After centuries of neglect and repression, the common man has been conscious of his rights and dignity as a human being. All the world over, the labourer s in the factory and the cultivators in the field have realised that they are not mere tools of production the benefits of which are enjoyed by the entrepreneur and the land- owner. They feel that they have also a share in the national wealth, they have also the same right, the same privilege as those of the rich people in the matter of electing their representative in political institutions. Monarchy has virtually vanished. Dictatorship is on the wane.
Women have, for ages, been relegated to a lower position not only in India but also in other oriental and occidental countries. They have also been conscious of their ability. The accident of sex is no longer a bar to their occupying their rightful places in social and national life.
The present resurgence of the common man as also of the woman naturally leads to the enquiry about their position in ancient society and to seek the causes of their repression. The present is a continuity or the past. We propose to examine the different aspects of the life of the common people in ancient India. A study of this subject has been a desideratum for comprehensive sociogical account of the India of the far-off ages. No serious attemps has as yet been made in this direction. The author of the present work has already made an exhaustive study of the folklore in Sanskrit literature. While going through different Sanskrit works for this purpose, it occurred to him that considerable material of this nature might be available in Middle Indo-Aryan literature too. The result of his investigations into that literature is being presented in the following pages.
There is a fundamental difference between the circumstances and the environment in which Sanskrit literature and Middle Indo- Aryan literature developed. Barring the early Vedic literature, Sanskrit works were by and large written in the cloistered seclusion of highly intellectual people and in the security and ease of royal courts. While some works aimed at the edification of the people in general, the bulk of this literature was written for depicting court-life or for catering to the cultured taste of the connoisseur.
The Middle Indo-Aryan literature, comprising works in Pali, Prakrit and Apabhramsa, has a different story to tell. The bulk of Pali literature is devoted to the philosophy of Buddhism and the rules of discipline. The people, for whom these works were composed, were both monks and lay devotees. Many of the Pali works seek to inculcate moral and ethical lessons; they point out the frailties of men and women and suggest remedies for overcoming them. The Jatakas, of which we have a large number, tell tales, fables and Parables in a very popular manner. Their aim is to impress upon the people that sincere effort and exertion can sublimate them, and lead them to the higher goal. Thus, it is natural that the Pali works should contain much that relates to the life of the common people.
Works in Prakrit and Apabhramsa seek the propagation of the Jaina doetrine through popular narratives. Some of the works portray aspects of common life, e.g. lave, lust, the evil effects of human propensities etc. Thus, works in these two languages too are not Jacking in materials concerning life at the level of grassroots.
The plan of our study is as follows. First of all, we have dealt with Middle Indo-Aryan languages and the works written in them. Then an attempt has been made to show the historical setting against which Middle Indo-Aryan literature was born ann nourished. It is necessary for a proper assessment of this literature. The main study has been divided into several heads corresponding to the different facets of the life of the common people.
We have confined ourselves to the literary and philorpaical works alone leaving out inscriptions. The epigraphically and social history has been studied by competent scholars.
At the end, we have given a glossary of some important technical terms used in this literature, which have a bearing on the subject of our study.
It cannot be asserted that we have fully utilised all the textual material scattered over the vast literature. It is, however, expected that no important information has been left out, and no significant material relating to folk-Me has been omitted. The readers are requested to draw the attention of the author to further light that may be available in this regard.
The author's labour will be amply rewarded if the present study opens up a new vista in the study of Middle Indo-Aryan literature.
The author takes this opportunity to express his gratitude to the authors of works on this literature. The following works deserve special mention; A History of Indian Literature, Vol. ii, by Winternitz, A History of reu Literature, Vols. i, ii, by B.C. Law, Early Monastic Buddhism, Vols, i, ii, by N. Dutt, Bengali translation of Jatakas by I. Ghosh and Hala's Gatha-saptasati, edited and translated into Bengali by R.C. Basak.
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