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Folk Epics Of Bharat
I am creating the topic to collect info about the various folk epics in various parts of Bharat, many of them are oral and have been transmitted across generations by bards and some are in danger of being lost with rapid urbanisation and globalisation.

In Andhra two main ones include Palnati Veerula Charitra and Kaatamaraju Katha. The former is very well known and many of the main characters are Velamas or Rajus, the latter is also well known and is especially popular with the Gollas (Yadavs) of AP, one another example is Kanyaka which is a folk story of the Komatis (Vaishya caste) in AP.

In Tamizhnadu, one I know is Annanmaar Kathai.

In the north there are numerous folk stories like Pabuji in Rajasthan and Alha Udal all over the north.

To start off here is an article by Subash Kak that mentions some of them:
One epic song tradition here uses the visual aid of painted scrolls (par or pad). Pabuji ki par is a ballad extolling Pabuji (Prabhuji, Lord, in Sanskrit), a 14-century hero. Beginning at dusk and ending with dawn, the singer (called Bhopa) sings to the accompaniment of  the ravanhatta fiddle using a bow with attached ghungru bells. He also shakes his feet sometimes and the ghungru bells tied to his ankles enhance the sound. His wife (Bhopi) also sings and sometimes dances; she also holds an oil lamp to the scrolls to illuminate the Pabuji images of the relevant episode. The story is too long to be told in a single sitting, but that does not matter because the idea is the darshan of Pabuji.

Pabuji is the son of a Rajput prince and an apsara. He has an older half-brother named Buro, and half-sisters, Sona and Pema. The mother leaves him soon after he is born and he is raised in his extended family.

In a quarrel over the spoils of a  hunt, Buro and the Khichis clash in which the Khichi father is killed. Pabuji and Buro offer to Jidrav Khichi their sister Pema in marriage to make peace. Jidrav Khichi agrees to the marriage but inwardly remains hostile

Pabuji travels to the Charan lady, Deval, to ask for the flying mare Kesar Kalami. Although Jidrav Khichi had also sought the mare, Deval gives her to Pabuji. Pabuji now discovers that the mare is his own mother in a new form and the two of them have a ride in the sky.

Pabuji attacks Mirza Khan, the wicked ruler of Patan and defeats him. He then travels to Pushkar where he is saved from drowning by Goga Chauhan. Grateful, he promises Goga Buro’s daughter Kelam in marriage. Goga and Kelam get married.

Pabuji has promised the newlyweds camels from Lanka. He travels there with his companions, engages Ravana in battle, and kills him. On the way back to give the she-camels to Kelam, he sees the princess Phulvanti, and they fall in love with each other. Soon, their wedding is agreed to by both families.

Later, in the middle of their wedding, he is informed that Deval’s cattle are being stolen by Jidrav Khichi. Since Pabuji had promised to protect Deval, he with Buro and their men attack Jidrav Khichi, defeating him. Now Khichi enlists the support of his powerful Bhati uncle, and the fresh forces help Khichi carry the day. Pabuji receives a blow to his head and he at once ascends in a palanquin to heaven. The rest of the men are also killed.

Informed of this catastrophe, Phulvanti and Buro’s wife Gahlotan decide to commit sati. Gahlotan is advanced in pregnancy, and before entering the flames she cuts open her belly and draws forth a male child, naming him Rupnath. The women are now dead, and Rupnath is sent to Gahlotan’s mother to be raised.

When Rupnath is older he hears the story of his origins from Deval. In revenge he attacks Jidrav Khichi and kills him. After this he retires from the world to become a sadhu.

Another Rajasthani epic describes the exploits of Devanarayan in about 15,000 verses and 335 songs. The epic singers commit the entire work to memory. Devanarayan is an incarnation of Vishnu who is able to avenge the death of his 24 uncles. The evil party is Raja Basak (Vasuki), the king of the serpents. The Devanarayan singers are Gujars, just like their patrons. It is also sung with a painted scroll (par), but in the rainy months singing with the par is forbidden.

Some characteristic instruments used in these performances are listed below. Although, they are characteristic of Rajasthan, similar instruments are used elsewhere in India.

The sarangi is a popular folk music instrument and is found in various forms in Rajasthan. The Langas use the ‘Sindhi sarangi’. It is made with four main wires. The bowing of these instruments is a skillful exercise, often supported by the sound of the ghungru bells that are tied to the bow to make the beat prominent. Another remarkable bowed instrument is the kamayacha of  the Manganiyars, with its big, circular resonator, that produces a deep, booming sound. The ektara is a single-string instrument, but it is mounted on the belly of a gourd attached to a body made of bamboo

The algoza is twin flutes  played together. The satara of the Langas has one long flute and another flute to provide the drone. The narh or nad is a flute into which the player whistles while at the same time gurgling a song in his throat or actually singing intermittently to haunting effect.

Bells of different kind, used for accompaniment, include the manjiras, small brass hemispheres that are struck against each other. The jhanit and the tala are different kinds of manjiras. A metal plate, the thali, is also commonly used. This is struck in various ways,  producing different kinds of tones and rhythms. Rhythmic music is also provided by the kartals, which are disc jinglers, struck against each other.

The different kinds of drums used include: the two-sided ones, the single-sided drums, the shallow-rimmed and single-faced. Single-faced drums are played singly or in pairs. The largest single conical drum is the bam of Bharatpur. The earthern pitcher, locally known as mataka, and the ghada have their mouth covered with skin.

A popular epic song form is the Man Bhatt Akhyana in which the storyteller accompanies himself on a large globular metal pot (man). The narrative consists of stories from the epics, the Puranas, and from everyday life.

The singer uses fingers with metal rings to slap rhythmically the shoulders of the man. Further accompaniment is provided by cymbals (jhanjh), barrel drum (pakhavaj), tabla, and harmonium.

The principal structural element is a verse unit called the kadavu. The singer sets each kadavu to well-known tunes, using repeating musical motifs. Each kadavu concludes with a couplet that summarizes the fragment told, and setting the stage for the next fragment.

The communities of Charanas and Bhats have been composing and reciting epic verses celebrating the exploits of their royal patrons. They use the raso (rasa or rasaka), a structure consisting of several poems that each tell a portion of the story, depict a scene, or speak in the voice of a character. The main raso forms are doha (couplet) and chhand (extended metre). A variant of the doha is the sorath. The number of syllables per line is the same in both forms; however, in doha the first half of the line is longer and the rhyme occurs at the end of the line, whereas in sorath the second half of the line is longer and the rhyme occurs in the middle. In chhand, the metrical structure has many forms.

The Ganga Plains
The epics here include the Alha, the Dhola, and the Lorik, which are long, complex stories of intrigue, magic, and battle. The instruments used for accompaniment include the dholak, the lute, and metal percussion.

Alha It is a ballad very popular in the Hindi region. It narrates the tales of two warrior brothers, Alha and Udal, who were in the service of Raja  Piramal of Mahoba. They show valour in several engagements  but Piramal, at the instigation of Prithviraj Chauhan, the king of Delhi, exiles them when they refuse to surrender their five flying horses to him. Alha and Udal join up with Jaichand, the king of Kannauj, who is Prithviraj’s enemy. There is further intrigue and Prithviraj turns on Mahoba. The city requests Alha and Udal to return to protect it, and they do so, defeating Prithviraj.

There is further trouble over the wedding of Prithviraj’s daughter Bela to her husband Brahma. Prithviraj prevents Brahma from reaching his wife (this mirrors Prithviraj’s own struggle with Jaichand), and Brahma is critically injured. The brothers are approached for help. They kill Bela’s brother Tahar, who had stabbed Brahma. Now Prithviraj arrives with his army, Brahma dies, Bela commits sati, and Udal dies as well. Only Alha survives, because he has the boon of immortality. He follows the great yogi Gorakhnath to the forest.

Alha’s singing style is very dynamic and full of heroic sentiment. Beginning with a prayer to 'devi' or goddess, renditions include various incidents from this very lengthy ballad. Styles of singing differ from region to region but it is usually sung in the monsoon months - the time villagers get after sowing grain in fields after the first monsoon showers. Villagers gather around the village chaupal and the singers, always men, take centrestage.  It is also sung for the groom’s processionists walking to the bride’s village, which could take several hours

Lorik-Chanda  Chandaini, or Lorik-Chanda, is the story of the princess Chanda who is married to an impotent husband. She falls in love with Lorik, who is already married. Lorik and Chanda elope and have many adventures in their travels. In due course, they  have a son who is named Chadrakar. Ultimately, when they return to their village, Chanda and Lorik’s wife fight furiously. Lorik is sad now and one day he disappears.

Traditional singers of Chandaini were from the Rawat community. Today, a large number of the performers are also from the Satnami community.  Originally, it was believed to have been sung without any instrumental accompaniments. Now, harmonium and tabla and other instruments are used.

Dhola This is a version of the famous Nala-Damayanti story. It is also called Nala Purana. Nala has many adventures in his youth. Later, the princess Damayanti chooses him in a svayamvara. This angers Indra and, under the baleful influence of Saturn, the newly-wedded couple has 12 years of troubles. Nala loses his kingdom and, to support himself, becomes an oil-presser’s servant. He works hard, the oil-presser thrives, and Nala again becomes wealthy. Much later, in a gambling match with Raja Budha, Nala wins the Raja’s daughter Maru for his son Dhola. Dhola and Maru are separated when Dhola forgets her, but ultimately they are reunited.

The  Dhola singers are from the poorer communities. The singer accompanies himself on the chikara, a two-stringed bowed instrument. Further support is provided by a drummer on the dholak and a chimta (steel tongs) player.

The North
Guga is a popular epic of the Punjab. It is another story in which Prithviraj Chauhan and  Gorakhnath are important figures.  Guga’s mother, Bachal, and her sister, Kachal, are both barren. Gorakhnath wishes to give Bachal some curds to drink to get pregnant but at that time Kachal is impersonating her sister and twins are born to her. Now Gorakhnath asks his disciple Janamejaya to sacrifice himself by dissolving in water. Bachal drinks this and she gets pregnant. Kajal has no milk in her breasts, so Bachal nurses the twins from one breast and Guga from another. Guga’s powers come from Gorakhnath, a disciple of Shiva, and he is considered to be an incarnation of Janamejaya of the Mahabharata.

There are many heroic exploits by Guga as he grows up. But, eventually, the twins ask for their share of the kingdom and, to force the issue, seek Prithviraj’s help, who arrives with his huge army, but the battle is a stalemate.

There are negotiations during which one of the twins spears Guga in the eye. In anger, Guga beheads the twins. When Bachal learns of the death of the twins, she is very sad because she treated the twins as her own sons. She banishes Guga for 12 years, during which period he lives with Gorakhnath.

After 12 years, Guga begins to visit his wife surreptitiously. Bachal gets to know and she begs Guga to return home. But he refuses saying that he will never show his face to her because she exiled him. He goes to Gorakhnath to ask him to open up the earth so that he could perform samadhi. That is what happens and the earth swallows him  and his blue stallion.

Guga is venerated as a supernatural hero in Punjab and neighbouring states. He is most celebrated during the rainy season. Large fairs are held at the Guga shrines. The mark of Guga is his blue horse. Blue flags represent his family whereas yellow flags are used to represent his maternal family. Guga singers are from the community of Bhagats, who accompany themselves with drum and sarangi.

North of the Punjab, the epic songs in Kashmir are sung by the Bhands, who are a community of traditional performers (Raina, 1999). The word bhand seems to be derived from the bhana of Bharata’s Natya Shastra, in which it is a drama form. The enactments include include mythological themes and masks and large puppets are also used.

The orchestrs includes the swarnai, dhol, nagara, and the thalij. The swarnai is larger in size than the better-known shehnai with a strong and metallic sound. It consists of a nai or wooden pipe, the barg, a reed, and a copper disc of the diameter of the pipe into which the barg is fitted. The Bhands dance to the tunes of specified mukams of Sufiana music (Kashmiri classical music). The performance, which includes dancing, acting, puppetry, acrobatic tricks, and music, begins in the evening with a ritual dance and continues till the early hours of the next day. The all-night performance deals with the heroic exploits of the goddess. The Akanandun is a Kashmiri epic song with some parallels to the Guga story. Here a barren queen conceives thanks to Gorakhnath who returns in 12 years to reclaim the boy.

The South
Blackburn (1989) lists the following major oral epics from the South:  Kordabbu from Karnataka; Kanyaka, Palnadu and Toubommalata from Andhra; Annanmar, Muttupattan and Tampimar from Tamil Nadu; and Teyyam of Kerala. These are in addition to the classical Sanskrit epic-based performances in all the four states.

I speak here only of the Kanyaka which is the epic of the Komati community of Andhra. This tale is believed to be derived from the Skanda Purana, the Komatis considering themselves to be the descendents of the soldiers who form part of the story. Written versions of the epic exist.

In the story, the king of the area sees Kanyaka who is the daughter of the leader of the Komati clan. The king sends word that he would like to marry Kanyaka and, should the father refuse, he would invade the city and abduct her.

The Komatis do not know what to do. Kanyaka takes charge and asks for a delay. Meanwhile, she and the other women decide to immolate themselves. The king’s spies are so moved that they join sides with the Komatis. At last, the king invades the town, but it is too late and the women are dead. The king, when he enters the city, also dies because of a curse placed on him by Kanyaka.

Before she dies, Kanyaka demands that the Komatis will follow certain rules: cross-cousin marriages will never be avoided, even when the boy or the girl is sick or ugly or poor; all Komati girls will carry her name; and the city will be a pilgrimage centre with Kanyaka as a goddess.

Here is another article Ramana posted titled "Oral Epics of women of Dandakranya":


Here is a brief summary of some:


<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->The Annanmar Katai or Story of the Brothers is a regional story that depicts three generations in a land-owning family that once ruled a substantial local territory. The heroes attempt to protect their lands from various external threats and undergo many trials and tests in the process. They are backed by the women of the family and aided by a variety of semi-magical animals. The epic encompasses an entire tapestry of smaller stories.


As for English translations for people interested:
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Elder Brother's Story ANNanmAr katai Part I & II
ANNanmAr katai tells the story of two brave KauNTar brothers of Coimbatore district with a sociological bias. The story which was popular orally has been compiled and edited with an English translation by Dr Brenda Beck.

The Epic of Palnadu by Gene H.Roghair

Messages In This Thread
Folk Epics Of Bharat - by Bharatvarsh - 12-24-2007, 10:19 PM
Folk Epics Of Bharat - by Bharatvarsh - 07-29-2008, 03:12 AM
Folk Epics Of Bharat - by Bharatvarsh - 07-29-2008, 03:33 AM
Folk Epics Of Bharat - by Bharatvarsh - 08-02-2008, 08:23 PM
Folk Epics Of Bharat - by Bharatvarsh - 05-09-2009, 10:13 PM
Folk Epics Of Bharat - by Guest - 11-23-2009, 04:42 PM

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