Readings - English

Folk Forms

Indian Folk Music

Due to immense cultural diversity, we have a rich tradition of folk music and a wide spectrum of folk styles. Each region is marked by its own distinct style.

Some cultural historians tend to put tribal music under the rubric of folk music. However, both the genres differ. While folk music is a reflection of larger Indian society, tribal music, on the other hand, represents distinct cultures. Though both forms have evolved over centuries, tribal music antedates folk music since tribes or indigenous people were the original inhabitants, residing mostly in the vicinity of dense forests perched on hilly tracts. However, both the tribal and folk music has been transmitted generationally and does not entail a formal period of apprenticeship so that the practitioners could devote their entire life (as in the case of Indian classical music) since exigencies of the tribal and rural life does not permit it . The tribal and folk musicians have to attend to their normal duties of hunting, agriculture or whatever their avowed profession.

The village/hamlet elders, in their leisure hours, train the young and encourage them to perform in community functions like weddings, engagements, births, so that they hone their skills. Music also accompanies the planting and harvesting seasons where villagers through songs routinely express their hopes, fears and aspirations. In some regions when a girl has her first menses, the songs also serve an educational purpose, that is, they provide girl's first instructions on her emerging womanhood and her marital duties in future.

Musical instruments that accompany folk songs are different from those refined instruments found in classical music. In most cases, the musical instruments used by folk musicians are generally crafted by the musicians themselves. The common instruments (name of the instrument varies according to the dialect or language spoken) that are used like daf, dholak , nal , nagada (percussion instruments) and ektara/dotara , saringda , rabab , santur , penkali . However, there are innumerable instruments used in particular folk style in particular regions. Generally, folk instruments are fabricated from locally available materials like skin and hides, peritoneum, bamboo, coconut shells, earthen pots etc. A list of some of the important folk musical instruments is given below.

  • Bansuri - bamboo flute
  • Chimta - fire tongs
  • Daf - frame drum
  • Dholak/Dholki - barrel drum
  • Ektara/Dotara - simple lute
  • Gettuvadyam - hammered lute
  • Ghatam - clay pot
  • Ghunghru - ankle bells
  • Kartal - wooden clappers
  • Khol - clay drum
  • Magadi Veena - bamboo lute
  • Murchang - jaw harp
  • Nagada - kettle drum
  • Nakula - bamboo lute
  • Pung - drum
  • Pungi - snake instrument
  • Rabab - lute
  • Santur - hammered dulcimer
  • Shankh - conch shell
  • Gopichand - one stringed instrument
  • Thanthi Panai - pot drum
  • Pena - simple one bowed instrument
  • Damaru/Idakka/Udaku - hourglass drums
  •  Jataka Tales

     Jataka tales are part of the canon of sacred Buddhist literature, this collection of some 550 anecdotes and fables depicts earlier incarnations sometimes as an animal, sometimes as a human of the being who would become Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha. Traditional birth and death dates of Gautama are 563-483 BC. The Jataka tales are dated between 300 BC and 400 AD.

    Many of the tales are set in or near Benares, now called Varanasi , a city in north central India on the Ganges River . One of the world's oldest cities, Varanasi is the most sacred place for Hindus. Buddhists and Muslims also have important religious sites nearby. According to tradition, Buddha began his teaching at Sarnath a short distance from this city.

    Part of the canon of sacred Buddhist literature, this collection of some 550 anecdotes and fables depicts earlier incarnations -- sometimes as an animal, sometimes as a human -- of the being who would become Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha. Traditional birth and death dates of Gautama are 563-483 BC. The Jataka tales are dated between 300 BC and 400 AD.

    Sibi Jataka The story of Prince Sibi follows the typical pattern of tales narrated in the Epics and the Puranas. These tales are usually concerned with the testing by the Gods of the virtues of individuals. Prince Sibi is reputed for his goodness and virtue and the Gods decide to test him. Gods Indra (the king of the Gods) and Agni (Fire-god) are entrusted with the work. Indra takes the form of a hawk and Agni becomes a pigeon. The pigeon (Agni) is then pursued by the hawk (Indra). Following their preconceived plan the pigeon rushes for protection to Prince Sibi. The Prince grants him protection. The hawk follows the pigeon to the royal court, and demands that the pigeon, which is its natural prey, should be surrendered to him. Prince Sibi declines to give up the pigeon to which he has already granted protection. The hawk thereupon demands compensation for its loss and suggests that he would be willing to accept Prince Sibi's flesh in place of the pigeon's. Prince Sibi agrees and cuts pieces of his flesh and weighs them in a scale against the pigeon. Thereupon the two gods assume their divine forms and tell Sibi that he would be glorified in all the words throughout eternity.

    Mahahamsa Jataka (The Story of the Golden Goose)
    Once upon a time the raja Samyama ruled over Banaras . The name of his queen was Khema who was greatly loved by the king, so that every desire expressed by her was met by him. Now once it so happened that Queen Khema dreamt a dream. In her dream Khema saw some golden geese descending quietly on the royal palace. The geese then started preaching the Law in the sweetest voices imaginable. The sermon of the golden geese so much enchanted the Queen that she decided to secure the golden geese for herself and then hear the Law preached. She narrated the dream to the king her husband, and requested that he should satisfy her desire. The king learnt that such gold-coloured geese lived on Cittakuta in the Himalayas . He decided to attract them near Banaras by digging a lake more beautiful than the one where they lived. A beautiful lake was hence dug to the north of Banaras . When the geese heard about this lake they wanted to leave Cittakuta and come to Banaras . The raja of Banaras had appointed a fowler to catch the geese as soon as they arrived. The captain of the geese, named Sumukha, was asked by the geese to request their king Dhitarattha to move to Banaras . The king of the golden geese agreed and they flew from the Himalayas to Banaras . On alighting from the air Dhitarattha, the goose-king, placed his foot in a snare which the fowler had set to catch him. Sumukha, the captain of the geese, felt that he was responsible for the plight of his king because it was on his suggestion that his king had come to the lake. Greatly distressed he addressed the fowler thus:

    "I should not care to live myself, if this friend were dead. Content with one, let him go free, and eat my flesh instead. We two are much the same in age, in length and breadth of limb. No less for thee if thou shouldst take me in exchange for him."

    This piteous appeal of Sumukha brought tears to the eyes of the fowler, who released the goose-king. Thereupon, both the birds asked the fowler to take them to the raja so that he might not be deprived of the reward promised him by the king. The fowler took the birds to the raja, where they were welcomed with great honour. The goose-king and his captain Sumukha then instructed Queen Khema and the raja in the Law. The desire of the Queen Khema being fulfilled, she was happy. The king then allowed the goose-king and his captain to go to their abode.

    The Shyama Jataka
    Once the Bodhisattva was born as Shyama and lived in the Himalayas with his blind parents. Shyama's father was a dentist in his previous existence and, on the advice of his wife, had destroyed one of his patient's eyes for non-payment of fees. Both of them were therefore born blind in their next existence. The king of Banaras , when he came for a hunt, mistook Shyama for a Naga and struck him with a poisonous arrow to discover his identity. Shyama told the king his story and the king, repenting, promised to look after his helpless parents. The mother of Shyama, when taken to his dead body, lamented and said, "If it is true that Shyama has done none but virtuous acts, let the poison in his veins lose its strength and become harmless. If he has never uttered a lie, and has tended his parents night and day, let the poison be conquered and dispersed! May the merit we have accumulated, his father and I, triumph over the violence of the poison. Let Shyama live again!" This invocation was repeated by his father, and by a Devi, Bahusodri, who had given birth to the Bodhisattva in a previous existence. The young man regained life and his parents recovered their eyesight.

    Mahakapi Jataka
    Once the Bodhisattva was born a great monkey and lived in the Himalayas with a retinue of 80,000 monkeys. Being a born leader he controlled his large retinue without difficulty. Now it so happened that on the banks of the Ganges river there was a huge mango tree. It was not merely huge. It gave abundant fruit and what was more; the fruit of the tree was big and extremely delicious. The Bodhisattva monkey, therefore, asked his followers to be very careful while eating the fruit and see to it that no fruit fell in the river. He was afraid that if a fruit of the mango tree was carried away by the river, it would bring trouble. But in spite of the great care taken by the monkeys one mango fruit fell in the river and was carried away with the current. A fisherman of Banaras caught the fruit in his net and was surprised at the extraordinary size, the beautiful colour and its extraordinary fragrance. Wishing to earn a reward he went to the raja of Banaras and presented the fruit to him. The raja ate the fruit and was delighted by its taste. He decided to have more of that fruit. The fisherman told the raja that since the fruit had come with the current, the tree which bore the fruit must be on the banks of the river. The raja, thereupon, decided to sail by boat in the direction from which the fruit had come. He sailed along the river bank and reached the mango tree. At midnight, while everybody was asleep, he heard some noise, and on waking up he found a large number of monkeys eating mangoes. The raja's anger knew no bounds. He immediately ordered his archers to shoot down the monkeys with their bows and arrows. The monkeys, on hearing the raja's order, were frightened, but the Bodhisattva monkey promised to rescue them from imminent death. He cut a bamboo and tried to form a bridge with it to the other bank. But the bridge fell short. Thereupon the Great Monkey, stretched himself to his full length and asked the monkeys to use him as a bridge and cross over to the other bank. All the monkey escaped. Only one monkey remained. He was Devadatta, the enemy of the Bodhisattva. Devadatta remained behind on purpose. He jumped with great force on the back of the Bodhisattva and broke his back. The Great Monkey fell below and was held by the raja's attendants. The raja of Banaras , who had witnessed the wholescene, was greatly impressed by the sacrifice and good nature of the Great Monkey. He ordered his archers not to shoot the monkeys and asked some of them to nurse the wounded monkey. The Bodhisattva monkey then instructed the raja how to rule and taught him the Doctrine. He then died.

    Matriposaka Jataka
    This is the story of the time when a king named Bramhadatta reigned over the holy city of Banaras . At this time the Bodhisattva was born a magnificent white elephant in the Himalayas . His mother was blind and was completely dependent on her son for food. The white young elephant who loved his mother dearly kept her supplied with the choicest food. His love for his mother was so great that he would never eat without first feeding her. The hostility of the other elephants forced him to leave the Himalayas and migrate to Mount Chandorana . Here the two lived happily. Now one day it so happened that a forester who had entered the jungle lost his way. For seven days he tried to escape from the forest but without success. Thus, when he was in great distress, the Bodhisattva elephant found him, took him on his back and carried him outside the forest. The forester, who was a shrewd and selfish person, marked the trees as he sat on the elephant's back, hoping to come back some day for the elephant. On coming to Banaras he learnt that the state elephant of the king of Banaras had just died and that he wanted a new one. The forester wanted only such an opportunity. He told the raja that he could take him and the royal hunters to the most magnificent elephant they had ever set their eyes upon. The king was delighted and sent his hunters with the forester. The Bodhisattva elephant was extremely strong and could easily have destroyed the hunting party. But he feared that violence would mar his virtue and therefore he offered no resistance and allowed himself to be caught. He was then chained and dragged to the king's stables. There he was served with the choicest food but he would not eat it. When asked to eat the food he said, "While parted from my mother I will eat nothing." The story reached the raja of Banaras who was greatly moved by the love of the elephant for his mother. He immediately ordered the elephant to be set free. The Bodhisattva elephant, delighted, ran to his mother and found her unconscious. He sprinkled water on her, and she regained her consciousness. He then told her the whole story. Hearing of the goodness of the king, she blessed him. The king became friendly with the Bodhisattva elephant and honoured him and his mother. He then had a stone image made of the white elephant.

    Simhala Avadana
    Once, there ruled in Simhakalpa a king called Simhakesari. In his capital city lived a wealthy merchant named Simhaka. When his wife gave birth to a beautiful son, Simhaka named him Simhala. Simhaka spared no pains to make his son learned in all the sciences and all the arts. Simhala was a clever pupil and learnt quickly. When he finished his education, he asked from his father permission to go away on a sea-voyage. Simhaka was afraid of losing his beloved son and was not willing. Simahala however could not be dissuaded from his purpose and therefore his father had to give him permission to go. Simhala left Simhakalpa in the company of five hundred merchants. They all took with them abundant merchandise. After visiting many places the merchants sold all their goods and made huge profits. On their way back they reached a place called Tamradvipa. This place was the abode of rakshasis. On seeing the merchants, all the rakshasis took beautiful female forms and entertained the friends of Simhala. Each rakshasi took one of his friends home, fed him, made love to him and drugged him. When all his friends were thus drugged to sleep, the rakshasis devoured them. The rakshasi entrusted with the task of devouring Simhala fled when he took out his sword. Simhala then escaped from the island on a magic white horse.

    From Tamradvipa, Simhala came to Jambudvipa. He was followed here by the rakshasi who was entrusted with his death. She came in the form of a very beautiful young maiden. She met a merchant from Madhya Desa. She promptly fell at his feet and said, "I am the daughter of the king of Tamradvipa and was married to Simhala. During the voyage the ship was wrecked in the sea. He, therefore, abandoned me, thinking me to be inauspicious." The merchant was impressed by her story and promised to help her. He accosted Simhala and blamed him for having deserted an innocent girl. Simhala then told him that she was a rakshasi. From Jambudvipa Simhala returned to Simhakalpa. The rakshasi followed him there also. In Simhala's absence from the house she approached the father of Simhala. She looked extremely bewitching. Besides, she carried with her a very handsome child, greatly resembling Simhala. She told Simhala's father the same old story. When Simhala came back home, his parents requested him to forgive his wife. Simhala then revealed the true nature of the 'innocent young girl.'

    At this stage, the rakshasi approached the king of Simhakalpa, Simhakesari. On repeating her old story the king sent for Simhala. Simhala told the king who she was and requested him to expel her. But the king was completely fascinated by her beauty and said to Simhala, "If you do not want her, give her to me." "She is a rakshasi, therefore, I will not give her to you, but I will also not prevent you from taking her," said Simhala. The king was delighted and admitted her to his harem.

    The result of the king's folly was disastrous. The rakshasi administered sleeping doses to the king and everybody else in the harem. She then invited her rakshasi friends to come and join in the feast. She told them that they should stop clamouring for Simhala because instead of giving them one, she was giving them so may. The rakshasis, highly pleased, entered the palace and devoured the king and his family.

    In the morning when people came to the palace, they were shocked by the presence of vultures in the place. When Simhala came to know of this, he guessed what must have happened. He told the people how he had warned the king against admitting a rakshasi to the palace and how he had ignored the advice. He then asked the army and the people to join him in driving out the rakshasis. He took out his sword and led them all by scaling the palace wall first. On the approach of Simhala and the army, the rakshasis ran away in fright. Then he searched the entire palace for a trace of the royal family, but none could be found.

    The ministers of the king decided to offer the crown to Simhala. They consulted the people about their choice, who unanimously agreed with them. The crown was then offered to Simhala who accepted it on the condition that the people would obey him without question. On assuming the throne, he rasied a powerful army and invaded Tamradvipa. When king Simhala with his army marched upon Tamradvipa, the rakshasis surrendered to him and agreed to leave the island. The island was then colonized by Simhala and was called Simhaladvipa after him.

    Indian Folk Painting Traditions

    Two traditions have existed in Indian painting- 'Classical' rooted in ancient Silpa texts that flourished under the patronage of royal courts and 'Vernacular' or the folk painting that originated from the tradition and beliefs of the societies, primarily rural and tribal societies. In classical arts you have the painted murals and the miniature paintings and there existed great schools with artisan community and their guilds. Whereas in case of folk painting the whole process is a ritual act and is passed from one generation to another. They decorate their houses with painting on walls and floors.

    If classical paintings or temple-arts provide records of the kings and their kingdoms, their lives, their beliefs and their Gods and Goddesses, folk paintings are the records of the lives of the common people, their myths and legends, their Gods and Goddesses. In India, parallel to classical culture that supported Brahminical philosophy and orthodox folk culture have existed accepting all and supporting liberal views. Their prime concerns were with rain and crops and struggles with nature and their belief in life has to be appreciated and enjoyed rather than speculated. Their love for life clearly comes through in their paintings that are vibrant and colourful.

    Festivals and fairs have been occasions when the whole village used to come together and celebrate collectively. In painting itself, the participation of the whole community has been important. Most traditional Indian paintings are executed by a number of painters rather than one. The collectively inherited vision and skill are collectively transformed into a work of art.

    Some of the prominent painting traditions under this culture have been The Pithoro paintings of the Rathvas of Gujarat, The Warli paintings of Maharashtra, Madhubani paintings of the Mithila region of Bihar, the Phards of Rajasthan, Cherial of Andhra Pradesh and the Pat paintings of West Bengal.

    Rathavas are an important community of the Panchmahals and Baroda districts. The folk painting tradition of the Rathvas is to install on the walls of their houses the myth of creation and Pithoro, the most respected God connected with protection and welfare. Several painters, but only men paint Pithoro. When they paint, a group of two or three singers continuously recite the myth of creation, Pithoro and Indi Raja. After the completion of painting, another ritual of approval comes where the badva possessed by Pithoro in trance examines the painting in detail. After his sanction is granted, a goat sacrifice is made to the painting, which leads to its consecration.

    The Warli tribe dwells mainly in the forests of the Sahyadri Mountains in Thane district of Maharashtra. The name Warli comes from the word "Waral", which means a piece of land or a field. Farming is the main source of livelihood for Warlis. The paintings are considered sacred and without it the marriage ceremony cannot take place. Their paintings are done in celebration of weddings and are a stylized depiction of the life and activities of the tribe. Warli paintings are quite different from other folk paintings as in others bright primary colours are used in abundance. Instead here they are painted in white on brown or brick red mud base.

    The art of Madhubani painting is the traditional style developed in the Mithila region, in the villages around Madhubani, Bihar. Their paintings were traditionally done by only women and are basically of a religious nature. They are done in the special rooms in their homes (in the pooja room, ritual area, bridal room), on the main village walls, etc., for ceremonial or ritualistic purpose. The women offer sincere prayers to the deity before starting the work. The motifs are from nature and mythology. Hindu deities and scenes from Ramayana are very popular.

    The long scrolls known as 'phards' are prepared by Joshis attached to the temple at Shahpura in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan. They depict scenes from the lives of legendary heroes worshipped by people. These 'phards' are then taken by the devcotees called Bhopas who move from one village to another singing the story and pointing out the scenes painted on the 'phard'.

    The scroll painting tradition from Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, is also known as Cherial scroll painting It illustrates the origin of a particular community and tells stories of their deities, demons and heroes. Nakashi Venkataramaiah's family is perhaps the only family in the Cherial village to pursue this art form. Once upon a time, the Nakashis painted long long stories in the form of scrolls. They used to be in great demand among storytellers earlier. These storytellers displayed the scrolls prepared by Nakashis accompanied by music and dance from village to village.

    Pata Painting (Patachitra) a traditional art form of West Bengal is characterised by religious and social motifs and imageries. Pata is a Bangla word evolved from the Sanskrit patta meaning cloth. The exact origin of this art form is not known. `Even the stories of the origin of their community are not clear. Patuas are muslims but they have Hindu names and they depict stories of the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas. The common surname chitrakar signifies their profession.The paintings are known as pats and the stories are narrated through songs as the pats are displayed to the audience.

    All these folk traditions of paintings are now held in low esteem owing to rapid urbanization. Most of these people are taking to other professions like working as labourers and their art is coming to the point of extinction. Today there is an urgent need to encourage and preserve the paintings.

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