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Sahitya Akademi

A Comparative Study of Folk Tales of UP Tribes and European Fairy Tales


Author(s): Seemin Hasan
Source: Indian Literature, Vol. 53, No. 2 (250) (March/April 2009), pp. 202-208
Published by: Sahitya Akademi
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A Comparative Study of Folk


Tales of UP Tribes and
Fairy Tales

European

Seem in Hasan

telling, a distinguishing proclivity of the human race, is as old


as time itself. The birth of mankind, the birth of speech and the
Story
birth of stories were simultaneous events. In primeval times, storytelling
was

an

simply

Maneuvering
an

created

expressions,

listeners.

The
fosters

tradition

that

with

the

audience,
the

oral tradition represents


and

compassion

to all societies.

All

on

depend

into

and
the

soaked

an

tale,

in the
the

modifying
co-authors

of

It
the

oral

is

the

for the

messages.

tales

to

suit

stories.

history and
common

phenomenon

tradition

audience.

the narrator

a repository of universal

humanitarianism.

cultures

narrator

audiences

became

thus,

suggestions

the spell-bound

conversed

Listeners,

involved
and

gestures
and

experience
often

Narrators
the

oral

maintenance

of continuity. The oral genres transmit a primordial, pristine vision. They


validate
and

of

aspects

tradition

are

culture

and

provide
The

challenged.

oral

rationalization
genres

include

when
a variety

conventions
of

forms

such as epics, myths, legends, folktales, fairytales, fables, proverbs, riddles,


songs and jokes. Folklore encourages group cohesion or the 'sense of
belonging'. The element of fantasy provides a compensation for something
lacking in reality. The didactic element of folklore often educates. It may
highlight the history or geography of a region, teach social norms such
as perseverance, honesty and truth; and even answer curiosity questions.
Reynold Price an American
award,

once

novelist and recipient of the William Faulkner

commented:

need

to tell and

Homosapiens

hear

stories

second

in

is essential
necessity

to the species
apparently

after

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nourishment
survive

and

without

the

opposite

the

sound

of

home,
leads

is the

accounts

incommunicable

love

or

silence

of story

the small

from

before

love

and

shelter.

almost

none

dominant
of

constructs

to

quickly
our
of

silence,

narrative,

and

of our

lives,

sound

day's

Millions
in

events

to the vast

psychopaths.

Academic

interest in the study of folklore developed in mid-nineteenth


century as part of the ideology of Romantic nationalism propagated by
Herder. The publication of Children's and Household Tales by the German
philologists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812 heralded a revolution.
of enchanting tales were produced by Andrew Lang and Hans
Christian Anderson. The Grimm brothers noted the parallels in themes,
Collections

plots

and

characters

between

anthropologists

discovered

those

continents.

of

other

German

and

other

similarities between

tales.

European

Later

folktales

European

and

The Grimm brothers invited storytellers home and transcribed what


heard.
The storytellers included peasants, middle-class housewives and
they
even

sometimes

aristocrats

who

narrated

tales

that

dealt

with

medley

of fantastic creatures. The editions that followed contained


explanations,
as

serious

step

annotations

research.

Thus,

and classifications
the

Grimm

scholarly notes,
and were meant to be treated

brothers

took

the

first

essential

a modern, systematic study of folklore.


Grimm brothers introduced the concept of a common Indo
origin for all folktales. Theodore Benfey, a German philologist,

towards
The

European
and William

Clouston, a Scottish writer, claimed that travellers to and


from India told and retold and diffused stories. Further
reshaping leading
to modern ideological goals was achieved by the publication of Sir
James
the theory that
George Frazer's The Golden Bough (1890). He propounded

folktales represent ritual based and religious truths. Joseph


Campbell in
The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949), on the other hand, found
archetypal
and psychological interpretations. The German scholar Max Muller said

that folktales originated when Sanskrit and other ancient


languages began
to deteriorate. Andrew Lang contradicted the
theory and claimed that
myths, legends, and folktales are part of the evolutionary processes. Jung
identified apprehension
and integration of deep forces and motivations
human
behaviour
as the significant factor behind dreams, folklore
underlying
and

mythology.
Initially, oral literature survived only through the memory. Folklore
studies in modern times treat oral literature as a site of
compromise
between the remote past and post-colonial

present. Oral narratives nurture


Seemin Hasan

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/ 203

a sense of identity for communities


traditions

as

serve

of

catalysts

struggling to define themselves.


within

change

such

societies

and

Oral

encourage

the comprehension
of such transformations. Scholars like John D. Niles,
author of Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral "Literature
1999) talk about the artificiality of the distinction between
(Philadelphia,
the 'oral' nature of less familiar folktales and their status as literature and
the assigning of a greater degree of authority to European
They consider this a detriment to true appreciation.
Folklore

studies in India in the colonial

as well as Indians.

Orientalists

Literature of Bengal (1920)


To

of

those

a pleasing
and

readings
Tales...

by

any

are

the

means

the west,

translations
like

our

from

early
Fairy

Kingdom

were

Persian

who

Vanchatantra

fables

our

of the

of Europe

of

from
Gulf

the
and

the
transported
before
long

or

or

Hitopadesa

were

Pilpai

as

scenes

Anderson's

sailed

those

ports

the

of

us

Hans

which

ships

with

to far away

it comes

of India,

of the Middle

the ports

to

to

Tales and

the

they travelled,

translations

from

familiar

tales

of

of Bengal

that thus

come

which

merchandize,

Gourlay

to find in the folktales

Grimm's Fairy

possibly

carried
coasts

who

surprise
of

period were conducted by


in the Preface to The Folk

wrote:

us

incidents

WR.

collections.

known.

The University of Calcutta nominated Research Fellows to undertake folk


studies. Scholars located the connections of India in different European
works. In Boseching's
Volk-Sagen, in a tale entitled The Frog Bride, King
Arthur desires cloth so fine 'That I can draw it through my golden ring'
His porter produces a length of cloth which he claims he brought from
'India

the

Great

and

India

the

Lesser.'

Parallels

were

also

drawn

between

boatmen's
This

songs and nursery rhymes, Indian lori and western lullabies.


resulted in abundance of literature on Indo-European
folklore and

also on life and civilization


burden

of the white

The
the

the primar)'

tribes of India

In pre-colonial
of

of the natives which had been

man.

unknown

found no place in all the illustrious treatises.


the
adivasis or tribal people were notionally part
times,
frontier

of

the

states

respective

where

the

rule

of

the

king did not extend. In 1793, the establishment of the Zamindari system
brought vast territories including adivasi lands under the control of feudal
lords
were

for the purpose


rendered

homeless

of revenue
and

relegated

collection
to

the

by the British. The

tribes

bottom

social

rung

ladder.
204

/ Indian Literature: 250

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of

the

tribes had already been excluded from die chaturvarna system.


In the early years of the colonial rule, a number of these tribes were
The

upon as born criminals. They


were hounded from village to village, starved of civic amenities, deprived
of livelihood
and possessed
with the fear of persecution.
In post-Independence
India, scheduled tribes, as they are called for
branded

'criminal tribes' and were looked

purposes, are put into a variety of social categories that


are neither analogous nor comparable. They are found living in the relative
isolation of the hills and the forests. Their treasure of memory, their
administrative

only inheritance

them with a comprehensive


cultural ethos that
institutions, beliefs, rituals and folklore.
provides

incorporates
The text used

for the comparative analysis is a volume of tribal


folktales collected direcdy from the storytellers and translated into English.
The volume entitied Folktales of UP Tribes deals with tribes living in three
areas. The Rajis, Bhotias and Jaunsaris live in the Himalayan
and the Buxas in the Tarai - Bhabar tract and the

geographical
region. The

Tharus

Bhuniya, Ghasis, Gonds,


Mirzapur district.

Kharwar,

Panika, Pathari and Saharija

Kols,

in

The

mentioned above have a patriarchal and


primitive people
social
order.
freedom in
However, women have considerable
patrilineal
matters
marrying

of

divorce

separation,
two

or

more

and

brothers

remarriage.
is

still

The

prevalent.

of

custom
Some

of

a woman

the

smaller

tribes like the Rajis and the Korwa are still at the food gathering stage.
Those in more advanced stages of evolution like Tharus and Buxas have
taken to agriculture. The Bhotias carry on trade with Tibet and weave
carpets.

However,

large

is

percentage

landless.

All these tribes love singing, dancing and story telling. Storytelling
is, infact, considered a fine art. A Tharu storyteller begins his story in
the

manner:

following
Talk

within

Mischief
The

talk

Nor

is

talk

is

neither

false

it sweet

The

teller

But

the

Queens
Of

talk

in

those

gets

will

the

mothers-in-law

be

who

One-eyed

are

Of

who

those

merit

gets

listener

listen
the

reward

to

this

tale

mothers-in-law

ignore

this

tale

Seemin Hasan

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/ 205

Tribal folktales, like European fairy tales, appeal to the imagination. They
are rich in themes, symbols and imagery. They project that struggles in
life

are

unavoidable

if

but

one

perseveres

the

against

and

unexpected

unjust hardships one can be a winner. They also provide channels for
dreams and hopes.
In both collections, time is set as an introduction as 'Long, long
...'
or 'once upon a time ...' Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and
ago
Gretel, The Frog Prince, etc. begin with either stock phrase. In the tribal
Two Brave Bojs (Bhotia), The Role of Kismet (Buxa), The Miracle
of the Golden Tank (Tharu) The Arrangement that Tailed (Kol) commence
collection
in

the

same

The

manner.

of

lack

date

in

emphasizes,

both

cases,

the

timeless universality of the tales. The locations in both cases are generalized.
Snow White lives in a palace; Anderson's Hansel and Gretel
live in a hut; and Rumplestiltskin lives in a forest. In the Rope of Ash
Grimm's

the king of Ajab Desh lives in a palace; the kisan in And the whole
Village Perished (Bhotia) lives in a hut; and Hintu of How Hintu Became
King of Indrasan (Tharu) lived in the forest. The remoteness of the locations
Gajab

once again highlighted the parallels. In all stories, the characters are
introduced and action is started right away. Plots are exciting, swift moving,
with lots of suspense and conflict. Though magic is frequently used, the
are
plot is usually logical and plausible within the setting. Conclusions
extremely satisfying. The tales appease the sense of justice and morality
the

because

are

good

Thematic

rewarded

and

the

bad

are

punished.

similarities can be discerned in numerous

tales. The theme

a giant in conflict with an ordinary boy appears in Grimm's The


Spirit in a Bottle and also in the Tharu folktale The Clever Boj and the
of

Demon.
himself

The

hero

from

in

both

the

dangerous

tales

situation.

is

to

required
Both

stories

use
play

his

wits
out

the

to

extricate
theme

of

the intellect being superior to muscle power. The daughters in A Midnight


Feast (Buxa) are ousted by their poor parents like Anderson's Hansel and
Gretel. Whereas Hansel and Gretel used pieces of bread to chalk the
homeward

route,

the

seven

daughters

of

the

Brahman

use

pua

an

Indian

delicacy.
Talking beasts and inanimate objects are found in both collections.
Cunning jackals, malicious wolves, hardworking horses, lazy donkeys, simple
sheep, helpful birds, industrious ants, moralizing stones and pebbles crowd
through the pages of volumes like Charles Perrault's Mother Goose Tales
Hans Christian Anderson's Fairy Tales Told For Children and Andrew Lang's
The Blue Fairy Book. Characters like sailors and soldiers, women stolen
from their tribes, captives of war, traders and merchants, minstrels, bards,
206 / Indian Literature: 250

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robbers,

and

peasants
and

Stepmothers

priest

witches

are divided
in

feature

clearly into

number

of

good

and

evil.

stories.

A Jaunsari folktale A Wicked Tiger narrates the story of a sheep


who had a beautiful kid. She made a hut out of straw and securing
the kid, went out to graze. She warned die kid not to open the door
without

confirming that his mother was at the door. A trickster tiger


persuaded the kid to open the door and made a meal of it. The sheep
found the kid missing and wept hard and went away. In Grimm's counter
part entitled The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids, the role of the tiger is

played by a wolf and that of the sheep by a goat. The kids, too, are
seven in number and they give the wolf a harder time. Eventually, he
succeeds in fooling them and swallows them whole. The
goat, much
more

than

enterprising

the

slits

sheep,

open

the

wolf's

stomach,

rescues

her kids and finally pushes him down a well. The contrast is
probably
the outcome of the variant perceptions of the colonizer and the
oppressed.

The

striking analogies between the two folklore groups highlight ethical


similarities. These stories also have their match in Aesop's Fables, Teutonic
folklore and also Arab and Persian folklore. In all these cases, the
original

stories

be

may

altered

to

ending may be changed


The Indo-European

some

characters

degree,

but the ethos

may

remains

be

changed,

the

the same.

or Aryan Myth theory promotes the belief


from the myths of the Indo-Europeans
or
descended
from
Aryans. Since all European
languages
Indo-European
sources, possibly many folk elements have also descended
alongside.
Sociologists however, give another explanation. They believe that people
everywhere, at a given stage of evolution, have the same experiences
that all folktales descended

and

hence

our

unconscious

tell

the

same
needs

stories.
and

Freud

claims

that

folktales

arose

from

desires.

In the case of tribes, their marginalization resulted in the need to


create a sense of communal solidarity
through oral literature. As the Kols
of

Banda

Neither
Nor

recite

the

the

to

story

listener

Storytelling
And

at

is

teach

to
a

is

the

teller

is

at

fault

while

conclusion

at

away

of

story

session:

fault

time

moral.

Bibliography
1.

V.

Raghavia,

Tribes

of

India,

(Bhartiya

Adamjati

Sevak

Sangh,

Madras,

Seemin Hasan

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2.

Rai

Sahab

Dinesh
N.

Corporation,
3.

S.C.

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Susan

Dube,

Tribal

S. Wadley,

Delhi 2005).
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Dilip

D'Souza,

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Hasan

Gurgaon,

&

Chandra
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Seemin

Hasan,

Folktales

Publishing
Folk

Books,
of

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Traditions

U.P.

New
Tribes

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(Chronicle

Delhi,
(The

1982).

Websites
www.grimmfairytales.com
www.andersonfairytales.com
www.cln.org/themes/fairytales.html

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Delhi,
Books,

1977).
New

2001).
Academic

Press,