Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Shaktas believe that stories about fierce goddesses stimulate our imagination. They are supposed to horrify and shock, so that we may strip away our pretensions and dare to confront the cosmic truth. - Elizabeth U Harding in Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"The very best in thought, the very best in action, the very best in character, the very best in literature and art, the very best in religion and all the world well lost if only this very best might be attained, such was the spirit of ancient India. He (the Indian) saw Harischandra give up all that life held precious and dear rather than that his lips should utter a lie or his plighted word be broken. He saw Prahlada buried under mountains, whelmed in the seas, tortured by the poison of a thousand venomous serpents, yet calmly true to his faith. He saw Buddha give up his royal state, wealth, luxury, wife, child and parents so that mankind might be saved. He saw Shivi hew the flesh from his own limbs to save one small dove from the pursuing falcon, Karna tear his own body with a smile for the joy of making a gift, Duryodhan refuse to yield one inch of earth without noble resistance and warlike struggle. He saw Sita face exile, hardship, privation and danger in the eagerness of wifely love and duty, Savitri rescue by her devotion her husband back from the visible grip of death. These were the classical Indian types." - Sri Aurobindo

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Indian oral tradition

Until the nineteenth century, when the practice of printing and distributing literary pieces became feasible and possible, literature in India existed mainly in the oral tradition. Even when literary pieces were circulated in the manuscript form, the general dissemination of any literary work depended on its oral outreach. This includes a range of narrations from scriptures to folksongs, stories, aphorisms and drama.

Source: http://sahitya-akademi.gov.in/sahitya-akademi/projects-schemes/tribal_oral_literature.jsp

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The healing powers of the 'Tale of the Four Dervishes'

The Tale of the Four Dervishes (Ghasseh-e Chahar Dervish, Persian) is a collection of allegorical stories in Persian composed by Amir Khusro, a Sufi mystic, musician, scholar and poet in the late 13th century. The reading or listening to the collection is supposed to have healing powers.

Amina Shah has retold these tales. This is what she writes in her introduction:

“When the great 13th Century Sufi teacher Nizamuddin Awliya was ill, his disciple Amir Khusraw – the eminent Persian poet – recited to him this Sufi allegory. To mark this event, Nizamuddin on his recovery, placed this benediction upon the book:

‘Who hears this story will, by the divine power, be in health’.

“Mir Amman of Delhi translated the work a century and a half ago into Urdu, and ever since it has been regarded as a classic of that language, under the title of ‘Bagh o Bahar’ (Garden and Spring), a chronogram which, when decoded by the Abjad System, produces the date of its completion: Year 1217 of the Hijra Era”.

“It is widely believed that the recitation of the story will restore to health the ailing, and that the allegorical dimensions of the adventures of the Dervishes contained in it are part of a teaching-system which prepares the mind of the Seeker-after-Truth for spiritual enlightenment”.

Source: http://www.chishti.ru/chishti_books.htm

Thursday, October 28, 2010

There is a tension that is pervasive in the Mahabharata that threatens the conscious mind. Nothing is direct, straightforward. You feel currents from the subconscious and the unconscious that open up the human psyche. There is a ghoulish dance between despair and faith, between war and the highest message of peace (in the Geeta), between the sublime and the very conventional, between uncontrolled rage and yoga. This is of course the dance of Kali spread out on a larger stage. As in the Ramayana, something primitive emerges out of the narration challenging us to let go of our rational minds and enter the conciouscape of mythic codes and little understood archetypes. More than the absolute truth of the text (if there is such a thing) we need to look at the meaning it creates at a personal and psychological level as the conscious mind steps out of its mundane sensibility.

- Swetha Prakash

Monday, October 25, 2010

Myth as bricolage

In his book 'The Savage Mind' (1962, English translation 1966), French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss used the word bricolage to describe any spontaneous action, further extending this to include the characteristic patterns of mythological thought. The reasoning here being that, since mythological thought is all generated by human imagination, it is based on personal experience, and so the images and entities generated through 'mythological thought' rise from pre-existing things in the imaginer's mind.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bricolage#cite_note-1

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On time in the Mahabharata

'Now for several reasons, the Mahabharata's use of the frame story is of special significance for understanding its 'doctrine of time' and Hindu chronicities more generally. First, the epic is one of the first texts (its dating relative to the Ramayana remains uncertain) to explore framing and its narrative possibilities in relation to themes of temporality. Second, the frame story is probably the leading device through which the text supports its vast and complex meditation on time. Third, the epic 'takes time' in order to do interesting things with it and say provocative things about it, such as those mentioned earlier, which, we can now see, are not only a curtain lifted over the main story or parameters of a kalavada but also rhythms that can enframe each other, be collapsed to simultaneity, or make joints between the temporal experiences that the text itself offers.'...Fourth, it forms part of a cultural 'reading' experience that relocates its temporalities into images that people live with.' - Randy Kloetzli and Alf Hiltebeitel
'For a combination of antiquity, volume, and ingenuity, there is nothing like it - so much so that folklorist Theodor Benfry (1801-91) could imagine India as the 'home of storytelling and of tale-types'' (Claus and Korom 1991:57). Much that is formative in these oceanic storytelling traditions is anchored in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, the two Sanskrit epics.'
- Randy Kloetzli and Alf Hiltebeitel

Thursday, October 21, 2010

More than the moral

In the Panchatantra tales (disguised as animal fables) delve into the human condition. You see a concern with underlying behaviours and conditions that govern personal and social interactions. Certainly there is a surface preoccupation with niti or prudent conduct of worldly existence. But, when you meditate on the invisible layers you find a subtle presence of the sublime and terrible. There emerges a hidden focus on how reality is perceived and distorted, on the prejudice and deception of the mind and the senses, on the illusionary expressions of superficial relationships. Behind the two-dimensonality of traditional tale with a moral at its end is complicated framework of chaotic feelings, suppressions, impressions and yearnings.

- Swetha Prakash

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The diverse voices of folk narratives

Folktales, narrated in varied vernacular tongues, give us narrative lines that are different from the classic narratives composed in Sanskrit, literally the ‘perfected’ language. They give us the point of view of ‘the others’ – people of other cultures, castes, gender and even species. The diverse voices that make up folk narratives help us understand the hidden historic and social forces that operated in and shaped India. Also, these stories help us see the underlying unity behind diverse human (and sometimes non human) garbs and experiences.

- Swetha Prakash

Origin of the Indian Oral Tradition

The Indian oral tradition starts with the Rig Veda which consists of 1028 poems. ‘The Rig Veda was preserved orally even when the Indians had used writing for centuries for everyday things like laundry lists and love letters and gambling IOUs. But they refused to preserve the Rig Veda in writing,’ says Wendy Doniger in The Hindus: An alternate history. While the Rig Veda was preserved orally it was preserved with meticulous precision. Doniger adds, ‘It was memorised in a number of mutually reinforcing ways, including matching physical movements (such as nodding the head) with particular sounds and chanting in a group, which does much to obviate individual slippage.’

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stories for meditation

Stories often serve as tool and basis for Dhyana, which means meditation in Sanskrit, an important Indian yogic and philosophical tradition. The significance of Dhayana has been emphasised in the Chandogya Upanishad, ‘Meditation is greater than the mind. Know that the earth meditates, and the atmosphere too. Know also the heavens to meditate, and the waters too. Listen to this secret, the mountains meditate. Besides men and gods too meditate. He who knows all existence to be nothing but meditation, becomes omnipotent,’.

According to Indian yogic traditions meditation provides direct insights on our nature as pure consciousness liberating us from all the constrictions placed on us by a limited egoistic identity. But as the mind has a tendency to fluctuate – it needs a prop to meditate. Most Indian mythic stories were created with this end in view – to provide their listeners with a narrative they could contemplate on.

- Swetha Prakash

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Durga as a slayer of the ego

The “I” or the little ego is constituted by Nature and is at once a mental, vital and physical formation meant to aid in centralising and individualising the outer consciousness and action. When the true being is discovered, the utility of the ego is over and this formation has to disappear – the true being is felt in its place. ‘1
One of the most famous Indian images of Durga slaying Mahishasur is a representation of cosmic nature or Prakriti, the force of the cosmic will killing the limited ego.

1 Sri Aurobindo ‘Planes and Parts of The Being’, p.278, Letters on Yoga.

Monday, September 13, 2010

On the development of meaning in language

'At first, therefore, word-clans, word families started life on the communal system with a common stock of possible and realised significances and a common right to all of them; thier individuality lay rather in the shades of expression of the same ideas than in any exclusive right of expression of a single idea. The early history of language was a development from this communal life of words to a system of individual property in one or more intellectual significances. The principle of partition was at first fluid, then increased rigidity, until word-families and finally single words are able to start life on thier own account. The last stage of the entirely natural growth of language comes when the life of the word is entirely subjected to the life of the idea which it represeents. For in the first stage of language the word is as living or even more living force than its idea; sound determines sense. In its last state the positions have been reversed; the idea becomes all important the sound secondary.'

- Sri Aurobindo. 'The Philological Method of the Veda.', The Secret of the Veda.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Once upon a time there live a Man who wanted to tell stories in a land where people never died……..this is our latest story from Brazil…..

Kathalaya is back with its week long Intensive Certificate Course on storytelling from September 20th to September 25, 2010.

Timings: 9.30-1.30 at the Kathalaya BTM Layout centre.

We will be focusing on Listening and the types of listening, Childhood journeys with analysis of knowing oneself, Stories for healing and the subtle layers of the qualities of a storyteller on the hidden aspects of storytelling……Then of course we move on to Voice, Modulations, Body language, Puppetry .

How one can create more stories, find stories and Stay with stories ……

The Fee is Rs. 6000/- inclusive of snacks, tea, materials and Certificate.

We promise you a fun filled workshop through the Story wonderland.

Contact and call us :

Kathalaya Trust, #88,BHBCS Layout,
3rd Main, 2nd Cross,
Bannerghatta Road, Bangalore 76.
mail us kathalaya@gmail.com
call – 080-26689856 or 9986244808.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Academy of Storytelling Workshop

We are happy to announce the Academy of Storytelling Workshop to be held at the Kathalaya Resource Centre,
from 24th to 28th of August 2010.

The workshop will cover –
 Listening skills, Voice and language development.
 Intrinsic and extrinsic Qualities of a teller.
 Body language-Role Play, The 4 Rs of telling
 Creativity and Innovative ways of creating your own stories.
 Use of puppetry and making of 10 different types of puppets,
 Chitrakathas and different Kinds of picture stories- How to make use them.
 Storycards-Integrating stories with lesson plans and worksheets.
 Cultural and indigenous story telling forms
 Exploring Personal stories- strengths and weaknesses of a teller.
 Group and individual presentations
 Evaluation and Certificate.

The Academy faculty comprises subject specialists, artists and counselors
The timings are: 9.30 am to 1.30 pm.
Service charges – Rs. 6000/-. Includes materials, snacks tea, certificate and
a “resource book for Story Educators’.
Contact us:kathalaya@gmail.com,
Ph: 9845207073, 9886244808, 26689856
Visit us : www.kathalaya.org

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Teaching philosophy through stories

Yogic philosophy teaches us that consciousness can indeed be disengaged from existence and be freed of every thinkable conditioning. Several Puranic tales serve to illustrate this. Ved Vyasa, the narrator of the Mahabharata, is traditionally believed to be the compiler of the Puranas. Brhadaranyaka Upanishad refers to Puranas along with the Epics as the "fifth Veda" - itihasapuranam panchamam vedam. The word Veda is derived from the root vid which means to know. So a veda is book of knowledge. Of the many Puranas, eighteen are considered critical texts and these are known as the Mahapuranas. They are - Agni, Bhagavata, Bhavishya, Brahma, Brahmanda, Brahmavaivarta, Garuda, Harivamsa, Kurma, Linga, Markandeya, Matsya, Narada, Padma, Shiva, Skanda, Vamana, Vayu and Vishnu.

- Swetha Prakash

Friday, July 23, 2010

What is a tall tale?

'What is a tall tale? And what is tall talk? A tall tale is a folk tale seized by the activity of tall talk and construed as a lie. Anyone who memorizes Vladimir Propp's thirty-one episodes can tell a folk tale, recite the legend of a hunt, but only a thinker who has contemplated the bloody hurt of that hunt, considered the pains of Time, Distance, and Dimension, and examined critically the way myth resolves them, can properly stretch a tale, derange its structural features, and expose its absurdity. Tall talk is thus at once a narrative skill and a philosophical stance. The teller unerringly bombards us with pertinent hyperbole, artfully digresses, takes us in, draws us into the field of deception, and makes us at last complicit. Whether in folklore or literature, the tall tale is never innocent, mythically immediate, but instead always begins as a subversion of the story.'

- Neil Schmitz
From Tall Tale, Tall Talk: Pursuing the Lie in Jacksonian Literature

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The creation hymn from the Rig Veda

There was neither non-existence nor existence then.
There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.
What stirred?
In whose protection?
Was there water, bottlemlessly deep?

There was neither death nor immortality then.
There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day.
That One breathed, windless, by its own impulse.
Other than that there was nothing beyond.

Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning,
with no distinguishing sign, all this was water.
The life force that was covered with emptiness,
that One arose through the power of heat.

Desire came upon that One in the beginning,
that was the first seed of mind.
Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom
found the bond of existence and non-existence.

Their cord was extended across.
Was there below?
Was there above?
There were seed-placers, there were powers.
There was impulse beneath, there was giving forth above.

Who really knows?
Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced?
Whence is this creation?
The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?

Whence this creation has arisen
- perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not -
the One who looks down on it,
in the highest heaven, only He knows
or perhaps even He does not know.

Translation by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty. From the Book "The Rig Veda - Anthology"

The wisdom of the traditional tale

While traditional tales often have flat characters without any interior landscaping and seemingly simple narrative lines they are full of timetested wisdom. They are reliable guides which tell us how it act in any situation, any crisis. In India, traditional tales were used for the political education of princes. The Panchatantra, one of India's best known tale collections is full of stories which teach people how to survive in a world where contradictory forces like violence and tranquillity continuously act on each other, in an energy field where impetuses are rarely straightforward. By helping us understand and accept primordial human energy currents (envy, fear, greed, lust etc.) these traditional stories keep us from getting disenchanted with existence.

- Swetha Prakash

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stories and sympathetic magic

Sympathetic magic or imitative magic involves any belief or ritual which attempts to influence an environment through imitation or correspondence. In correspondence it is believed that one can influence something based on its relationship or resemblance to another thing. In Myth = Mitya, Dr Devadutt Pattnaik extends the concept to using narratives such as the Ramayana and the Puranas for influencing events in the household. He says that this is the logic that 'prescribes the reading of stories from the Bhagavata.' The Bhagavata Purana describes the joyous events in the life of Krishna and thus becomes a perfect candidate for sympathetic magic.

- Swetha Prakash

References: Myth=Mitya: A handbook of Hindu Mythology - Dr Devdutt Pattanaik, Penguin Books India, 2006.

Storytelling Course

Sunday, July 11, 2010

On the Mahabharata

It’s conflict that keeps drawing readers and writers back to the Mahabharata. Not just the literal conflict of the war on the field of Kurukshetra, but the conflict between right and wrong, between duty and personal belief, between the larger pictures and the smaller details, between your station in life and what you want to be – the Mahabharata is all about conflict.

By Kushalrani Gulab, In the greatest story ever retold, Hindustan Times Brunch, July 11, 2010

'No one in the Mahabharat knows how to be moral and I realised when I read it that morality is a difficult quest. The Mahabharat makes you ask questions.'

Gurcharan Das, Quoted in In the greatest story ever retold, Hindustan Times Brunch, July 11, 2010

'And the Mahabharat is a very dark tale. Its a horrific narration. To have everything at one moment and to be exiled to the forests for 13 years - that's not easy.'
Devdutt Pattanaik, Quoted in In the greatest story ever retold, Hindustan Times Brunch, July 11, 2010

Stories and Identity

'Status in India still depends on being westernized - but we're Indian. Yet, what does 'Indian' mean?..

What better way to understand who you are than through tales that have come to you down the generations, tales that have been alive for hundreds, if not thousands of years, tales that can tell you where you came from, so you can perhaps figure out where you are now and where you're going?'

- By Kushalrani Gulab, In the greatest story ever retold, Hindustan Times Brunch.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Stories and metaphors

Metaphors are the building blocks of story worlds, the language in which meaning is constructed. To truly realize a story, follow its metaphors

- Swetha Prakash

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On Stories

'Stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memory. This is how people care for themselves.'

- Barry Lopez

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Re-enacting the vedic sacrifice

The ancient vedic story of the primeval sacrifice is re-enacted in the Ramayana. According to the Vedas the worlds were created when the primordial person or spirit sacrificed his own being. Rama is often identified with this ancient person, described in the Upanishads as Neti Neti – Not this, Not this, the one who is without attributes while encompassing everything that exists – ideas, abstractions, forms, sentience and insentience.
A vedic saying goes, ‘sacrifice is the nabhi, navel of the world’. The vedic sacrifice is made to the ancestors and devas, gods or better translated as the powers of nature and manifestation such as fire, time, etc.
Rama re-enacts the ancestral sacrifice when he renounces his kingdom to keep his father’s word. This act is ultimately done for the pitrs or ancestors.
Rama’s vow to eliminate the flesh eating rakshasas is primarily a sacrifice to the gods. It is the devas who are most harried by Ravana and his clan. Rama’s misfortunes are not of his own making but the result of a niyati or divine fate that has decreed that he must be put in direct combat with Dasamukha, the one with ten heads. The Rakshasas have been continuously been disrupting sacrifices being made to the devas and by subduing them Rama protects the Vedic sacrifice.
Chants are indispensable for any Vedic fire sacrifice and Rama complies by finishing his great Rana Yajna or War sacrifice with the recitation of the ode to the Sun god - the sacred Aditya Hridayam, which conclusively disempowers his opponent.

- Swetha Prakash

Monday, July 5, 2010

On place stories

“Without place-lore man would be surrounded surroundings; place-lore links generations and provides them with a shared identity – the narratives of belonging.”

- Ulo Valk

Notes on Assamese Place-Lore
Indian folklife, Serial No.31, November 2008, p13.

Tales of the wild land tortoise

In Kokborok, one of the languages of Tripura, there is a single term for folklore - ‘Kerang Kothoma’. A Kerang is a land-tortoise and Kothoma means a tale. All folk-tales are thus designated as tales of the wild land tortoise.

Source: http://www.wiki.indianfolklore.org/images/d/d6/IFL_35.pdf

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The destruction and regeneration of stories

Stories are set in a certain time and place, within a specific historic context. They use the vocabulary and symbols of the culture that creates them. When all these things pass way, the stories too cease to be relevant. The stories of kings and queens don’t make any sense in world bereft of them and it is hard to identify oneself with a bow and arrow carrying archer. But, when tellers and writers stop thinking of old stories literally and instead present a narration that highlights their symbolic value, these ‘relics’ are once more resurrected. This is a cyclic process which happens periodically.

- Swetha Prakash


Myth is the concentration of attention. It is the consciousness becoming singlepointed and joyous. This is pure being rejoicing at the recognition and appreciation of its own fabulous nature.

Each myth is what Koestler called a `holon', a whole that is simultaneously part of some other whole.

It is the geometry of spirit, intersecting at marmas that enlighten instantly like zen koans.

Myths are imprints of the reptilian brain; emotional reactions which eternally and unfailingly override our rational mind.

- Swetha Prakash

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A case for researching, documenting and preserving India’s storytelling traditions

Cultural heritage is not limited to material manifestations, such as monuments and objects that have been preserved over time. This notion also encompasses living expressions and the traditions that countless groups and communities worldwide have inherited from their ancestors and transmit to their descendants, in most cases orally.
- UNESCO Intangible Heritage Portal

The soul of a people is mirrored in their legends.
- Henry Murray

Storytelling traditions reflect the spirit of peoples and communities. India's storytelling traditions are endangered by globalisation and cultural homogenisation. By preserving knowledge about storytelling traditions we preserve community-based intangible cultural heritage
Following are some points on the importance of researching and documenting India’s storytelling traditions –
- India has many unique storytelling traditions that have evolved in response to their environments, giving their communities a sense of identity and continuity. It is important to preserve the knowledge behind these traditions for future generations.
- Understanding the ideological and social backdrop to storytelling traditions will help contemporary practitioners to accordingly modify their performance to suit new needs and audiences.
- The storytelling research can be used extensively in training teachers and educators.
- Storytelling has a profound impact on culture. Culture can be conceptualized in terms of groups of individuals who share common stories to interpret and provide meaning to their lives. Stories introduced and established cultural identities. Storytelling constructs meaning in the lives of audiences.
- By researching our stories we can discover and preserve the enormous diversity of India's living cultural heritage. Indian stories are a rich source of Indian life, legend and thought.
- Storytelling is a tradition and living expression inherited from ancestors. Stories provide a link from the past. Thus stories contain ancestral knowledge concerning nature and an understanding of how the universe works. Through storytelling cultural identities and history were known within a generation and were communicated from one generation to the next.
- An understanding of the storytelling heritage of different communities paves the way for intercultural dialogue.
- Preserving India's rich storytelling heritage is important for maintaining cultural diversity in the face of cultural standardization and globalization.
- By researching and documenting India's storytelling traditions we also preserve the wealth of knowledge and skills that has come down through many generations. Stories have been handed down from generation to generation in vernacular languages and there is a risk of losing these stories with the spread of globalization and mass media driven cultures.
- Storytelling traditions represent contemporary rural and urban practices which allow diverse groups to express themselves. India's storytelling traditions are constantly changing and evolving and being enriched by each new generation, and recording this evolution and change is important.
- Storytelling traditions result in create social cohesion and help in building responsible communities.

- Swetha Prakash

Spontaneity in storytelling

Spontaneity is very important aspect of the storytelling experience. Tellers improvise upon frame stories based on their own life experiences and the social conditions they live in. Oral stories also emerge as the inspection and interpretation of immediate awareness and lived experience. This is how stories and storytelling traditions mushroom over history across diverse geographies.

- Swetha Prakash

Stories as aspects of the consciousness

In Indian consciousness studies, the consciousness is known to have two distinctive traits - Prakasha and Vimarsha. Prakasha refers to the self luminous nature of consciousness and vimarsha is its ability to reflect on itself. Subjective reality is understood to be prakasha while objective reality is vimarsha. Storytelling corresponds to both these aspects of consciousness. Stories are created as expressions of the consciousness revealing its nature. For recipients of storytelling performances, consciousness manifests as reflecting upon its essential nature through the 'truth' perceived in the stories.

- Swetha Prakash

Myths and emotions

Storytelling caters to our psychological needs fluctuating between feeling and fantasy. Stories proceed from the deep association that exists between emotion and imagination, depicting the intimate connection between our feelings and the world we perceive. The irrational beings that populate myth are psychic expressions of our emotions and reactions to the world around us. In myth, creatures such as Mahishasur in the Devi Mahatmya cycle are often creative expressions of pathological phobias, persistent fears, obsessions etc.

- Swetha Prakash

Friday, June 25, 2010

Myths in the Saundarya Lahari

Known for its aesthetic depiction of the mother goddess, the Saundarya Lahari by Sri Sankaracharya is complex and beautiful poem in Sanskrit. A study of Saundarya Lahri helps us understand the complex mythology surrounding the goddess. In it Tripura Sundari is depicted as the energy that pervades all manifestation creating, protecting and destroying everything that exists. Following are the myths in the poem that explain how this is done.
- According the Soundarya Lahari the world is created when Brahma collects a minute particle of dust from the goddess Tripura Sundari’s feet and then creates the wondrous, limitless and infinitely mysterious universe.
- The world is sustained when Adisesha, the ancient serpent and a form of Vishnu, supports the universe on his thousand jewelled hoods.
- The world is destroyed when Shiva takes the universe made of the dust of the goddess’s feet and crushes it into sacred ashes, which he smears all over his body.

by Swetha Prakash

Monday, June 21, 2010

Serpent Deities

India has a long history of worshipping serpent gods and goddesses. Serpents are supposed to represent wisdom - which can be both poisonous and regenerative. Serpents are known to cast off their slough periodically and hence represent immortality. As dwellers of the underworld they are understood to be guardians of the earth's hidden treasures.

- Swetha Prakash

Tamil Festivals in honor of Iravan

Iravan, also known as Iravat and Iravant, is a minor character from the Hindu epic of Mahabharata. The son of Pandava prince Arjuna (one of the main heroes of the Mahabharata) and the Naga princess Ulupi, Iravan is the central god of the cult of Kuttantavar—which is also the name commonly given to him in that cult—and plays a major role in the cult of Draupadi. Both these cults are of South Indian origin, from a region of the country where he is worshipped as a village deity and is known as Aravan.
The Mahabharata portrays Iravan as dying a heroic death in the 18-day Kurukshetra War (Mahabharata war), the epic's main subject. However, the South Indian cults have a supplementary tradition of honouring Aravan's self-sacrifice to the goddess Kali to ensure her favour and the victory of the Pandavas in the war. The Kuttantavar cult focuses on one of the three boons granted to Aravan by the god Krishna in honour of this self-sacrifice. Aravan requested that he be married before his death. Krishna satisfied this boon in his female form, Mohini. In Koovagam, Tamil Nadu, this incident is re-enacted in an 18-day festival, first by a ceremonial marriage of Aravan to Alis and male villagers (who have taken vows to Aravan) and then by their widowhood after ritual re-enactment of Aravan's sacrifice.
The Draupadi cult emphasizes another boon: Krishna allows Aravan to witness the entire duration of the Mahabharata war through the eyes of his severed head. In another 18-day festival, the ceremonial head of Aravan is hoisted on a post to witness the ritual re-enactment of the Mahabharata war.

Source: http://wapedia.mobi/en/Iravan

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A different geography

Like most ancient cultures, Indian too believed that life primarily existed on three planes. The heavens or swarg were home to celestial and light beings – devas, apsaras, gandharvas and the like. In the netherlands or palata lived the frightful asuras and serpent beings – nagas. The earth was home to manavas – humans, pasus – animals and vanaspati – plants.

- Swetha Prakash

Monday, April 19, 2010

Indian Cosmology

In Indian mythology, it is believed that many different types of beings inhabit the universe. Some of these beings are benevolent towards humans and others malevolent.
Some of the beings which form a part of Indian cosmology include
Devas – Or the nature deities who oversee the natural world eg Fire, Wind, sky, earth etc. Indra is the king of these gods.
Grahas – These are planetary deities who subtly influence human life – eg Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, Rahu and Ketu along with the asterisms.
Yakshas – These are a class of forest deities who guard the treasure of the world
Apasaras – They are celestial dancers who live in Indra’s heaven
Gandharvas – These are a class of celestial musicians who also live in Indra’s heaven
Siddhis – These are a class of perfected beings
Nagas – They are a class of snake-people who live in the underworld
Bhutas, Picashasas, Betals – These are phantom spirits that mostly live in cremation grounds
Asuras, Daityas, Danavas – These are giants and demonic beings who oppose the devas
Rakshasas – These are monstrous beings that feed on human flesh and are experts in illusion or Maya.

- Swetha Prakash

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The mother goddess as the supreme power in the universe

The Devi Bhagvata Purana is one of the great puranas devoted exclusively to the glory of Devi or the mother goddess. This Purana emphasises that the energy that creates all the universes and permeates them is that of the supreme goddess at whose command all existence viberates. According to this Purana, it is Devi who empowers the trinity - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva - responsible for creation, preservation and destruction of the worlds.

- Swetha Prakash

Friday, April 16, 2010

Guru Shishya stories

India too has its share of Guru Shishya stories. Similar to the Buddhist and Zen stories, these narrate how a student is initiated into an esoteric tradition or how he is enlightened about the essential truth of existence by his preceptor. The Upanishads which deals with the nature of the supreme consciousness, the non dual reality and its realization by the initiate are embedded with such stories. Famous Guru-Shishya pairs in the epics include – Arjuna and Krishna, Aruna and Dronacharya, Eklavya and Dronacharya, Rama and Vashista, Rama and Vishwamitra & Rama and Agastya – Agastya teaches Rama the sloka Aditya Hridayam which empowers him to kill the ten headed beast Ravana.

- Geeta Ramanujam and Swetha Prakash

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Twist to the tale

India’s vast storytelling traditions have produced a great deal of variety in its traditional tales. One of the most unusual Ramayanas is the Adhbut Ramayana, or the wonderful Ramayana. Here the slayer of the greatest demon the world has known is not Rama but rather Sita. Here, Janaki transforms into Mahakali and annihilates the villain of the piece - a thousand headed Ravana.

- Swetha Prakash

Saraba – An unusual form of Siva

When Narasimha killed the demon king Hiranyakashyapu his ferocity did not subside – after all he had drunk the blood of the demon. He started destroying all creation. The awestruck devas who oversaw the worlds rushed to Kailas to explain the situation to Siva. Siva assumed the Saraba moorthy avathar to pacify Narasimha. Sarabeshwara was frightful form combining a monstrous bird, human and lion body. He had four hands with sharp claws, huge wings, a sharp Garuda like beak, and protruding teeth like the Kali. He had eight feet and was known as ashtapada. His hands were held a deer, axe, serpent and fire. Sarabeshwara embraced Narasimha with his huge wings and legs. Narasimha calmed down and returned his peaceful form as Vishnu. Different versions of this myth exist.

- Swetha Prakash

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Symbolism of Kali in Indian mythology

Kali is Prakriti or the nature that gives birth to all beings. She represents the gory manifestation of reality - all the human sub consciousness impulses that ‘polite society’ doesn’t want to talk about. She represents that aspect of existence which is considered ugly, unaesthetic and unappealing. Daksha represents mainstream society – rules, codes of conduct, propriety etc. As Dakshayini – Kali is both Daksha’s daughter and the destroyer of his life’s greatest sacrifice or work. Kali as a Mahavidya or Great Wisdom Goddess asks us to consider reality in its totality – with both its pleasant, peaceful aspects as well as its unattractive and painful parts.

- Swetha Prakash

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What is education?

What is education? Teacher speaking
To the disciple seated by his side,
Wisdom between, discourse connecting them.

- From the Taittiriya Upanishad
Translated by Eknath Easwaran

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Railway stations as storytelling spaces

An interesting Indian storytelling custom is associated with the railway station. In parts of India, groups of people would assemble at railway stations and listen to stories from the Puranas as narrated by Pandits. Typically one Pandit would read the Sanskrit book in a sonorous tone while another Pandit would expound on the stories. The narration would take place by brass lamps lit with castor oil. The audience would squat on the ground, emotionally responding to the stories with joy and grief. A famous Pauranika named Suta used to expound stories at a railway station called Nimsar in Oudh. This tradition continues in some remote stations in Southern India.

Swetha Prakash

The Puranas – In the light of modern science – K Narayanaswami Aiyar

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reading stories as a way to fulfil wishes

In ancient times, stories were recited and heard as a way to fulfil wishes and to acquire punya or the religious merit that would afford people a good afterlife / rebirth. Listening to certain stories was believed to confer upon the audience specific punya, that would help materialise their wishes. Often specific days for reading the stories were also mentioned to maximize the expected gains. This practice acted as a key motivating factor which helped spread the storytelling culture in ancient and medieval India.

The stories themselves would mention what desires the listener could get fulfilled by hearing / reciting the story. For instance the Adhyatma Ramayana which is a part of the Brahmanda Purana cites the following as some of the benefits that audiences get if they heard / recited the epic.

· A recitation of the Adhyatma Ramayana will lead people to a happier life
· The gods headed by Indra serve one who cheerfully sings the Adhyatma Ramayana day and night
· Anyone who reads the Ramahridaya (a part of the Adhyatma Ramayana) thrice daily in front of an image of Hanuman achieves all that he wishes
· Any one who listens to, reads or recites the Adhyatma Ramayana on RamaNavami with a concentrated mind gets tremendous merit.

Swetha Prakash

The Adhyatma Ramayana translated by Lal Baij Nath

Monday, March 22, 2010

Symbolism of the crow in Indian mythology

In most world cultures the crow is considered to be highly inauspicious. However, in Indian mythology the crow is a symbol for caution. The crow warns all beings of incoming danger and thus serves the role of a protector and preserver. Due to this the crow has a revered role in Indian symbolism and is offered food during various sacred rites. The crow is also considered to be the vehicle of Dhumavati - one of the ten great wisdom goddesses or Dasa Mahavidyas.

Geeta Ramanujam

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bayalata - The Storytelling Tradition in Karnataka

Varied storytelling traditions exist in Karnataka. These traditions have distinct styles which vary according to the region they originate from. The storytelling traditions of Karnataka are referred to as Bayalata or open air theatre. The bayalata styles have derived their form and content from religious rituals. All bayalata folk performances are part of a ritual festival consecrated to a local deity. The five key forms of Bayalata are Dasarata, Sannata, Doddata, Parijata and Yakshagana. In Parijata and Yakshagana a single narrator or sutradhar controls the story while in the other forms the story is told through a chorus of four to five narrators, aided by a Vidhushaka or jestor.

Manjula Kuratti

1. Karnataka Janapada Kalegala Kosha Dictionary of Folk Arts in Karnataka, Edited by: Prof. H.C. Boralingaiah.
2. http://www.culturopedia.com/Theatre/theatre_karnataka.html

Aspects of Indian storytelling traditions

India has a long history and culture of storytelling. All over India, varied storytelling traditions and styles existed in different languages. Following are some aspects of Indian storytelling traditions.
- Indian storytelling traditions have a symbiotic relationship with the philosophical, sculptural, music, dance and literature traditions of the regions they originate from.
- The form and content of most Indian performing art traditions reflect the beliefs and philosophical and spiritual beliefs of their performers.
- Storytelling has served a social purpose, acting as a medium wherein various difficult social issues such AIDS, dowry etc are presented; hence storytelling almost always reflects social reality and often seeks to improve it.
- Ethics play an important role in storytelling traditions. The purpose of storytelling is often to expound on morality or dharma, to help audiences distinguish between righteous and unrighteous action.
- Storytelling played an important role in education and it was used both to explain abstract philosophical concepts as well as very practical statecraft, administrative and political science or Raja Niti.
- Stories are often extracted from mythologies, folktales, vedic legends and puranic legends, as well as from the two epics or Itihasas – the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

Swetha Prakash

The illustrated cultural history of India – AL Basham , Oxford University Press, 2007