Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Folklore of Bengal

By the word 'folk-lore' a folklorist means myths, legends, folktales, proverbs, riddles, folk verses, folk beliefs, folk superstitions, customs, folk drama, folk song, folk music, folk dance, ballads, folk cults, folk gods and goddesses, rituals, festivals, magic, witchcraft, folk art and craft, and variety of forms of artistic expression of oral culture or rural and tribal folks or unlettered city dwellers that bind man to man. Most of the people from the rural Bengal are guided by the above mentioned attributes. Unfortunately, those are not available in written form. Details of all those can be available in the memories of the people.
In Bengali we do not get any narrative poems other than those celebrating the activities of deities or deified heros until we come to seventeenth century. The framework of these religious poems of Bengal has affinity with the romantic narrative poems of western Indo-Aryan. The common features are
(i) salutation to Ganesh, the god of success; to Saraswati, the goddess of learning and to other deities at the beginning, followed by some account of the poet himself;
(ii) the hero and the heroine presented as incarnations of Vishnu or of a semi-divine couple temporarily under course;
(iii) description of town, kings, courts etc;
(iv) description of lovers' pleasures, and pains in each of the 12 months of the year (Baramasya).
Before they took the written form, these tales were recited by the professional storytellers (called Kathaks, Vachaks) attached to courts of the ruler.

Several local folk cults hitherto confined to outlying regions were now claiming attention. The person who took up the task of elevating the folktales and songs connected with these cults into class of 'Mangal' poetry was a Kayastha by caste, Krishnadas by name. He lived in a village about four miles to the north of Calcutta. His first work Kalikamangal, really a version of story of Vidya Sundar, was written in 1676 when he was only 20 years of age. The second poem Sasthi Mangal was written three years later, 1679 and the third poem Raymangal in 1686 which continued to be written by others also.

In the later half of the eighteen century quite a number of poets all belonging to South-West RaDha, wrote Sitalamangal poem of various sizes. One of them was Manickram Ganguli, the author of Dharmamangal poems. The biggest work of the genre was written by Nityananda Chakravarty who belonged to South-East Midnapur, his work enjoyed high popularity.

The tradition of the Pirs of Bengal has its origin in thirteenth century. A few writers took up folktales to illustrate the might of Satya-Pir. A north Bengal writer Krishnaharidas, who wrote the biggest poem of the genre at the instance of the Muslim landlord, exploited local traditional lore. But majority of them wrote very small poems using the same story that was obviously modelled as per the inspiring episode of Chandimangal and Manasamangal poetry.
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