Folk Narratives: Rituals and Performances reflects the world-view of the traditional societies and it is considered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of a Particular community or society. This study investigates the culture, in a Particular sociocultural context, of the multifaceted Tamil society through numerous rituals, offerings vows, customs, practise, belief systems, performing folk arts, fairs and festivals, dance and music, material culture, etc. Which are deeply rooted in their cultural moorings, and practised and closely associated with the folk religion, life-cycle ceremonies and social psychology.
This illustrative monograph systematically documents, investigates and discusses different aspects of ICH of Tamil Nadu-children’s folklore, proverbs, material folk culture, oral narratives, folk gods and goddesses, and ritual practices. A number of colourful photographs enable one to grasp the rich cultural heritage Tamil Nadu at ease.
The monograph will be of interest to scholars and researchers across humanities and social sciences especially those in folklore, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, religion, ritual studies, art and performance studies. It will also appeal to the general reader.
S. Simon John has a Masters and PhD in Folklore. Presently he is working as an Associate Professor in Arunachal Institute of Tribal Studies, Rajiv Gandhi University, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh. He has earlier worked in Anthropological Survey for India (Kolkata and Mysore) for ten years and undertaken extensive research projects on folk cultural practices of Tamil Nadu. Later he joined as an Associate Professor at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi and initiated several national research projects and organizes a number of national and international programmes. He has completed a number of research project in collaboration with national institutions and published series of research papers in English and four books in Tamil. The honourable President of India has conferred on him the Young Classical Tamil Scholar Award for the Young Classical Tamil Scholar Award for the year 2007-08.
The notion of documenting, safeguarding and disseminating the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) has derived serious attention of social science scholars, cultural activists and states particularly after the UNESCO convention for safeguarding of the ICH which was held in 2003. UNESCO stated that ICH, also known as "living heritage", refers to the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills transmitted by communities from generation to generation. It provides these communities with a sense of identity and continuity, while promoting creativity and social well-being, contributing to the management of the natural and social environment and generating income. Much of what is called traditional or indigenous knowledge is, or can be, integrated into health care, education and management of the natural resource systems. ICH includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts. The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next.
The chief characteristic features of ICH include the following.
1. It is traditional, contemporary and living at the same time. ICH represents not only inherited traditions from the past, but also contemporary rural and urban practices in which diverse cultural groups take part.
2. It is inclusive. We may share expressions of ICH that are similar to those practised by others, whether they are from the neighbouring village, from a city on the opposite side of the world, or have been adapted by peoples who have migrated and settled in a different region. All these have been passed from one generation to another, evolved in response to their environments, and contributed to giving us a sense of identity and continuity, providing a link from the past, through the present, and into our future. ICH does not give rise to questions of whether or not certain practices are specific to a culture. It contributes to social cohesion, encouraging a sense of identity and responsibility, which helps individuals to become part of one or different communities, and to feel as part of society at large.
3. It is representative. ICH is not merely valued as a cultural good, on a comparative basis, for its exclusivity or its exceptional value. It thrives on its basis in communities and depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills and customs are passed on to the rest of the community, from generation to generation, or to other communities.
4. It is community-based. ICH can only be heritage when it is recognized as such by the communities, groups or individuals that create, maintain and transmit it. Without their recognition, nobody can decide for them that a given expression or practice is their heritage.
Most of the components or characteristics of ICH as defined by UNESCO is an integral part of folklore studies and therefore the initative towards the subject matter began much before the UNESCO convention. In 1812 the German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm commenced publishing influential volumes of oral folk narratives and interpretations of German mythology which was inspired by many scholars and brought them into the field of folklore collection. Philologists during the early nineteenth century started collecting large amount of cultural materials of many genres like fairy tales, oral epics, folk games, riddles, proverbs, arts and crafts from all over Europe. In 1846, an English antiquarian, William John Thorns suggesting a new word "folklore" and the new term caught on and proved its value in defining a new area of knowledge and subject of inquiry. Several scholars have tried to define folklore in different ways and therefore there are a number of definitions. Alan Dundes (1965:2) asserts that the term "folk" can refer to any group of people who share at least one common factor. It does not matter what the linking factor is. It could be a common occupation, language, or religion-but what is important is that a group has some traditions that it calls its own. Richard M. Dorson (1972:1) states that folklore emerged as a new field of learning in the nineteenth century, when antiquarians in England and philologists in Germany began to look closely at the ways of the lower classes. The word used to denote this subject was Volkskunde. Dan Ben Amos (1971:13) defines folklore as an artistic communication of small groups and George H. Schoemaker (1990) classifies folklore into verbal folklore and non-verbal folklore. Dell Hymes (1971:50) states that oral narratives are a form of communication which uses words in speech in a highly stylized, artistic way. The distinction between the artistic use of words and ordinary or scientific usage is not always clear-cut. The starting point for demarcation, of course, is the conceptualization of linguistic forms by the members of a culture. The more stylized speech forms in a culture are usually differentiated by linguistic labels. These are the labelled verbal genres which the analyst typically glosses as "myth", "folk tale", "legend", "song", "proverb", etc. However, because all speech can be viewed in terms of artistic and expressive qualities, oral literature is best understood as "the more highly organized, more expressive end" of a continuum between a stylistic and referential dimension. Linda Kinsey Adams (1990:23) states that "narratives can be told, written, sung, acted out, danced or performed in many other ways". Oral narratives, i.e. myths, legends, tales and songs, are expressed, not only in symbolic words, but also in symbolic acts like rituals and rites, and dance and drama. William Bascom (1965) defines myths as tales believed to be true, usually sacred, set in the distant past or other worlds or parts of the world, and with extra-human, non-human, or heroic characters.
Dorson (1972:2) classifies folklore into oral literature, customs and practices, performing folk arts and material culture. This basic classification of folklore helps us to understand the nature and characteristics of various genres. However, in Indian context particularly in Tamil Nadu, these genres cannot be treated as an independent element, and instead they are interdependent in nature. For instance, oral narratives such as myths, legends and epics are enacted in rituals through various performances, mourning songs are performed in funerals, customs and beliefs are also associated with material culture and agriculture, and many performing folk arts are considered as rituals in religious and life-cycle practices. Therefore, the various genres of folklore should be studied in a holistic way along with the sociocultural context in which they exist.
Thus it is clear that the study of folklore includes myths, epics, legends, riddles, narratives, proverbs, lullabies, lamentations, tongue twisters, anecdotes, songs, jokes, life-cycle ceremonies, plays, pastimes, rituals, customs, practices, dance, music, theatre, fairs, festivals, material culture, etc. that are orally or aurally transmitted from generation to generation. The works of early philologists mostly dealt with collection of "text" but later in due course of time when folklore developed as an academic discipline, the attention of folklorists and social anthropologists was given to the sociocultural context in which a particular genre exists because the meanings or functions of any genre of folklore or ICH are greatly determined by the cultural contexts in which they occur.
The importance of cultural context for the study of oral narratives is explained by Bronislaw Malinowski's (1954: 146) classic study of Trobriand oral literature. He stated that the advantages of studying oral literary forms lay not in their "flat existence on paper" but in "the three-dimensional reality of full life". Malinowski's (1965: 104) concept of the "sociological context" of oral literature provided an important methodological principle for later anthropological study of these forms. Besides the general notion of the sociological context, Malinowski created a more precise concept, "context of situation", for analysing language use. The "context of situation" refers to the total setting of an utterance, including linguistic, paralinguistic and kinesics; physical and social setting; and cultural assumptions. In this theory of meaning, the unit of analysis is not the word or sentence abstracted from usage; rather, it is "the full utterance within its context of situation". Malinowski's principle states that the "text, of course, is extremely important, but without the context it remains lifeless".
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