Folk Tradition of Bengal (and Rabindranath Tagore)
by Joydeep Mukherjee-2018
The term ‘folk’ is having different nuances not only in different countries but in different regions of the same country. Subsequently, the scope of research between the terms ‘folk’ from Western perspective and ‘loka’ from Eastern context, whether they convey the same connotation or compensate each other or combine all the tenets without any complacency and compose a complete circumference, creates a creative charm among all academicians or has become contagious amongst research scholars.
To deal with the first, the research proposes to differentiate between two indigenous terms ‘folk’ and ‘loka’. It begins with a question, a question that triggers the root: ‘are they same having same tone and temperament or they just denote two different zones rather sides of the same coin?’. A lot of similarities and dissimilarities can be found between these two terms in various spatio temporal conditions and due to a change of geographical location. In Vaidic culture, it is overused to denote the notion of ‘man’ or ‘mankind’. Nevertheless, it definitely conveys a sense of earthly and celestial affairs. The discussion here foregrounds the wide spectrum of its variation in terms of its sources and resources. Beforehand the research tries to initiate the semantic aspect of ‘folk’ for foregrounding further research through the help of various dictionaries which will introduce the readers to the world of conceptual meaning enabling them to unfold the unveiled mystery behind its etymology and evolution.
These shades of meanings are explained from the perspective of its etymology and characteristics. These are as follows:
1. Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines the term as:
— People, especially those of a particular group or type.
— Traditional to or typical of a particular group or country, especially one where people mainly live in countryside, and usually passed on from parents to their children over a long period of time.
— Folk art expresses something about the lives and feelings of ordinary people in a particular group or country, especially those living in the countryside
2. Oxford Dictionary depicts the term:
— Relating to the traditional art or culture of a community or nation.
— Relating to or originating from the beliefs and opinions of dictionary people
3. Merriam Webster Dictionary denotes:
— People in general used to talk to a group of people in a friendly and informal way.
— A certain kind of people.
— A group of kindred tribes forming a nation.
— The great proportion of the members of a people that determines the group character and that tends to preserve its characteristics form of civilization and its customs, arts and crafts, legends, traditions and superstitions, and superstitions from generation to generation.
— Plural: a certain kind, class, or group of people.
— Plural: people generally.
Rig-veda, the most original text recording the history of the ancient age, contains the ‘loka’:
Navyatasidantariksham sirsnodyo samoabortata
Padavyavumirdisha Shotrattalokamatakalpayan | (10.90.14, the Rig Veda).
“Here in this quotation it avers the process of creation and how Lord Shiva has created sky from his head, the earth from his feet, from his ear the regions. This is the way to construct the world’s flesh.”
In Yayrveda it refers to people:
Rebati ramadhab asmin jonab gostesmil loke smin khshye hoibo stmapagal. (3.21 the Shukla Yajurveda).
“With surveys, one who can disperse darkness among herds, can diminish the depression and desperation of people.”
The Sama Veda uses the term ‘loka’ to denote both ‘people’ and the place of habituation, ‘the earth’. Here the term connects between the content and context. The Atharva veda is not an exception to that. In Kand II and XVI, the term ‘loka’ directly refers to people along with a selfish wish for their ‘earthly’ fulfilment. It rather evokes a sense of wish fulfilment of men, a mundane materialistic tendency. Amarkosa, traditionally a significant text in lexicography, comprises a prayer that chants ‘loka’ quite several times signifying ‘people’. Here it says an analogy that people should bend, mould and stretch in the manner the string of the bow is stretched. It adds flexibility to the ‘humanity’ to goad the individual to the farthest goals, quite unreachable for the common folk. The Ramayana, a text that reforms and records the foundation of Indian culture, uses the term in variegated ways.
But there is one specific example that emphasizes ‘people’:
“One who detaches himself from all chains of domesticity and dedicates for the yeoman’s service is always loved and respected for his denouncement.”
Shreemad Vagavad Geeta, the quintessence of Vaidik knowledge, shows the wide dimension of the term:
atotsmilokebedechaprathita:purushottoam| (Shreemad Bhagavad Geeta 15.18).
“Here the line draws a line of demarcation between possible and impossible, perishable and imperishable and changeable and unchangeable.”
He is here none other than ‘purushottam’, the ultimate one. Therefore, the term ‘loka’ has its rich resource of meaning magnifying the majesty of ‘man’. In Veda, almost in every case, it emphasizes places with few exceptions. The advent of Sanskrit literary tradition has diversified its meaning. Consequently, it can be used in the sense of public or people of the society and sometimes non-educated, artless class of the society. Above all references definitely suggest that at one point of time the domain of knowledge loses its link with ‘loka’.
The difference between ‘Laukik’ knowledge and ‘Vaidik’ knowledge can be understood or clarified by Kundanlal Upreti:
If what is not there in the Vedas is laukik, then the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, Abhjnana Shakuntala, are all folk literature but they are not considered like that. (Upreti, p. 2).
It is true that Vedik and post-Vedik literature are composed in the form of stories and these stories or anecdotes are essential components of folklore. If the readers try to find out the etymology it connotes the positive aspects of the meaning.
Pt. Rahul Sankrutyaayan has firmly supported these two basic points by the following statement:
Loka has made from root verb ‘lokru’. It has a prefix “dha” that makes it ‘darshan’. The word means ‘to see’. So the meaning of the word ‘loka’ according to Sanskrit etymology is ‘the seer’. Entire mass of people who see will be termed as ‘loka’. (Pt Rashul Sankrutyaayan Hindi 1).
Here it is worth mentioning that sages who have attained that philosophical status and quietness of the soul and mind are called as ‘seers’ not ‘creator’. Moreover, etymological concept of ‘loka’ or ‘folk’ has not yet received that metaphoric dimension. It can definitely be clarified when the readers try to probe the source and the origin of ‘folk’. Endless discussions took place only to establish the identity of these two terms and their basic differences.
The following discourse of Bandopadhyay interrogates the basic lexical definitions:
There are many questions arising out of the lexical definitions of ‘folk’ and ‘folklore’. If folks are defined as common people, then who are those ‘uncommon people’ or ‘folks’? (Debprasad Bandopadhyay Folklore and Folk-Language: Myth or Reality?)
A path breaking question it is as there is no relevance or certainty or identification between a ‘folk’ and ‘non-folk’.
Further Allan Dundes traces a similar question regarding its flexibility:
A folk or peasant society is but one example of a ‘folk’ in the folkloristic sense. Any group of people sharing a common linking factor, e.g, an urban group such a labour union, can and does have folklore. ‘Folk’ is a flexible concept which can refer to a nation as in America folklore or to a single family. The critical issue in defining ‘folk’ is: what groups in fact have traditions? (Dundes, A Revolutionary Premise in Folklore Theory, p.13)
Here the research tries to highlight the various concepts and conceptions among folk regarding ‘folk’ not only in India but outside as well. Normally, they are considered to be uneducated people inhabiting at the lower stratum of society. Sociological study of folk provides a valid reason of it. Pandit Danodar Satvadekar provides a poetic definition of ‘loka’ and ‘jana’. According to him, ‘loka’ refers to one type of human being and ‘jana’, those who are engaged with ‘prajanana’. Therefore, Atmajojona says: “Loka only sees, observes bit do not take only progressive change”. Moreover, he continues to inform us that thinking power that is ‘manan’ is the essence of ‘manushya’ and ‘nor’ are those who are normally separated from worldly pleasures.
Folkloristic study all over the globe gives rise to the term and describes both the ‘adjectivity’ and the objectivity of the term. They are of the opinion that there is no geographical or religious connection between these two terms rather they tried to probe into the psychology of ‘folk’; be it personal or in groups–
It (Loka) indicates a specific group of people and at the same time it includes all such groups of people with identical cultures respectively. In fact it works as an adjective made available to literature and life. (P. 1-3, Preface of Hindi Sahitya ka Brihad Itihas (Long History of Hindi Literature), ed. Pt rahul Saankrutyaayan and Dr. Krishnadev Upadhyay).
Dr. Hazariprasad’s emphasis on ‘folk’ is something different from traditional dealings. Therefore, it tries to find some intricate connections not with the books but with life.
Dr. Krishnadev Upadhyay talks about the ancient nature of the term and demonstrates it on the basis of its modernity and eternity:
‘Loka’ in real sense, are those people living in their ancient ways, detached from the influence of cultured and materially developed people. (Hindi Sahitya ka Brihad Itihas (Long History of Hindi Literature), ed. Pt Rahul Saankrutyaayan and Dr. Krishnadev Upadhyay).
Dr. Parmer’s definition of ‘loka’ is quite old fashioned—
‘Loka’ is common people which includes entire human race. The term is beyond discrimination and is a kinetic unit of society. (Parmer, Bharatiya Lokasahitya, p 10).
Upreti explains the term extensively when he takes the elements of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ under the consideration regarding the very nature of ‘folk’—
The word ‘loka’ has ascended from its limited meaning. It serves as a carrier of tradition and emotional expressions… to qualify, what is known as culture is not at all different from ‘loka’. (Upreti, Lokasahitya Ke Pratimaan, p. 3).
Jaymall Parmer very categorically defines the term keeping aside the traditional etymological aspect or meaning. He says: “loka is specific noun for a person, who observes the world around him, enjoys it and this vision leaves an imprint on his life”. He also anticipates the consequent change in human life and is having a pejorative concept about the need and neat existence of human being.
‘Loka’ is prestigious human existence running since centuries. ‘Loka’ was existing and it is existing. It is possible that it will not exist tomorrow as it is being transformed in modernity. It would not exist as ‘Loka’ tomorrow but it exists today in humanly form as well as cultural form. (Parmer, Loksahitya: Tatvdarshan ane Mulyankan, p. 82).
Viral Shukla points out in his seminal research that the oral version of ‘loka’ is very strong and genuine. In this context Dr, Hastua Sedani tries to connect ‘loka’ with traditional life style. Dr. Vasudev Sharan, one of the pioneering folklorists, finds out the philosophical aspect of the term and firmly convinces that it is one clue to perceive human psychology and its existence. He, therefore, avers that ‘loka’ is an umbrella term putting together the depth and the vastness of the present, past and future.
In his own words:
‘Loka’ is ocean of our life; it contains past, present and future of us. ‘Loka’, its mother earth and human being as its manifestation is the new spiritualism of our age’. (Agravaal, Sammelan Patrika, Loka Sanskriti Visheshak, p. 64).
Hence, it is quite clear that how vast and extensive it is as it negates to be bound by any spatio temporal condition so much so that it also dilutes the existence of human being.
Prof. Allan Dundes begins his discussions with the functions of ‘loka’ and ‘folk’ quite distinctly. Invariably the discussion includes other cultural aspects of ‘folk’ and deals how the ambiance of ‘folk’ is fabricated:
The term folk can refer to any group of people whosoever who share at least one common factor. It does not matter what the factor is. It could be common occupation, language or religion; but what is important is that a group formed for whatever reason will have some tradition which it calls its own. (Dundes, The Study of Folklore, p. 2).
The issue is led forward quite interestingly by Dr. Badriprasad Pancholi. He talked about these terms separately and through his analogy shows the inseparability between the terms.
At last the research can conclude that these are traditional cultural concepts. The word ‘tradition’ itself is derived from Latin word ‘tradre’ meaning ‘to hand over or to deliver’ and ‘culture’ is coined from Latin ‘cultura’ which means ‘cultivation’. The genesis of these words indicates the indigenous quality i.e. mobility-a subject to change, develop and decipher the traditional cultural aspect of a language, race and nation in the long run or in the days to come.
by Joydeep Mukherjee-2018