Folk tales are not only a great source of delight but also serve as landmarks of the culture of a people. Folk tales of a region do not always follow the geographical boundaries and thereby indicate the essential commonness of the surrounding regions from the standpoint of culture.
The compiler-editor of this volume, in the course of his assignment of rewriting the new series of the District Gazetteers of Bihar, became interested in folk tales of Bihar and has retold some of them in this book. The pattern of the folk tales of Bihar is almost the same as in other parts of India. The tribal stories of Chotanagpur region have the same motifs as the stories of other tribal regions.
The folk literature of India is exposed to many dangers. Academic snobbery, rapid urbanisation and impact of industrialisation have widened the gulf between the rural and urban culture. Fortunately the importance of folk literature is being slowly appreciated. This volume is a welcome attempt in that direction.
P. C. Roy Chaudhury has served in various posts under the Government of Bihar. His compilation of the digests of old English correspondences and other historical records in Saran, Hazaribagh, Singhbhum, Gaya and Muzaffarpur and work on the 1857 movement in Chotanagpur and Santa! Parganas have been published by the Bihar Govornment. Some of his important works include Gandhi's First Struggle in India, Jainism in Bihar, Inside Bihar, Temples and Legends of Bihar, Temples and Legends of Bengal, Temples and Legends of Nepal, C. F Andrews and His Times, Gandhi and His contemporaries, Gandhi and International Politics. He also wrote on sociological and historical topics and was for some time Editor-in -Charge of the Gandhi Centenary Publications and also General Editor of a series of folk tales of different regions of India.
FOLKLORE is a sure index to the early traditions and culture of the people. The term 'folklore' was coined in 1846 by W. J. Thomas (1803-85), but the founder of the scientific study of the subject is commonly held to be Jacob Grim (1785-1863). The approach to folklore has varied from scholar to scholar. Max Muller (1823-1900) interpreted it as evidence of nature myths; J. G. Frazer (1854-1941) was the exponent of the comparative study of primitive and popular folklore as mutually interdependent and explanatory; Sir L. Gomme (1853-1916) adopted a historical approach to the study of folklore; Malinowski and Radelife-Brown treated folklore as a very essential and integral element in a living culture. All of them have underlined the importance of this heritage.
Folk literature comprising stories, ballads, songs, proverbs, riddles, etc., is essentially an oral literature and, peculiarly enough, all over the world it is the women who have handed down the folk stories, generation after generation, by word of mouth. The folk stories arc usually fairy or ghost stories or animal stories and are normally with an improbable back-ground but always intensely human, often emotional and usually ending with a moral. They not only amuse and are a source of enjoyment and education, but provide an insight into the traditions and culture of the region. They also form a useful source material as evidence of artistic creation at a definite time and in a definite region. Folk tales have their wings and quick mobility. They migrate and are disseminated. In spite of many variants and local twists, folk tales in different regions suggest an unmistakable common origin. Various theories have been propagated as to the origin. T. Benfey as late as 1859 had postulated an Indian origin for fairy tales and their subsequent migration to Europe. Scholars have found a common origin for Persian and Indian folk stories.
T. Benfey's publication of Panchatantra in 1859 with the theory that India was the storehouse of the stories from which European folk tales had been derived was a landmark. It is a pity that there has not been an adequate systematic research into the folk tales in the different regions in India which often have a common motif. This research would have shown not only the similarity between the legends of different communities but also the changes due to historic or social factors and might have given us a nucleus of positive cultural background. Recently two excellent volumes of Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend have been published by Funk and Wagnalls Company, New York. Probably because of want of compilation of folk tales in all the regions of India and lack of research in Indian folk lore, there has not been much mention in these two volumes of the source materials from India. Many of the beautiful motifs in our folk tales could have found a place in these standard works if they had been published and propagated.
Social anthropologists in India have not yet properly utilised the folklore. No scientific study of the social and religious customs of the primitive people could be complete without a study of their folklore, stories, riddles and proverbs. The affinities or otherwise of the different tribal folk tales would have given us an excellent nucleus of historical facts. In India generally and Bihar particularly there has been a rapid spread of mental and material development and there is an intense incidence of urbanisation followed by a sizable movement of people. The partition of the country has also led to some shifts in the population. In the midst of all these political and social shifts, there has been a substantial change in the rural area along with the values and norms. This climate is not favourable for the preservation of the folk literature and we are losing a definite heritage in the wake of the shifts.
Within A Few Months of learning to lisp my grandson wanted me to tell him stories. His thirst for hearing fantastic stories has no limits and I soon discovered that my stock of such stories was extremely limited. Repetitions had to be made and they were taken in with equal zest. I wanted to tell him folk stories of Bihar, which led me to hunt for them. I was disappointed to find that the local folk literature was extremely scarce. While the importance of the folk literature of Bihar has been underlined by many scholars, there are probably not more than three or four published collections in English and Hindi and they are almost unavailable to the public. Most of them were published many decades back. These old anthologies of folk stories mostly refer to Chota Nagpur and Santal Parganas. There is probably not a single book on the folk tales of north and south Bihar in English, although there is no dearth of such stories.
Rev. P. 0. Bodding whose studies on the Santals indicate his monumental labour and keenness had collected a number of folk stories of the Santal Parganas. His three volumes on the Santal folk tales were published from Oslo in 1915. His studies in Santa! Medicines and Connected Folklore was published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1925. Father Hahn had collected some of the folk stories of the Oraons, an Adivasi tribe of Chota Nagpur. Hahn's original book is very scarce. The later edition of Father Hahn's book edited by Father A. Grignard, S.J., was published in 1931. A few stories prevalent among the Mundas, another aboriginal tribe of Chota Nagpur, were collected and published by the late Mr. P. K. Mitra of Bihar Civil Service some years back. The folk stories of the other tribals have not yet been compiled and are getting lost.
Some of the earlier anthropologists and sociologists had briefly referred to some of the folk stories prevalent in north and south Bihar in various journals and reviews, mostly three or four decades back. But the references were extremely brief and the stories were not given in any detail. The earlier series of the District Gazetteers, written and published near about the first decade of the present century, practically ignored the local literature of the districts and folk stories did not find any mention as a rule.
It will not be an exaggeration to say that the folk stories of the different parts of Bihar are going to be lost to us and to the future generations if a serious attempt is not made now to collect and preserve them. Eyebrows should not go up if it is stated that the present generation of grannies in the urban areas of Bihar know very little of the traditional folk stories of Bihar. In the rural areas also that stage is fast being reached. Fortunately, we still have the village grannies who have preserved the folk songs, traditions, customs, bratas, aripanas and even the old techniques of painting and are handing some of them over to the next generation. But their interest in the folk stories is definitely on the wane. It is needless to go into the reasons for this decline, which are more socio-economic than cultural; but this is, indeed the conclusion forced upon me by my investigations spread over several years. It has already become difficult to collect the stories from the villages as the older men and women in north and south Bihar have little time or interest to relate them. In some districts our investigations were almost fruitless.
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