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Folkloric Bangladesh

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17th-Apr-2015       
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Dr. Ashraf  Siddiqui :
(From the previous issue)
A number of folklore collectors were appointed by the Academy to work on the project in the regions rich in folklore. As a result, folklore materials of high quality poured in an unending stream. While collecting was thus being established on a systematic basis, the Academy began to publish folklore collections. The first publication, Momenshahir Loka-Sahitya (Folklore of Mymensingh), collected and edited by Rowshan Izdani, came out in 1957. His book contains specimens of different genres of folklore material of his native Mymensingh district. Izdani was, however, a good collector.
In May, 1960, mainly based on the proposal of the present writer, a fresh graduate from the Indiana University and chief of Culture and Folklore section the Folklore Committee of the Bengali Academy resolved that the folklore materials collected by the Academy should be edited by eminent scholars before publication in a scientific method. The Committee decided that each editor should work with a particular kind of material from a specific region. In the introductory chapter, the editor was instructed to cover the following points:
1. Information about the field and the informants
2. Social and cultural background of the material
3. Functional use of each genre
4. Typical regional characteristics, if there are any
5. Historical elements, if there are any
6. International circulation, if it can be determined
7. Literary value, etc.
So far the Bengali Academy has published a huge number of books including some in English, thousands of books may now be compiled from the huge material collected by the Academy.
So to conclude that the establishment of the Folk-Lore Society in London in 1878 and Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784, mentioned earlier, mark the beginning of a emphasis on scientific procedure in the study and collecting of folklore.  The influence of the Asiatic and the Folk-Lore Societies were greatly felt in the then India because many of the government officials and missionaries active there were affiliated with them. Dorson has described the foundation of the folk-Lore Society and its influence on English folklorists thus :
In a period roughly bounded by 1870 and 1910 England witnessed a vigorous activity in folklore. Within these years the first folklore society in the world was formed; the first folklore journal (Folk-Lore Record, 1878-1882) was issued, and filled with brilliant articles; collectors handbooks (Gomme, The Handbook of Folk-Lore, 1st ed. 1887; 2nd ed. 1890; enlarged ed. by Burne, 1914) were compiled, and systematic country collections were undertaken; folk materials hidden in magazine files, chapbooks, and similar antiquarian sources were located and reprinted; and International Folklore Congress was held at London in 1891, dominated by English scholars: and a steady outpour of theoretical and controversial treatises wrestled with the problems of the new science.
In the first issue of Folk-Lore (1890), the organ of the Folk Lore Society, which succeeded Folk-Lore Record (1878-1882) and Folk-Lore Journal (1883-1889),  the editor Joseph Jacobs clearly stated :
Since Mr. Thoms invented the term in 1846, Folk-Lore has undergone a continual widening of its meaning and its reference...Folk-Lore has now been extended to include the whole vast background of popular thought, feeling and usages, out of which, and in contrast to which have been developed all the individual products of human activity which go to make up what is called History."
And in all the studies an attempt will be made to give exact and prompt bibliographical information of noteworthy contributions in books or articles published at home and abroad.
In the same way Burne in her Handbook wrote :
"Whatever country be the scene of operations, the first requisite in collecting folklore is to enter into friendly relations with the folk...he (the collector) must adopt a sympathetic attitude and show an interest in the people themselves."
The impulse of the new science of anthropology, of course, formed the background for the new group of folklorists in this era. The anthropological influence can be traced to the work of Darwin.
Darwin published his great work on the Origin of Species in 1859 with a call for evolutionary treatment in the science of man. Darwin felt that all morality was the result of evolution and that in man it had been produced not by natural selection working on the individual, but by the improvement of various communities moral standards which increased their survival potential. In The Descent of Man (1871) he made cultural studies the legitimate heirs of evolutionary biology.
In response to the Origin of Species, Tylor in his Researches into the Early History of Mankind (1865) and his Primitive Culture (1871) crystallized the concept of cultural ascent for folklorists as well as anthropologists. His Primitive Culture covered a broad field, including mythology, philosophy, religion, language, are and culture. Tylor's emphasis was on 'survival' and he concerned himself with the unity of human culture envisaged as a continuity. He contended that all people have gone through the same stages of culture in a direct line of evolution, and that in each stage they react to the world and express themselves in the same way. Thus in the higher stage there may be survivals' of the earlier stages.
Tylor's evolutionary anthropology was carried on by Frazer, who found in primitive culture an opportunity to indulge his interest in ancient survivals. His The Golden Bough (2 vols., 1890; several volumes published under different titles were issued in an enlarged edition of 12 vols.; 3rd ed. from 1911-1915), a comparative study of myths, tales, rituals, and other genres of folklore, drew equally from ethnology, ancient history and European and Oriental folklore. Among many areas and cultures Frazer refers to, we find numerous references to material from various parts of Bengal collected and studied by English civil servants, missionaries, and native collectors.
(to be continued)

His Totemism (1887), Questions on the Customs, Beliefs and Languages of Savages (1907), The Belief in Immortality and the Worship of the Dead (3 vols., 1913, 1922, and 1924), The Worship of Nature (1926), The Fear of the Dead in Primitive Religion (3 vols. 1933, 1934 and 1936) were stimulating studies which threw light on the various explanations of folklore. Frazer's data was second-hand and often inaccurate, but his theories on religion were stimulating. The study of direct and parallel evolution of cultures and of survivals in culture, as enlarged by Frazer, encouraged such folklorists as MacCulloch in his The Childhood of Fiction (1905) to study folklores primarily as the products of primitive societies, being filled with motifs going back to remote periods of beliefs in Europe and Asia. Frazer and MacCulloch overlooked the consideration that each people has its own historical development and its own culture.
However, these synthesis seemingly gave a scientific basis to the doctrine of survivals cherished by the anthropological folklorists, and prolific scholars such as Gomme, Hartland, Lang, Clodd and Nutt, who together combated and vanquished the solar mythologists' led by MaxMuller, Cox, Gubernatis and Robert Brown etc.
In short, Lang's Custom and Myth (1884) and Myth, Ritual and Religion (1887), Hartland's The Science of Fairy Tales (1891), The Legend of Perseus (1894-96), Gomme's Ethnology in Folklore (1892), Folklore as a Historical Science (1908), Clodd's Tom Tit Tot (1898) and Cox's Cinderella (1893), were more or less echoes of this survival theory, and thus the doctrine of survivals adopted from the theory of biological evolution unified the works of Victorian scholars.
With the development of anthropological theory under the influence of such men as Van Gennep, Naumann, and Boas, the theory of uniliner cultural evolution was rejected in favour of cultural pluralism. Neither they realised the importance of Finish School, type, motif, variations and above all 'personal complex' of the informants enlarged by the Russian scholars. Accordingly, the influence of the British folklore scholars diminished, and by the end of the second decade of the twentieth century their theories had been completely replaced.
It was quite natural that folklore collection and study in the then India by British civil servants and missionaries from 1870 on received much impetus from survivalist scholarship prosecuted in England Richard Cornac Temple, William Crooke, Herbet Risley, George Grierson, C.H. Bompas, Rev, James Long, and others who spent long years in India were acquainted with the folklore scholarship in London and they employed these theories in their work in India. Crook, Log, Grierson and many other civil servants contributed original articles to Folk-Lore and other journals. Native scholars such as Sarat Chandra Mitra and Abdul Wali directly or indirectly were also influenced by the folklore scholars in England. Mitra himself was a contributor of Folk-Lore and other international journals.
It is true that folklore activities in England gave a great impetus to the European civil servants and missionaries residing in India. But all of them were not equally good scholars. Neither did they rigidly follow the methods by English folklorists. Local scholars and collectors, on the other hand, imbued with a nationalistic spirit, saw in folklore a long continuing cultural heritage and in some cases they allowed emotion to colour and sweeten their discussions and scholarship. Among the nationalist folklorists the names of Rabindranath Tagore and Dinesh Chandra Sen rank high. Their impetus and encouragement inspired a whole generation of collectors and scholars to collect and study folklore, as has been observed in this study.
It is needless to say that the British anthropologists and survivalists headed by Darwin, Tylor, Frazer, MacCulloch, Gomme, Hartland Lang, Clodd, Nutt, Andrew Lang and others on the one hand and such prolific Indianists Benfey, Max Muller, Bloomfield, Cowell, Tawney and Penzer and on the other hand, reigned over the folklore scene of Indo-Bangladesh subcontinent almost from the beginning till the last days of British supremacy. The anthropological and survival theories changed but their followers still clinged to the old theories, they talked, debated, essayed which in some cases, though were illuminating, national, but in no ways were international. Folklore scholarship during the British period, nay, even today in our country, has less comparatively been influenced by the Finish Historic-Geographic method, the modern anthropological and ethnological theories, the Psychoanalytical Schools or even Structuralists. While Finland, Ireland, Sweden and American are emphasising on the modern 'field method' and specially on the 'style', 'contents' and 'functions' of folklore or folksong, we are still gossiping on  the same Victorian armchair, our eyes kept wide-open on printed materials, books or theories. What is needed now is a first hand knowledge of folklore in our field, its life-story, the people, tellers, informants, singers and cultural hinterlands. Then only we can proceed for comparative studies in respect of its types and motifs, distributions and circulations as has been followed by the contemporary American, Irish, Finnish and Russian scholars. We have our comparative tools, as discussed earlier, we have printed materials. We now need to sit down with our collected materials and find out our cultural heritage in other countries, may be, in other parts of the globe. It is high time that we endeavour to spread our researches from the national to the international levels.
1. The word 'Bengal' throughout this study will include the geographical areas of Bangladesh and West Bengal. Similarly 'India' will include the present geographical areas of India and Bangladesh. The term 'Indians' will signify both Indians and Bengalees, if otherwise not specifically mentioned.
2. His presidential address is still quoted like a proverb:...what are the intended objects of your inquiries...? Man and Nature; whatever is performed by the one or produced by the other...you will trace the annals...traditions...musics...architecture...painting and poetry...[Asiatic Resarch, London reprint, 1 (1798), XI-XVI; for details see Tales from Bangladesh, Dr. Ashraf Siddiqui ed. (Dacca, 1976-) p. VI]
3. Damant's wonderful collection of 22 tales from Dinajpur have repeatedly been cited by scholars all over the world and have been referred to international TYPE and MOTIF indexes. A collection of his tales entitled as Tales from Bangladesh, Dr. Ashraf Siddiqui ed. was published from Dacca in 1976; 2003 mentioned earlier.
4. He recorded very interesting information on Muharram and Hindu festival Gajans, etc., the prevalent in the country.
5. See Bibliography, Siddiqui, Loka Sahitya, 2 Vols. (19991-95);
When the glory of Magadha was extinguished, Gaur (North Bengal) rose to the eminence over its ashes; and the flower of the Magadha population for the most part migrated to Bengal. During the reign of the Pala kings, GAUR kept up the tradition of learning and other glories that had attacked to the name of Mugadha; and we find that the ballads of Pala kings were not only sung in the Gangetie valley but in the picturesque hilly side of Orissa, nay, so far down as the shore of the Indian Occan, in the Bombay Presidency.
6. The song in honour of Manasa Devi, the home of which was the city of Champa in Bengal, travelled on the lyers of minstrels from Gaur to the remotest parts of  Aryavartya (The Folk-Literature of Bengal, p. 49)
The Indian fables in Panchatantra and the Hitopdesh made a triumphant match to the west and exercised very great influence in shaping the literature of middle ages of Europe (ibid., p. 3). For a detail of this theory one can see N.M. Penzer's The Ocean of Story, vol. V, London, 1926. p. 210; and also Franklin Edgarton's The Panchatgantra Reconstructed, University of Harvard Oriental Series (1924).
It (Malanchamala) is a tale of which a nation might well be proud; it has all the attributes of a beautiful lyric; it contains a conception of purity and love which evince a high state of civilization [W.R. Gourlay, idid., p. X]
7. For a detailed picture one can consult Dr. Mazharul Islam's A History of Folktale Collection in India and Pakistan (Ph. D. thesis, I.U., 1963; Dacca, 1970), and my Bengali Folklore Collections and Studies During the British Period (Ph.D. thesis, I.U., 1966-); Tales from Bangladesh, idid., (Dacca, 1976-); Loka-Sahitya, ibid, 2nd ed (Dacca, 1977-)
8. Richard M. Dorson, 'The Great Team of English Folklorists,' JAF, LXIV (1951), 1.
9. Folk-Lore, 1 (1890), 1
10. Ibid., 2.
11. The Handbook of Folk-Lore (London, 1924), p. 6
12. Richard M. Dorson, 'Folklore Studies in England', 'Folklore Research Around the World' (Bloomington, 1961)p. 22.
13. These references may be found, in the following volumes and pages; Rain making in Bengal, 1, 278, 284, 284; Maghs, II, 38; Marriage ceremony at the digging of wells, II, 146; The Oraons, II, 148; VIII, 117; Mourners touch a coral ring, III, 315; Bengali women, their euphemisms for snakes and tghieves, III, 402; Kings and their rule of seccession, IV, 51; The Oraons and the Mundas, V 46, 240, X. 311; The Korwas, VII, 123; The Hos, VIII, 117; Seclusion of girls at puberty, X. 68; Stories of the External Soul, XI, 101-102; etc.
14. Dorson, 'Folklore Studies in England,' Folklore Research Arouud the World, p. 22.

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