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The book `Chanted Narratives - The Katha Vachana Tradition is the fruit of an international seminar hosted by IGNCA in February 1997. The five-day workshop, held in coordination with UNESCO, `Katha Vachanaaur Katha Vachak - Exploring India's Chanted Narratives' was attended by about 35 scholars from around the world. The book carries the edited papers (presented at the workshop) of 24 scholars from France, Germany, India, Indornesia, Italy, Nepal, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and UK.
The papers have been the matically arranged into four sections - 1. Nature of Orality and Methods of Transmission, 2. Composition and Socio-Economic Context, 3. Performers And Audience Performance, 4. Regional and Cultural Dimensions. The first sections deals with the complex nature of orality, ways and means through which it expresses itself, functions and gets transmitted.
This section contains the papers of Baidyanath Saraswati, on Orality and its Complexity. He puts forward seven propositions that form a cohesive world of orality.
Nicole Revel in his paper The world of Orality explores the complex and subtle web linking the subject and the world, which involves all the senses and more particularly that of hearing and aural sensitivity. Molly Kaushal's paper on `Saveen: Singers and Performance Context' revolves around the oral narratives of the gaddis of Himachal Pradesh.
Bhojpuri Epics Towards Nepal and Bengal: Oral Performance and Selling of Chapbooks Editions' explains the role of oral performances that helped in the spreading of several narratives. The last paper in this section is from S. Sanatombi who discusses `The Manipuri Folk Epic Khamba-Thoibi; Origin, Growth, Transmission, And Customary Laws.' The folk epic has been in existence for hundreds of years.
The second section has nine papers. A.K. Das analyzes the cultural dimension of Mopin myth and ritual of Gallong group of the Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh, Desmond L. Kharmawphlang in `The Goldesn Vine: Chanted Narratives from the Land of the Seven Huts `takes up a Bhoi myth of creation from Khasi hills, KMA M. Usop's paper' The Dayak Epics of Second Burial deals with Kaharingan's (of Indornesia) myth of creation, Shiela Asirvatham takes up `The Tamil epic: Mathurai Veeraswami Kathai.'
`Oral Epics in Kalahandi' by Mahedra Kumar Mishra, `Scroll Narratives of Andhra Pradesh by Bittu Benkateswaralu, Burrakatha: A Telugu Folk Narrative of Andhra Pradesh in History and Performance by Danier Negers, `The Hero and His Context: The Oral Narrative of Kaba and Baji' by Ajay Dandekar and `The Ambivalence of Power: Representations of Women in the Oral Epic of Devnarayan' Adiya Malik form part of this second section.
The eight papers in the third section deal with the relationship between the performance, performance and the audience. William S. Sax discusses `The Pandav Lila of Uttarakhand in this context, Richa Negi takes up `Pandava Dance: A Performance for Life', S. M. Pandey elaborates on the `Loriki and its Singers', Mohan Upreti talks about `Rajula Malushahi: The Oral Epic (Ballad) of Kumaon, `Sabir Badalkhan explores the `Role of Audience in Balochi Sher Singing', Nabin Chandra Sharma expounds on the `Verbal Narratives: performance and Gender of the Padma Purana', by T.N. Sankaranarayana deals with `Gender, Genre and Narratives: Case of Junjappa Epic and M. Mani Meitei looks at the `Performance Situation of the Khamba-Thoibi Folk Epic.'
The last section of Regional and Cultural Dimensions has two papers, one by C.M. Bandhu on Nepali Oral Epic; Ramayana and another by H.M.D.R. Herath on the `Importance locations (Villages) and Verbal Narratives Associated with Princess Sita in the Central Hills of Sri Lanka.
The workshop itself was held in the background of the concern that the rich oral traditions of the world in general and India in particular are declining. This note of concern can be detected throughout the papers. Though on the decline, most of the narratives discussed in these papers are live traditions even today.
They have survived hundreds of years and the present socio-political and economic threats are but temporary, one should hope. These narratives have survived civilizational, political and economic slavery for centuries. The collection of papers would be of immense value to students pursuing folklore, anthropology, history and culture studies.
The Living `Katha-Vachana' Tradition, Edited by Molly Kaushal, published by IGNCA and D. K. Printworld (P) Ltd., 2001, pp 290, including b/w and coloured photographs, Rs. 900.
Copyright IGNCAŠ 2002