India is known as the land of diversity. Delving into the storytelling traditions of India is expectedly a Herculean task! But, in Lore of the land: Storytelling traditions of India, Nalini Ramachandran takes up this challenging task.
Storytelling is one of the most basic cultural activities of any group of people. Storytelling can be through words, dance or music. It could be oral, written or enacted. This book is an introduction to the beautiful world of stories in India.
Story of storytelling
The book begins with an incident involving Mohini- a young girl who is born into a family of storytellers. Well, it would be more appropriate to say, a family of exceptional storytellers. But the story of Mohini begins with a failed performance, where she is not able to narrate a proper story. Disappointed, she decides to run away from home following this humiliating performance. As she sets off she encounters a book loving spirit, aptly named Katha, who takes her on a captivating journey through the world of stories.
The world of stories- storytelling traditions of India
Each chapter takes Mohini and Katha, the story loving ghost to a different part of India. They manage to cover the length and breadth of this gigantic country! They take their time, taking in the beauty of the place and its unique culture. They then delve into the storytelling traditions of that place- how these stories originated, how they changed over the years and what they are now.
Katha happily imparts all this information to Mohini in form of a story. Interspersed with this narrative are side boxes that outline facts about the traditions of the area. Most importantly, the actual age old lores that have been passed down generations are also narrated. Well, a story within a story…that’s always fun!
The book outlines 38 storytelling traditions of India in most of its states. It is also like a crash course in Indian traditions and rituals! After all, most storytelling traditions in India have roots in the agrarian lifestyles of people or are linked to mythology and religion. They are also closely interwoven with the art and music traditions of the state. Hence, a dive into the world of stories of a particular state reflects not only its stories but also its art, culture and music.
Storytelling traditions of India are not just about stories alone. They are also linked to art and craft traditions. Hence, when we read about the puppetry performances of Andhra Pradesh for instance, we learn also about the intricate puppets crafted from leather. In Arunachal Pradesh a local dance performed by a tribe captures traditional stories. Or, how Mithila and Madhubani forms of art are interwoven with storytelling traditions.
The book is quite detailed and comprehensive. However, reading it is never overwhelming because the information is broken into different headers and sidebars and also colour-coded. This makes the text easy to navigate.
To top it, there are lots of illustrations to complement the texts. The illustrations by Abhishek Choudhury bring out the story and the stories within the story in a very vibrant manner. The illustrations are apt for the story as well. For example, in the chapter describing the Madhubani traditions, one of the illustrations is depicted in the Madhubani style, thus adding authenticity to the story.
But, the most important theme that emerges from the book is the fact that stories can be told in many ways and that there is never a single story for a single thing. Mohini learns that different versions of stories exist and “people believe what suits them”.
When I think about this theme of the book, I recall a popular lecture by Novelist Chimamanda Adichie who spoke about the danger of a single story. It is with pride that I recognise that storytelling traditions of India have always incorporated multiple viewpoints.
As Katha puts it in the book:
“Why should there be only a single story about anything? “Katha asked. “There is always room for interpretation and imagination. A story can be told in a zillion ways!”.
There are many more storytelling traditions in India than have been described in the book. But, the book talks about key ones that people need to be aware of. Some of them flourish, but most of them are dying out. Maybe this beautiful storytelling attempt will open people’s eyes and ears to the wonderful world of stories that exists in our own country.
This is a book packed with information and stories, as well as stories within stories. It is a captivating and detailed introduction to the storytelling traditions of India. It has many legendary stories woven with stories of the origins of many myths and traditions. The book is written in a manner that appeals to young adults and adults. Anyone with an interest in stories and storytelling traditions in India will find the book to be a worthy addition to their library.
Author: Nalini Ramachandran
Illustrator: Abhishek Choudhury
Age group: Adults and Young adults