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Folkloric Bangladesh

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24th-Apr-2015       
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Dr. Ashraf  Siddiqui :
(From the previous issue)
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.
(Concluded)

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