The Study of the folk traditions of South Asia has increased significantly in the past thirty years as anthropologists and folklorists explored the varied folk and oral traditions of India. These explorations have uncovered traditions previously unknown to most Western and Indian scholars, as well as offered new perceptions of issues of caste, gender and religion in India.
This volume brings together the paper of Susan S. Wadley whose work ha been highly influential in this field. The study of folk tradition provides a critical look at the accepted, largely high caste male-authored views of Hinduism and society in India. Using materials primarily from the village known as Karimpur, in western Uttar Pradesh, the essays included here range from an examination of a rural ritual of snake possession, as well as stories that challenge its validity, to the interplay between the participants in understanding 'text' and the world views that are elaborated in those text. Some of the essays examine issues of performance, and the aesthetics of performance, while others focus on the content and the unstated contestations of classic Hinduism that are contained in stories and songs still current in western Uttar Pradesh.
About the Author
Susan S. Wadley is Ford Maxwell Professor of South Asian Studies at Syracuse University, where she is also Director of the South Asia Center and Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. She began her work on the folk traditions of India in the late 1960s as a doctoral student in a village in western Uttar Pradesh known as Karimpur, made famous in the classic behind Mud Walls by William and Charlotte Wiser. Her publications include Shakti: power in the conceptual Structure of Karimpur Religion; Struggling with Destiny in Karimpur; 1925-1984 and Raja Nal and the Goddess: The North Indian Oral Epic dhola. She is co-editor of Oral Epics in India as well as Media and Transformation of Religion in South Asia. Currently, she is engaged in a project examining the effects of globalization on Karimpur, focusing especially on issues of migration and consumption, as well as changing gender roles.
Ever since I first went to village known as Karimpur, located in Mainpuri District, about 150 miles southeast of Delhi in Uttar Pradesh, in 1967, I have been thinking and writing about the oral traditions of this community and its surrounding areas. This volume represents that work and the changes in my ways of approaching Karimpur oral traditions over time. Actually Karimpur is a pseudonym given to this village by William and Charlotte Wiser (1971). I have retained this name for purposes of continuity in the literature.
Chapter 1 explores the intersections of folk rituals and folk texts. It draws on the very first writing that I ever did on Karimpur, for upon my return from the field I wrote about the ritual in which a victim of snake bite is cured in a possession ritual known as Dank. My original writing on Dank ended up as an appendix in my dissertation (Shakti: Power in the Conceptual Structure of Karimpur Religion, University of Chicago, 1973) and then was revised for a panel at the International Ethnological meetings in New Delhi in 1976. Over the past years, I have presented this work in a variety of classroom settings, and a video/DVD is now available for teaching purposes. But as I talked about Dank, I realized hat Raghunath, who was the main exorcist as well as the person often voluntarily possessed, and also one of Karimpur's most popular storytellers, had told me several stories, which challenge the validity of the ritual itself. These stories, in a new and previously unpublished paper, are discussed in Chapter 2. It is intriguing to think about one individual, himself often possessed by the Snake King, who then turns his own practices on their heads by telling stories that question whether the possessed person is faking it or not. I believe that both views are prevalent in Karimpur and that Raghunath, as both the possessed and the storyteller, contextualizes his understanding so that both become possible.
Chapter 3 builds on my continuing interest in the folk exegesis of ritual, but here with a focus on the ways in which the often orally transmitted vrata kathas, or stories underlying bhakti rituals, challenge dominant views of karma. As these tales illuminate, karma, based on the verb 'to do, ' is not, at least in these villagers world views, something that accrues only for one's next life. One's current actions affect one's life in the very near future. This is enormously important for it means that one's actions can affect one's life in this world, here and now. These views then challenge major western interpretations of karma, most particularly Weber's (2001) interpretation of the importance of the Protestant ethic for capitalism.
In Chapter 4, I turn to barahmasi, a genre of folk song popular in Karimpur and across northern India, in order to explore the pattern that underlies its monthly cycle. This research took me to examples of the genre from a variety of languages as well as to an exploration of its presentation in music and art. The result is a view of the ways in which a month is viewed as psychologically and physically difficult, whether for lovers or for farmers. A set of key symbols captures the meaning of each month and these are drawn upon to portray the story in the resulting song.
Chapter 5, "Oral Traditions and the Study of Religion in Karimpur," focuses on oral traditions as performed. Given my training and teaching in anthropological linguistics, I have been intrigued by the relationship between text and its "performance," whether as verbal stylistics, in songs, as declamation, and other forms. These issues of text and texture also tie to context, and the intersections of these three issues are the primary focus of this article. Chapter 5 is the first writing that I did on this topic, while Chapter 6, Written twenty years later, explores the theme anew, with new insights and examples.
Each of the final three chapters explore an example of issues of performance in detail. Chapter 7 looks at one singer's strategies for performance of the north Indian oral Epic Dhola. Chapter 8 and 9 both capture the intersection of written and oral texts, the first examining one author/singer's rendition of the same episodes of Dhola, sung or written, while the second looks at a text written for missionaries in the 1920s and the comparable telling for the anthropologist in the 1960s.
This collection is intended to bring to light some of the more critical questions facing folklore scholars today, in India and elsewhere.
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