Give a brief overview of the academic period in the growth of folklore studies in India.

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Give a brief overview of the academic period in the growth of folklore studies in India.


Answer: India, more than any other place in Eastern civilisation, provides a wonderful chance for folkloristics scholars to trace the threads of unity within packed variation. Munshi notes, “Throughout India’s history”, The process of integration is divided into two parts: one has its origins in Aryan culture and operates on the momentum that the culture’s values have; the other works its way upward from the way of life of the Early Dravidians and other non-Aryan cultures in the country into the framework of Aryan cultures, modifying its form and content but not the fundamentals, and weaving into a continuous pattern. The first movement adds life and synthesis, while the second adds vigour and variation to the piece. But it is the balance of the two that gives India her strength, tenacity, and sense of mission, year after generation.

Scholars who began serious research on Indian culture around the turn of the century appear to have failed to capture this essence of harmonic pattern, resulting in a lack of universal knowledge of the genuine regularities in Indian civilisation and society. The much-discussed notions of the “Great Tradition” and the “Little Tradition,” as well as their triumphs and failures, must be evaluated in light of these and other deeply embedded aspects of Indian culture and civilization. Another significant issue that early ethnographers in India appear to have overlooked.

These links would have become known if ethnographers’ research targets had been a little broader and deeper, clearing the conceptual undergrowth and providing an excellent opportunity for scholars to work out the relationships that existed between the scriptural theories of Indian society and the actual systems that operate in Indian village life.

Furthermore, in the end, it may have aided in the construction of an overarching structure of thought about Indian civilization, allowing researchers to leave the wilderness of old misunderstandings.

Despite a long and illustrious history of anthropological research on the Indian subcontinent, oral traditions, particularly the rich and fascinating folk narratives, remained largely untapped: they were not collected or subjected to the rigorous analytic tools developed by anthropologists over time.

While investigations on the Indian caste system, social structure, kinship, village organisation, and other topics drew the attention of both Western and Indian researchers, resulting in the publishing of useful research, oral traditions did not. Scholars in general appear to have missed the fact that a systematic study of oral traditions would greatly aid in our comprehension of the phenomena we’re all trying to grasp. Nevertheless, in past years, researchers have recognised their earlier errors, and the necessity to study oral traditions in order to comprehend the reality of Indian culture in a holistic manner has been acknowledged by both Western and Indian scholars, leading to the adoption of many innovative techniques. For example, until the mid 1950s, anthropologists paid little attention to oral traditions. Oral traditions began to catch the attentive focus of every cultural anthropologist after the mid 1950s, when structuralism, based mostly on Lévi-Strauss’ study of primitive mythology and oral traditions, began to sweep anthropological research.

As is generally known, India holds a unique position in the history of world mythology. The wonderful Indian storey has influenced the theoretical development of folkloristics. Max Muller’s writings on Indian mythology and Theodore Benfey’s translation of the legendary Panhcatantra, for example, gave birth to the belief that fairy tales originated in India. The question isn’t whether these and other hypotheses were eventually supported or not. The problem is that Indian folktales’ richness and variety have the potential to inspire such notions. This also serves as a reminder of the importance of the subcontinent’s oral traditions, which are still alive and well.

In addition, India has the distinction of having the world’s oldest written oral traditions. Apart from the Rigveda, Ramayana, and Mahabharata, the Puranas and Upanishads are rightly referred to as the “encyclopaedia of Indian religion and mythology,” with the best examples being Narayana Pandit’s Hitopadesa, Gunadhya’s Brhatkatha, Somadeva’s Kathasaritsagara, Das’Vetala Pancavimsatika, and other works.

India has a unique position in worldwide folklore studies due to its dizzying wealth of oral traditions. Anthropologists and folklorists were drawn to it because of its diverse ethnic and language cultural traditions. The study of Indian myths and folktales by Max Müller and Theodore Benfey demonstrates how Indian folklore materials affected the theoretical development of folklore studies. Indian culture and civilisation have been defined by the preservation of some of the world’s oldest oral and written traditions.

However, it was only after the arrival of the British that folklore on Indian soil was studied in contemporary methodical manner. One of India’s most eminent folklore researchers, Jawaharlal Handoo, has divided the development of folklore studies in India into three periods: the Missionary Period, the Nationalistic Period, and the Academic Period.

Academic Period:

After India’s independence in 1947, the academic age of Indian folklore studies started, with official study and research in institutionalised institutions such as colleges and universities. The essential impetus for this was obtained in the spirit of the patriotic era. If the missionary period was distinguished by the gathering of raw material on Indian folklore and the nationalist period was marked by patriotic feelings, the academic period was marked by the pursuit of truth about Indian folklore, as well as scientific study and preservation by Indians. Folklore studies at Indian educational institutions remained/were initially merged with departments such as anthropology, history, and literary studies, as in many other countries. Gauhati University established a Folklore Archive in 1955, which eventually evolved into the Department of Tribal Culture and Folklore Research, India’s first folklore department.

Later on, several additional Indian institutions established departments to provide M.A., M. Phil., and Ph.D. programmes. As well as a Ph.D. Folklore studies courses are available. IGNOU is one of the few institutions in India that provide academic programmes and courses in folklore studies, and students have responded enthusiastically. Nongovernmental organisations, such as the National Folklore Support Centre, have been established to promote and disseminate folklore studies in India, in addition to government institutions and universities. Folklore studies in India during this time were marked by an interdisciplinary approach, international partnerships, and applications of modern ideas and viewpoints in the humanities and social sciences. Birinchi Kumar Baruah, A. K. Ramanujan, Jawaharlal Handoo, Praphulladatta Goswami, Birendranath Datta, Manoj Das, K Sachindanandan, Indranath Choudhury, and many more are among the renowned folklore scholars of this period.


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