Folk Tales From India

Essay, 2011

5 Pages

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Folk tales from India


From the beginning of human civilization, primitive human ancestors used to live in the deep jungle and were amiably nurtured by the nature. The degree of their association with the nature signifies the status of change from a rural to urban society. Tribal people form an important component of the natural ecosystem in which they are in a multiplex relationship among population within their habitat. The history of human development starts from their intimate association with the nature since time immemorial. The tribal way of life is very much dictated by the nature right from the birth to death. The nature is not only their home, but also they always like and live in harmony with nature. Most of the tribes living in forests, hills, and mountains are practicing simple mode of production and have socio-political structure and religious system of their own which revolves round the surrounding natural ecosystem. India is one of the 12 mega diversity countries in the world based on species rarity and endemism. Northeastern part of India has multifaceted potential too. The region has an interesting socio-cultural ethnic and linguistic diversity, with more than 200 dominant tribes and many sub-tribes that reflect the complex social structure. Arunachal Pradesh in the Eastern Himalaya is among the 200 globally important eco-regions.


Since 1947, Arunachal was a part of the North East Frontier Agency and was later made a Union Territory. It was made a full fledged state on 1987. In recent times, Arunachal’s tribal society and traditional culture has undergone rapid transformation since India's Independence. It is a place where life and legend intertwine (Mamang Dai). However, it is a society dominated by age-old customs and beliefs. The history of Arunachal Pradesh is a virtual treasure trove of myths and fascinating traditions, but the recorded history of this state is available from the 16th century onwards from the times of the Tais of Burma and Thailand. The Tais are one of the most numerous people in the vast tract of the continent of Asia. They are found in innumerable groups and sub groups under various local names. The Assam branch of the Tai, whose kings ruled in the Brahmaputra valley, is known by local name ‘Ahom’. Besides the Ahoms, there are several other groups of Tai people as Khamti, Phake, Aiton, Turung, Khamyang, who came to this valley at later periods and made their settlements in various places of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Tai people of Arunachal Pradesh are a branch of the great Tai family South-east Asia, China, Myanmar and Thailand. They have an age old culture and art tradition.

Most of the people living in Arunachal Pradesh are either of Tibetan or Thai - Burmese origin. Presently, the people of Arunachal are divided into some cultural groups on the basis of their socio-religious affinities. Some of these groups are the Monpas and Sherdukpens. Culturally similar to them are Membas and Khambas who live in the high mountains along the northern borders. Another group includes the Adis, Akas, Apatanis, Bangnis, Nishis, Mishmis, Mijis, Thongsas etc., who worship Sun and Moon God namely, Donyi-Polo and Abo-Tani, the original ancestors for most of these tribes. Their religious rituals largely coincide with phases of agricultural cycles. They invoke nature deities and make animal sacrifices. The major languages are Adi, Nishi, Monpa and others.

There are 26 major different tribes in Arunachal. They have sub-groups and speak various languages and dialects. Language which is the medium of expression actually silently passes on from one generation to another. It is the most important phenomenon we perform. Language is one's total upbringing. Language in a country is said to controls its culture. The oral tradition in literature of Arunachal too finds vehicle in the language. Ethnicity and ethnic identity of these parts of the nation could have been difficult to define and apprehend if there were no oral literatures of the past.

Arunachal however finds an earlier place in the importance of India. It finds mention in the literature of the Kalika Purana and Mahabharata as the Prabhu mountains of the Puranas. More explicitly, there is the Buddhist literature intermingled with Arunachal. Folk literature of Arunachal exists side by side with Buddhist literatures. The folk literature of this state deals with very old stories of creation myths which have come from the Tais. There may be some variations in the names of the myths from with other Tais of Asia. But the spirit of all these creation myths seems to be same.

It proves that folk tradition implies some kind of collectivity as it is a shared experience, common to more than one person. Although, the history of folklore studies began in the 19th century, one can trace its roots back even further. According to Max Muller, it is said that all races find their origin in certain basic tribes. Hence, we can determine how folk speech and utterances had some common generic roots. This is similarly acknowledged by the migrant Tais in India with the Tais in other parts of Asia.

Again, each folktale of Arunachal may belong to one specific tribe. These stories may have have originated from the Tirap valley where the Tangsa tribe mostly lives. Other tribes famous for folk tales are the Singhpos. Sherdukpens too have their own tales. Dr. Verrier Elwin an anthropologist is one of the first to collect folklores of Arunachal in the 1950s. Some of the stories of the tales of the Arunachal are ‘The Fable of the Sun’, ‘How Lightning Began’, ‘How Water Came’, ‘Birth of the Tiger’, and ‘How the Bees Came into the World’ (B.K. Borgohain). In ‘The Fable of the Sun’ there were Gods named Dainee, Dopoo, Podo and Payoo. There was nothing called night. They had no eyes and arms and getting food was unknown. To get food Dianee (Sun) had to be killed. Other Gods did not like killing of Sun and wanted Dianee back. After much request and conditions, it came back. They said to it ‘You can go wherever you like to go. You can eat whatever you will want to eat.’ So if a man dies in daytime, he is eaten by Sun, at night’s death, he is eaten by the Moon. In ‘How Lightning Began’ men and Gods lived together. God Daing had to borrow arrow from the man to kill Kayoom Chedi. Kayoom Chedi’s mother wailing is thunder, and lightning is the flash from her mourning eyes. Jealousy among Gods is interesting. It is found among men. Chedi is the most powerful of all Gods. In ‘How Water came’ feeding the duck with powder-rice by an unnamed man, made the God’s excreta for the man to follow and reach a spring for the whole world. The source of water is known in this way. There may be exaggeration in this folk story. There could have been no water without duck. It also looks like a make-believe story. In ‘Birth of the Tiger’ a beastlike son was born to a God couple (Goddess Peddoong and God Kaddong-Battey). He was sent to forests. The son came across Banji who fitted Chabbo’s (whom former killed) teeth in the boy’s mouth, to munch meat and drink blood. It was trait of a tiger. In another tale, ‘How the Bees Came into the World’ God Limir Chabbo looked like a bison. His excreta turned into bees. Another God named Dalling picked up the bees and put them on a tree with loin cloth. The bees built their nest sitting up on the hive and produced honey. The tale ‘The Fable of the Sun’ consists of satire and exposure of the nature of Gods. Jealousy can be traced back to have been inherited from Gods among folk tradition of Arunachal and Tais. As per Tai myths, Gods are said to have come down to live in earth with the help of the ladder. They had come to live with the human beings. Carnivalization of the deities can be said to have taken place in the mixing of lives of the Gods with human beings. Max Mueller is said to have pioneered the mythological school in folk literature. Jealousy reminds of the binary oppositions (J.A.Cuddon) of good and evil. Nature has been always a mystery to mankind. In the tales ‘How the Bees Came into the World’ and ‘How Water Came’ is shown how men try to simplify the origin of various aspect of nature by bringing in the intervention of the divine. Tigers are considered their brother by the Ramo tribe of Arunachal. The tale about the ‘Birth of the Tiger’ could be a reason for this restraint by this tribe. Where as, another tribe Tagins have no problem in eating or killing this animal in the same state. In the same tale, we may find archetypal trait in describing a tiger. Archetype is the product of ‘the collective unconscious.’ In these tales, there may or may not be present developed plots or characters. They simply aimed at highlighting some aspects of the social life of the communities. The short narratives look like abstractions of reality or social life. These folk tales also refers to human knowledge handed down and practiced by the words of mouth, from one generation to the next. Human memory plays very important role in this oral transmission. It is generally said to have originated in a non-literate society. However the folk tales of the Tais are found to have been timely written down in hand made paper and tree bark paper prepared traditionally by them. The tales of Arunachal shows that in a way, the human societies and natural systems are co-evolve whereby they interact so closely that each exerts a strong selective force on the other. Speed is another element of folk tales anywhere. In the stories of Arunachal too, it can be seen that these stories are narrated in similar fast way.

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Folk Tales From India
Assam University
PhD Research
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folk, tales, from, india
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Mumtaz Mazumdar (Author), 2011, Folk Tales From India, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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