hand, and the changes in styles and emphasis witnessed in the ongoing drama traditions, on the other hand.
Indian folk dramas, according to their subject matter, can be classified into three broad categories:
1) The religious type of drams. These are a sacred means of communication.
2) The socio-religious type of dramas. These are semi-sacred means of communication.
3) The social type of dramas. These are secular means of communication.
The Ramalila and Raslila of Uttar Pradesh and the Yakshagana and Terukutta of South India may be said to belong to the first category. They are a sacred means of communication because of the dominance of religious themes in the subject matter. The ramlila is basically an opera. It is a musical drama where main events of god Rama's life are performed by many characters. The length of the descriptions may be shortened due to incidental factors, but the basic nature of characters cannot be altered. The actors may portray Rama or Sita, as the case may be, according to thenorms laid down in thesacred books of Hindu tradition. The Hindi medieval saint-poet, Tulsidas, is credited with the creation of this form of ramlila at Varanasi. It is widely performed during the Dashara festival all over the country. But in Varanasi, the whole town becomes episodes of the main story are enacted at several places during the festival days. The actors carry the message of filial piety and proper duties of individuals from village to village. There is no change in the main theme whether the drama takes the form of a dance or a musical drama. It always emphasizes the ethical aspect of human life. Induja Awasthi has recently (1979) illustrated the different styles of ramlila based on different regional performances. His study provides a very clear picture of various artistic dimensions of this ancient folk drama form of our country.
The raslila on the other hand, is centred around the romantic episodes of Radha and K¤À¸a who are immortal gods of love. Raslila is basically a dance-drama. It is very popular in the western parts of Uttar Pradesh, though it can also be witnessed in other parts of the country. It is known for its circular dance action in which the cowherds narrate and sing the themes of Krishna's love and the pain of separation. Throughout this region raslila was the chief instrument for carrying the message of the great religious movement known as bhakti during medieval times. Besides its religious value, the movement in its forceful raslila form paved the way for emotional integration of this nation. Raslila, in terms of its form and structure, has been compared to the "Miracle Plays" of Medieval Europe; but, in reality it has proved a better media of communication than these plays. It also has a sacred nature like the ramlila, restricting its themes to the moral and aesthetic aspects of Indian life.
The Yaksagana of Karnataka State is based on the sacred stories of both Rama and Krishna, with inspiration from the great Puranic scripture, the Shrimadbhagawat. The ten incarnations of Lord Visnu are mostly enacted in public. However, the incarnations of Matsya (tortoise) and Narasimha are most popular. The yaksagana scholar-critic, Shivaram Karant of Karnataka, has traced (1973)the history of this folk drama to 16th century. He considers this performing art as a survival of folk art because it has developed under the patronageof the common masses and not under the patronage of royal families. Karant argues that Indian dramatic tradition seemsto behistorically dependent upon two different forces. One form - the sophisticated form - flourished under the patronage of the feudal royality, and the other - the folk form - under the patronage of the common folk. Thus it is possible that both these dramatic traditions, therefore, might have played different roles in Indian society.
Similarly the terukutta of Tamilnadu is also performed in open air. Popular gods of the Hindu pantheon like Ganesa and Siva are propitiated in the beginning followed by the anecdotes of child KriÀ¸a. Such types of dramas are quite popular among the public and have not only inculcated the feelings of solidarity, but have also ridiculed snobbery and laziness. They have at the same time taught the people to maintain conformity to the accepted patterns of behaviour in society. But their scope as a mass media seems primarily limited to religious instruction. This being so, it is hard to say if terukottu can communicate modern themes, other than the ones it has been communicating traditionally.
Under the second category of folk dramas that are of semi-sacred nature, we may consider the jatra of Bengal, the khayal of Rajasthan and the maach of Madhya Pradesh. We find in these forms an admixture of religious and non-religious material. Moreover, they usually move from the sacred plane to the secular plane of thematic construction. The jatra (lit. "the procession") of Bengal, for example, is most popular in Bengal and Orissa and is said to have been founded by the great Saint poet Chaitanya in the 15th century. In the beginning jatra mostly enacted the stories of Lord k¤À¸a, but later the stories of other gods and goddesses like Siva, Kali and Durga were added to it. These additions made jatra more popular and played an important role in its rapid transmission.
The popularity of this drama form increased and professional performers and singers began performing regular shows. Gradually the historical, semi-historical and secular themes were also included in its repertoire along with the old mythical themes and thus the new jatra began to highlighten the contemporary social and political problems as well. One does, therefore, find the themes, such as indebtedness, exploitation of women, etc. well reflected in modern jatras.
The khayal of Rajasthan is quite well known for its excellent use of dialogues and the folk speech, so much so that several poets of the 18th century used it for philosophical purposes to preach ideas of immortality of the soul. These canges have not made this folk medium weak. Instead, they have provided the dynamic potential of a folk genre, its organic capacity to adapt to changing circumstances and thus become more effective and relevant. Jatra also has very clearly exhibited this organic strength. The fact that many Bengali scholars and playwrights such as Badal Sarkar have adopted this media in communicating new literary themes proves beyond doubt the power of this folk media. They, too, used it against the widespread superstitions and outdated modes of thinking. While, the main themes of khayal are sometimes of erotic nature, they have also incorporated material on social reform, evils of drinking, struggle for national freedom, principles of non-violence and the like. Words from Hindi, Urdu and Persian are freely used.
The maach of the Malwa region in western Madhya Pradesh is also semi-sacred in character and communication, although it developed under the religious influences of 19th century. The regional background remain predominant in this art form. Older maach were composed around the episodes of Raja Gopichand who renounced the world under pathetic circumstances. Stories of the devotees like Prahlad were also the main plots of maach. Presently the maach are composed on the mythical themes of Pauranic personages or around epic characters of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Medieval romances of Nala andDamayanti are sometimes combined with the heroic tales of Tejaji and Kedar Singh of this region. Maachs are also composed on current topics such as the problems of dacoity, landless labour, mass education, etc. this clearly shows that such types of folk dramas are sensitive to the problems of modern society. Despite these additions, maach, remains a storehouse of local culture and history. In fact scholars of oral history have always felt, and rightly so, the maach performances are the key needed to understand and reconstruct the real history of the Malwa region (see Bhanawat 1971).
Under the third category of folk drama, which may be called a secular means of communication, we may include the tamasha of Maharashtra, the bhawai of Gujarat, the nautanki of Northern India, the bandi pather of Kashmir and the swang of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. These secular forms of folk draqmas are more appropriate mass media at present for the reasons we shall delineate soon. As these forms are free of any religious constraints, and therefore, are suitable for all occasions, they can be easily improvised for the pressing needs of society. They can be channelized into a strong means for the propagation of quick socio-economic changes in our country.
The TAMASHA OF Maharashtra is a traditional form of drama in which the female dancer is the main center of attraction. It was patronized by Maratha royalty during the 18th century. Songs of lovers and of dejected heroines were its common themes in the past and it was known for the use of "lawni" meter. National leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi utilized it to propogate political ideas during the freedom struggle. Now tamasha has crossed the boundaries of rural areas and reached the cities of Poona and Bombay. The State Government has duly patronized it and as a consequence, its shows are now being organized regularly. It has thus become a very popular means of expressing social discontent in Maharashtra.
The bhawai of Gujarat is still in its older form, serving mainly as a means of entertainment. All the actors enter the stage dancing and the theme is introduced through juicy dialogues in the beginning. The main character is called "Rangilo" who not only inter-connects the anecdotes, but laughs and sings and dances in such a way that the spectators fully enjoy the show. The actors keep commenting on the current events of common nterest till the main theme is resumed. In a sense, the theme serves as a connecting thread to bind various comments, which, however, do have a logical relationship among themselves as well as to the overall theme of the play.
The nautanki of Northern India was once famous for its amorous themes and was popularized by the Parsi Theatre. Its gaudy costumes and lively folk tunes were a source of entertainment. The actors used to deliver long speeches in verse while entering the state. Now, however, the popularity of Nautanki is decreasing. Its thematic elements have been utilized for the higher, the literary type of drama.
The bandi pather of Kashmir is intended to depict social evils and social inequality and its lively satire is superb. The cruel, the sinful, the crooked, the snob are always a target and the downfall of such persons is invariably shown at the end of the play. The bandi pather is still popular because it has served as a medi of strong satire. The actors are signers, dancers and artists all combined and their art of expression is extraordinary.
The swang (or sang) of Himachal Pradesh and Hariyana, requires a more detailed description of its various forms and modes of communication in order to understand its role as mass media. The swang in Hariyana literally means a performance based on imitation. The situations or persons imitated nowadays are adapted from social life, although material from history and romance is also employed to amuse the masses. Swang is a metrical play. Prose is inserted as a stylistic device in what is otherwise a play in verse. The prose pieces either turn the theme to a certain direction, or enlighten the masses when dramatic personae seem to fail to create certain effects through verse. The theme of the swang is loosely constructed; it moves slowly at the beginning and the tempo builds as the story reaches its climax. Songs in this folk drama either imply moral instruction, or cast satire on many several evils. The songs, the dances, and the prose narrative carry the whole theme and there is no division into various scenes as such. It has an open theatre without any need for curtains and the spectators watch the performance from three sides of the stage.
There is a form of poetic drama which may be rightly called "mime-drama". It, too, is wide spread in Himachal Pradesh. It is called banthada in the Mandi region, and the swang in the Bilaspur region of the state. In fact all of them are local variations of the more inclusive category, swang which, besides Himachal Pradesh, is also prevalent in Punjab and Utar Pradesh. The Hathras region of Uttar Pradesh seems to be the original seat of this type of drama. The tendency to imitate is, no doubt, common to all types of folk drama, but it is more manifest in the swang. Its success depends upon creating the illusion of reality. The prose-verse mixture carries over the theme in an interesting way. Swangs are generally composed on social themes, hence it is easier for them to attack the evil in society. They are a true mirror of the movement toward social realism in literature.
Swangs are usually performed during birth ceremonies or marriages ceremonies or at festive occasions, especially the winter-time festival of Dewali. There are independent professional parties who perform the swangs. Actors are called "Swangis", i.e., the eprsons who enact the swang. The members of the party are mostly farmers who work on the fields most of the year. They are free after Dewali, andhence have time to move from one village to another performing swangs. Besides entertaining, swangs depict salient features of local culture, popular beliefs and superstitions of the people. The parties are at times invited by a household and then the shows are moulded to the taste of the household. They may praise the nobility of saints, and condemn deceitful acts of others. They ridicule foolish actions, and condemn whatever they don't like. Their powerful dramatic action is what makes this folk drama a good mass media. Let us take an illustration from the swang of Himachal Pradesh for a proper understanding of its functioning.
A full performance of a swang is completed usually in four stages. First, there is background music with the invocation of gods. There is no stage set for the drama as such. It is performed either on an elevated platform or around a bonfire in the open field at night. While the folk instruments (the narsingi, shahnai, chimta, kartal, and kholaki) are being played the actress, called a chandrawati enters the platform and touches all the musical instruments one by one, keeping her hands upwards and her eyes towards the sky. Then she invokes Saraswati ("goddess of learning and music") and dances around the fire. When she leaves the platform, the folk music is played again.
In the second stage, themain actors come on the platform and began to enact the scenes of Makhanlila, Danlila, Raslila, etc. while singing the glories of Lord Krishna, his flute particularly is vividly described. Spectators in the meantime offer money to the party and thereby the second item of drama is over. This is actually the preparatory part of the drama. Then begins jthe main item which may consist of a single episode or combined episodes depending on the occasion. This is the third stage of the drama.
In a study carried out in the field we noticed that an item presented in a swang consisted of the following five episodes: (1) the episode of a sadhu; (2) the episode of Kanchan; (3) the episode of Ranjhu and Phulmu; (4) the episode of garad and (5) the episode of a gaddi. In the first episode, themodern life of a real saint was compared in excellent folk speech to the life of a fake mendicant. The descriptions reflected the present conditions of changing mentality. For example, the dialogue between a Guru and his disciple emphasized that in olden days a Brahman used to maintain a sacred cow, but now it is maintained by an outcaste. The prime duty of the Brahman had been to learn sacred texts, but now he grazes goats in the field and has forgotten his occupation. The younger generation does not respect elders and the old parents have to work hard to earn their living. The dialogue concluded with the remarks that everything should be done as a duty, and everyone should do his duty for the healthy functioning of the social system. This ended the episode of the sadhu.
The episode of kanchani consisted of folksongs and dances of varied themes relating to self-sacrifice and local history. In the third episode, Ranjhu and Phul, the tragic love affairs of a couple were narrated. The lovers could not marry because of their unequal social status and thehero was married in a higher caste. Naturally the heroine commits suicide. The hero himself performed the funeral rites of his beloved. This episode is very much appreciated for its high idealism.
The fourth episode was connected with a garad, a forest officer. A variety of scenes from village life were portrayed through this episode. For example one such scene depicts women in the hills going to the forest to collect the firewood and grass for domestic use. The forest guard snatches their axes and grass cutters for unauthorized encroachment on government property. The women then plead for mercy but the guard treats them harshly. The treatment of stone-hearted government officers was thus reflected in the episode. The fifth episode of the gaddi, i.e., the shepherd was interesting and the audience was waiting for it impatiently. It showed how a funny clown tries to take away the woman of a shepherd dancer.
The fourth and the last stage of the swang is connected with a magic ritual performance. He intercepting episodes in the third stage of the performance may be one or more depending on the availability of time, butthis ritual performance is reserved for the last stage when one of the members is supposed to be present at that occasion. It is usually believed that gods like Hanuman and Bhairava watch the performance. One member of the party dressed as Hanuman dances around the wild-fire and another member begins to speak on behalf of the invoked spirit. The sweets are then spread on all sides and are distributed among the audience as prasad. It is morning by this time, and the swang is complete. The party collects furds, bags and baggage and leaves for another place.
This description was intended as an example of swang to understand some of the points related to its functions as mass media. It is a leading form of folk drama not only in Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, but also I the adjoining states. It is most popular in rural areas because of its secular character. Young and old alike follow its popular message and get together even if they have to travel ten to fifteen miles for witnessing the performance. Its lively scenes and folk conversational style prove much attraction; and the audience shows more interest in the performance of the actors rather than in thesubject matter. Themes are very familiar butthey like to see them again and again for the sake of performance. If compared to other types of folk drama, the swang is less expensive and more appealing. Hence, it combines most of the qualities of a powerful mass media.
There is another form of popular drama, neglected so far, butwhich possesses essential qualities of a good mass media. It is the puppet theatre, well exploited for propaganda purposes in countries like U.S.S.R. and China. An international festival on puppet art was held in Rumania in 1965. its tradition in Germany is said to be the oldest in Europe, going back to 12th century. It is said that the German puppeteers transplanted their art, in the role of carriers of culture, to other language areas of Austria, Switzerland, Bohemia, and Moravia. Tracing its history in the medieval period Hans R. Purschke remarks: "They (Germans) took the glove puppet theatre to Denmark, where theGerman central figure of Meister Hammerlein became the Danish "Mester Jakal" and later also to Sweden, where the German name Kasper was actually transferred to the Swedish buffoon. They even went as far as Russia" (1979).
In countries like India, theart of puppet theatre was known even earlier andits history is very old. But this art has been revived recently for social purposes. Rajasthan has been the traditional seat of puppet making, although names as the bammalottu, tol bommalu of the South also deserve mention. The puppets of Rajasthan are made of wood and cloth and are, called kathputli in local speech. In the South, the puppets are made of wood and animal skin. The stories of great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are enacted in puppet shows. The puppets representing kings andqueens are biger in size, usually 14 to 16 inches in height. The puppets representing the countries are from 8 to 10 inches in height. The person who directs the show, keeps a special type of whitsle in his mouth through which the puppets speak. A lady singer explains themovements in a musical voice while she beats the small drum with her hands. The show does not require any stage and can be performed anywhere, inside the house, or in the temple, or in the street. Moreover, the shows are not connected with the specific fair or festival. A long cloth is spread over a cot that serves as thest age. The spectators take their seats in front of this stage and the show begins.
The qualities of the puppet theatre as an effective mass media are worth exploring. Theexcellence ofthis art depends on its powers of expression. For example, puppets have their own ways of talking and dancing, running and jumping, coming and going, eating and drinking, laughing and weeping. They move the head up and down while agreeing with a statement; they move thewhole body right to left when disagreeing with a proposal; they join hands when welcoming the guests; they hurriedly cross the stage when going to the battlefield; they express emotions by simply moving their fingrs. The success of the show mostly depends on the movement and actions. In theoretical terms, if movement like one sees on T.V. has more universal appeal, then puppet shows undoubtedly have a special role to play in mass media, particularly in a country like India where T.V. is still only a city phenomenon. Recently a puppet group from Rajasthan was presenting heroic scenes from the life of King Prithwiraj of Delhi andAmar Singh Rathor of Nagor. Puppet shows are now being utilized as a pedagogical given for child-education. The material mythic characteris and themes are now being replaced by animal tales, fairy tales and themes concerning child-welfare. Devilal Samar, the reputed folklorist of Udaipur has not only specialized in the art of puppet, but has successfully converted the art into a useful teaching media. Subjects like history, geography and others can be taught through this media in an interesting way, as he says, because the child learns while he plays with the puppets.
Puppets have also proved useful as a psychological device in mental clinics where these are prepared and arranged according to likes and dislikes of the patients. Mentally disturbed persons react to these puppets in a particular way and thereactions are recorded by experts for further experiments. Shri Samar has published several papers on the art and problems of puppet theatre andhas started a centre for its training at Udaipur where teachers are trained in the art and craft of puppetry.
This belief survey of Indian folk drama demonstrates that the dance-drama the musical drama and the mime-drama like the tamasha or the swang, alongwith puppet theatre, combine most of the qualities of a good mass media. These performances are artistic creations guided by the folk mind and are directly related to mass psychology. Hence they enjoy wide circulation and popularity among the masses. Prof. Huber C. Heffner while commenting on the theatre and drama in liberal education has rightly observed that the drama is an art which depicts the relation of human character to human destiny. In fact, it reflects the "whole varied pattern of human nature in all of its multifarious changes from the Greeks to the present age" (1966). Heffner's observations are quite appropriate in the contexts of Indian folk drama.
We find that the forms like the jatra, the swang and the puppet theatre possess great potential as a successful mass media. The question is how best these and other folk media can be utilized for the betterment of our present society. Modern technology andfast means of communication havebrought nations closer. Yet mankind is torn with conflict - conflict of alienation from the past and the dangers of uncertain future. History of mankind repeatedly reminds us that whenever a nation has attempted to severe connections with its past and tried to live on its present alone, it has plunged itself into a catastrophe. Thus folklore, the oldest vehicle of cultural transmission, can help in such situations and keep the past and the present of the nations connected. This neds to be emphasized.
Indian society is undergoing rapid transformation. On the onehand our modernization is symbolized by our sophisticated satellite technology. On the other, our love and essential link is with our past. The past, however is represented by a caste system, bonded labour, the evils of dowry, child marriage, illiteracy, high morality, religious tolerance life and the non-violence behaviours. It is by striking a perfect balance between the good things of the past and the present that the future prosperity of our nation can be determined. Folklore, particularly folk drama is an excellent tool to help us to strike this balance between the past and the present.
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