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Aspects of our Folklore

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Syed Ali Ahsan :
Before we can come to know the proper nature of the Folklore of Bangladesh we should know and appreciate the particular culture and environment or in a word, civilization which gave birth to it. It is not possible for a Bengali of today to understand the truth underlying the unsophisticated beauty and charm of folk melody though he may be moved by it as he is moved by many other sentimental things of life. This is because our present-day world is town-centred and sophistication has become the key-note of our culture. The geniune folklore of Bangladesh is the product of the Middle Ages of Bengali Literature when poetry was the product of community living unperturbed in a world of economic well-being and mythological inheritance. I am leaving out of consideration the so-called folksongs and folktales of East which are of comparatively recent growth and show signs are of contact with urban life. Gunai Bibi, for example, is actually a modem tale told by villagers but villagers who had been to towns, like Barisal and Dhaka. It will not be difficult for an analytical mind to discover in this ballad a poet appealing to himself initially and therefore to the community. Here the appeal is not commensurate with the community itself. However, in this discussion I am not concerned with the folklore which has developed only recently as an outcome of the impact of urban culture on rural affability. I am concerned here with the genuine folklore of the Middle Ages when poetry had not reduced itself to a condition of stalemate but developed from the widest possible appeal. Though it is quite possible that the most significant types of modern Bengali poetry have elements in common with the folk poetry of the Middle Ages.
As with English poetry so with Bengali poetry, the folk measure is provided by the traditional ballad. Without going into the controversy as to whether the words of these ballads were invented by individuals for the community or whether these grew spontaneously out of the community, we can say that these ballads were sung by gayens the, trouvere of Bengal at social gatherings and at midnight concourses of village folk. We know for certain that these ballads appealed to and were adopted by the community. They were handed down from generation to generation. Let us now try to find out their invariable characteristics by considering an example, Kajal Rekha. It depicts the story of a poor girl destined to marry a prince who was covered with needles all over his body. Even his eyes were shut. Kajal Rekha plucks out the needles one after another, but before plucking out the two needles of the eyes she wanted to refresh herself by taking a dip in the river. While still in water, she saw a girl passing by the bank whom she buys as her slave with her gold bracelets. She instructs the slave-girl to go to the temple where her husband was lying in bed with needles in his eyes. The slave-girl goes near the prince, plucks out the needles from his eyes and deceives him by declaring herself as his wife and Kajal Rekha as the slave-maid. Kajal Rekha, passes her days in agony and after various interesting trials which both the girls undergo, Kajal Rekha ultimately regains her position and the mischievous slave girl is buried alive.
Kajal Rekha is a true ballad in so much as it is anonymous and has been handed down for centuries as an oral tradition. There is a directness of narrative without any comment, criticism or probing into motives. There is a definiteness of the visualization, that is, of the details. This definiteness is a striking characteristic of our ballads; note, for example, that the slave-girl plucks out from the eyes of the prince, not several, but two needles.
Unlike the Scotch ballads, the supernatural element does not play an important role in the ballads. Whereas in Scotch ballads we get the rendezvous made by the dead corpse or the mysterious ringing of the bells, in our ballads on the other hand we get a pointed sense of realism in their social settings and human life as a part of nature and not an antimony to it.
In Mahua, Malua, Dewan Bhabnai, Kamala and Dewana Madina there is deep complaint of unhappy, tragic love which can better be said a tragic conception of life. There is also an extreme simplicity in the mechanism of verse, the verse is not artificial and the rhythms are instinctive.
These characteristics of Ballads are direct reflection of the social environment within which this poetry was shaped. Whereas modern folk poetry is away from simplicity of diction, our traditional folk poetry is spontaneous, simple, objective as speech itself, and close to actual life. Once upon a time, it had a wide community of appeal.
Northern Mymensingh differs from other parts of this land in its rugged physical contour. Some of the ballads of Mymensingh express this ruggedness through superstition and gloom.
The environing physical hostility made men hardy and courageous in action in everyday affairs, in love and in dark adventures. And they boastfully talked about these things. The experience of an individual was a matter for open celebration; it was a common possession of the community.
The folklore of Bangladesh includes within its fold all kinds of folksongs, folktales, superstitions, local legends, proverbs, riddles and nursery rhymes. Riddles are probably, the oldest literary improvisation of the people. There is a beautiful riddle in Chandi Mangal of Kabikankan - “While alive he is silent, but clamerous when dead; God has not given any skin as his coating - But we want his assistance for sounding good omens.” It means a conch-shell.
While finishing a tale, the trouvere generally says something like this -
‘Thus my story endeth;’
‘The Natiya thorn withereth.’
‘Why, O Natiya, thorn, dost wither?’
‘Why does the cow on me browse?’
‘Why, O cow, dost thou browse?’
‘Why does thy neat-herd not send me?’
‘Why, O neat-herd, dost not send the cow?’
‘Why does thy daughter-in-law not give me rice?’
‘Why, O daughter-in-law, dost not give rice?’
‘Why does my child cry?’
‘Why, O child, dost thou cry?’
‘Why does the ant bite me?’
‘Why, O ant, dost thou bite?’
‘Koot, koot, koot.’
    -Essays by Syed Ali Ahsan

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