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Oral Epics of Western Nepal and related traditions: anthropological, linguistic and musical perspectives

TITLES AND ABSTRACTS (alphabetically by author)

The Said Jagar in Garhwal
Vijaya BAHUGUNA, Doon Library and Research Center, Dehradun

There are two principal Muslim spirits in Garhwal, namely, Maimanda Pir and Said who appear in the religious belief system after the advent of Muslims in India. In the Gorakhapanthi literature they figure as warriors accompanying Turk army that invaded Uttarakhand. In course of time both of them settled in the hills, the former adopted Natha Pantha and became a famous ascetic. Later on they received adorations as ascetics. However, in some local traditions of Garhwal it is said that Said was given birth by a Brahmin woman, in others Said are believed to be the spirits of both a Muslim Pir (ascetic) and of deceased Muslims, who wear white clothes. Riding horses in the night they call persons and he who replies to them falls unconscious. These spirits often possess persons spitting or urinating on the graves of Muslims, or else those who wander in lonely places in the night. A person afflicted with Said utters nonsensical words and his face becomes ghastly. To free such a person from affliction the priest called "Dhami", usually a Silpakara (Sudra), recites "Saidvali-mantra" to get the afflicted person possessed by Said. When possessed, the afflicted person himself narrates the way he would be freed from affliction. Accordingly, Said worship takes place and the afflicted person is cured. Interestingly, in the rubric of the Saidvali-mantra used in Said jagar it is not necessary that the name Said should occur. In fact in some examples we notice a medley of names, some representing deities like Kalika, Narasinga, others prominent Muslim persons like "Musalamana Akabar" (Mughal Emperor Akbar?), Alekadama Ibibatasau(?), still others "Pamcha Pitara" (five deceased ancestors?), Dharati (Earth), Kaluva, etc. All of these names receive salutations intended to obtain their favour to ward off the evil spirits of malevolent Said. The Ushela-mantra is also used in Said jagar in which Said appears as a benevolent spirit to ward off evil Muslim spirits. Likewise, in the Dariyava-mantra used in Said jagar diverse Pir-s and Hindu deities receive salutations. Muslim Pir/Sufi tradition associated with Piran Kaliyar (a famous mausoleum of Sufi saint, Roorkey, District Haridwar, Uttarakhand) when reached the hills was confronted by Natha Panthi population of Garhwal Himalaya. It seems that the ascetic life of Said and Maimanda influenced the ministers of Natha Pantha and they incorporated the Muslim ascetics into their system. The main takers of Said worship were the Sudras, because they were not rigid in orthodox Hindu practices. In fact it gave them an opportunity to assert themselves in religious belief system as Dhami who controlled both the malevolent as well as benevolent Muslim spirits. Since malevolent Muslim spirits observed no distinction between high caste and low caste Hindus who were afflicted by them alike, the Dhami could command respect by virtue of his proficiency in freeing a person of high caste from affliction. Indeed Said worship is a very interesting example of socio-religious dynamics.

Musical aspects of western Nepalese epics
Franck BERNÈDE, Chinese Cultural University, Taipei

Stylistic aspects of western Nepalese epics

Oral epics of western Nepal are a literary genre of their own, with strong distinctive characteristics. We will try to introduce the most prominent of those features, in the perspective of affording a global picture of the epic technique. As form and meaning may never be separated, this presentation will consist in pointing to the dynamics of epic Such a study must not forget that Bharat are above all narratives. Thus, the classical opposition of song and recitative must be avoided, as both parts assemble into a strategy of meaning. In that perspective, we will examine the set of recitative tools (use of formulae, delivery style, prosody) in order to substantiate this poetics of (semi)improvisation. It is also required to characterize the level of Dotyali dialect used by the bards (fraught with a taste of obscurity and splendor) and its literary effect. Beside, translating the living poetry of the Bharat into written prose in European languages poses a number of problems that need also be evoked. All these clarifications leave an open space to discussion — in particular about categories of analysis. What must or must not the literary study of an oral genre such as the Bharat borrow from western or Sanskrit poetics, and to the poetics of Nepali literary genres ?

Dance is for God: Expressive culture among the forest-dwelling Raute of Nepal
Jana FORTIER, University of California, San Diego

One of the few forest-dwelling peoples of the Himalayas, the ethnic group known as the Raute regularly perform expressive cultures involving dance and music as a reflection of their indigenous culture. Since the first scholars recorded their music half a century ago, Raute expressive culture has maintained the same themes, instruments, and song elements. This essay focuses on the "surround the animals" (Payshyaari) dance, one which may take up to an hour and involves a series of intricate circle formations. Dancing is performed, according to Rautes, as a way to please their solar deity. The performance of communal dance also represents an important means of smoothing over everyday conflict, just as it does in other small-scale societies worldwide. Ultimately, the Payshyaari dance represents a symbolic manifestation of the important aspects of hunting and a valorization of forest foraging as the mainstay of Raute social life.

Katyuri jagar rituals, local traditions, and archaeology
Chandra Prakash FULORIYA, Museum, Kumaun University, Almora; M. P. JOSHI; Piyush BHATTA, Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi

Focussed on the Katyuri dynasty, the present paper attempts at collating jagar rituals, traditions and archaeology. The Katyuri vamsavali-s are widely distributed in Garhwal, Kumaon, and far western Nepal, and suggest that at some point of time they held sway over a vast stretch of land. In local traditions the Katyuri figure as a homogenous group numbering nau lakha (9, 00,000). Katyuri jagar rituals are classed under rajangi (deified royal spirits), as contrasted to bhutangi (deified jogi spirits), such as Haru, Sema, Bholanatha, etc. The Katyuri jagar is organized for the happiness and prosperity of the devotees. The principal deified Katyuri characters that possess the devotees are Queen Jiya Rani, Kings Dhama Deva and Birama Deva/Virama Deva/Bhima Deva, Bhekuva – a Katyuri official, Katyuri retinue, and in some places Katyuri King Prithvipala alias Pritama Deva, husband of Jiya Rani. The Katyuri jagar is performed during the naurtta (first nine days of the bright half) of the month of either Chaitra (March/April) or Asoja (Asvina, September/October). The jagar is performed in the night. It starts with naumata (beat of drums) performed by the assistants of the jagari (the bard-minister), followed by recitation of the sandhya, the Bharata, and finally the Katyuri jagar by the jagari addressed as Guru Kheka Dasa. At Chitrasila (near Kathgodam, District Nainital) a big annual fair takes place on Makara Samkranti (winter solstice, when Sun enters the sign of Capricorn) in honour of Jiya Rani, the heroine of Katyuri jagara, and on this occasion a one day jagar is also held. Similar fair known as Syalde-Vikhauti also takes place at Dwarahat on the occasion of Vishuva Samkranti (summer solstice, when Sun enters the sign of Aries). Archaeology unfolds existence of the Katyuri in Central Himalayan region from circa second century BC, and significantly their ritual status continues to hold ground even to-day. The Katyuri jagar comprises tangled skeins of local traditions and fables knit together in the jagar pattern, in the process some historical characters are also incorporated. However, there is no diachronic and synchronic agreement between the historical events frozen in epigraphical records and local traditions narrated in the jagar.

Ethnomusicology of Nepal: a French viewpoint

The Language of bharats
Giri Raj JOSHI, Tribhuvan University

The Râmâyana in the folklore of Jaunsar-Baur, District Dehradun, Uttarakhand Himalaya
Maheshwar P. JOSHI, Doon Library and Research Centre, Dehradun; Lakshmi Kant JOSHI, D.A.V.P.G. College, Dehradun, H.N.B. Central University, Shrinagar

Local contexts have played significant role in the proliferation of the Râmâyana story, and a vast diversity is found in different tribal accounts of the Râma stories from almost all over India. The Râma-chhâdî (Story of Rama) of Jaunsar-Baur (District Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India) narrated by Madan Das, the devala of God Basika, is undoubtedly one of them. Besides the Râma-chhâdî, fragments of the story of Râma in Jaunsar-Baur are also found in the Râma-khâde and the Sîtâ-rauna. The Râma-khâde (songs composed in couplet and termed poigot) are sung exclusively by the devâda (traditional musician) community attached to the temple of Mahasu, the patron deity of the natives of Jaunsar-Baur region, on the occasion of Basanta-pamchamî festival (falling between mid-February and mid-March). The Sîtâ-rauna represents the famous episode of abduction of Sîtâ by Râvana, the Demon King. Unlike the Râma-khâde and Râma-chhâdî which are sung exclusively by the devâda community, the Sîtâ-rauna is sung by all sections of Jaunsar-Baur. It is performed either on the occasion of marriage ceremony inside the house or else during different festivals in the open. Significantly, the natives of Jaunsar-Baur (District Dehradun) region do not perform the Râmalîla, although the Râma-chhâdî is very popular among them. The present paper addresses the Râma-chhâdî. It has many noteworthy features of local perception which we have divided into 16 episodes occurring in the original "telling". It is interesting to note that in the Râma-chhâdî whereas several miracles are attributed to Sita, by and large Rama appears as an ordinary person, so much so that when he tries to prove himself as jati sati he fails. Furthermore, while in Ravana's captivity in Lanka, Sita digs at Gods that they are used to quarrel and eat by begging. May it account for woman's superiority in the polyandrous society?

Uttarakhand and Western Nepal as an ethnopoetic area
John LEAVITT, University of Montreal

In the 1970s, the French anthropologist Marc Gaborieau proposed that in terms of language, caste organization, and bardic traditions, Western Nepal and the Indian regions of Kumaon and Garhwal—now making up the state of Uttarakhand—represent a single cultural unit. In this preliminary and exploratory presentation, I will concentrate on language and oral performance. Background issues to be considered are language as such, the historical closeness of Central and Eastern Pahari (as argued by Joshi and Negi), and the distinctive direction taken by Central Kumaoni; and the differing roles of bardic performers and inspired oracles in Western Nepal, Kumaon, and Garhwal. But for the greater part of the talk, following on Gaborieau's own use of a distinction developed in the Parry-Lord line of analysis of oral traditions, I will consider diction, formula, and theme: that is to say, 1) the language of bardic performance, which seems to be far more uniform than the spoken registers; 2) the pervasive use of formulas, that is, fixed and repeating ways of saying something, with many of the same formulas reappearing in different areas and different genres, suggesting a common basis of oral composition; and 3) the place of traditional themes. In all of these domains, and in spite of important differences, there are indications that Uttarakhand and Western Nepal can be thought of as a single poetic world.

Golden Hair: a Bharat, a myth, a fairy tale and their links with social reality

One of the sung poems recorded in Doti by Marc Gaborieau contrasts with the narratives that are usually referred to as bharat in Western Nepal, a term translated as "heroic ballad", "epic ballad" or "epic". The hero is a heroine, and there is no question of a battle. It's the story of Rani Maula, the barren queen of King Pirthamdeu who reigns over Ajayamirkot. She goes on a 12-year pilgrimage in order to obtain a son. While the queen practises austerities on the bank of a river, she becomes pregnant by the sun and she loses her golden hair in the stream. The hair is found by a fisherman, who brings it to the local king, and he decides to marry the girl it belongs to. Rani Maula succeeds in preventing the wedding from taking place by calling the king "father". But when she finally goes back to her palace with her husband, the latter has some doubts about her pregnancy. The queen then commits suicide, and a ray of sun gives birth to her son in a pit next to her pyre. The king successfully tests the baby to be sure that he is a member of the Solar clan, and he becomes King Tapi malla. Marc Gaborieau did not translate the bharat he had recorded, but he published a summary of the story, though in a slightly different version. In this story the baby, named Nagi Malla, notices that his father is a demon and kills him. He then becomes king. The final battle between the prince and his father, the king-demon, is remarkable, for bharats usually recount filial devotion and describe how the orphaned son avenges his father's death to restore the honour of his line, often bringing back his dead father's head that had been carried off as a trophy by the enemy. The story of Rani Maula thus forms a very unusual bharat, but, on the other hand, it contains several themes which are found in folktales and myths. The heroine of this tale is named Sunkesha, Sunkeshi, or Sunkeshari, that is "Golden hair", and she is related to the sun and to incest, as in the story of Rani Maula. But her relationship with her kin is also crucial, though this dimension is not included in the bharat about Rani Maula. A comparative analysis of the various versions shows a common core to the story, along with a number of particularly significant variants. Here I will try to defend the idea that these variants are more meaningful than the common core, as they can be viewed as containing the specific meaning of the narrative for each group.

Beyond text, beyond context. Archiving shaman oral texts from western Nepal
Gregory MASKARINEC, University of Hawaii

Using the example of my CRNS project that seeks to archive and make openly available through the internet shaman oral texts that I have recorded in Nepal, I examine the concept of this as yet unrealized archive as it might exist, explore what might be learned from efforts to construct it, and consider the uses to which it might be put. I suggest that four primary purposes for such an archive emerge: such an archive could: 1) provide source material for other fields of academic and aesthetic investigations; 2) help revive a philological approach to cultural anthropology; 3) diminish the heroic aspect of authorship in fieldwork-based anthropology; 4) offer new ways to connect the past to the future. Showing how this project might forge paths through modernity and its disintegrating parameters, I conclude that a properly constructed archive should exploit the limits of contemporary technology to resemble a shifting topiary of texts, sounds, images, and impressions, a labyrinthine playground circumscribing the limits of the real and the boundaries of the imaginary, propelling us, once caught in its web, to find new ways to free memory from the prisons of history.

Introduction; presentation of the programme

Shared themes in western Nepalese epics and other genres
Jaya Raj PANT, Tribhuvan University

The Story of Rama in the folklore of Eastern Kumaun
Suresh C. TAMTA, Government College, Narain Nagar, Askot, Kumaun, Uttarakhand; M.P. JOSHI

We are presenting two different versions of Thulo khela (Play of Rama) collected from Askot region (District Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand, India) in the present paper. We have divided version 1 into 15 episodes and version 2 into 11 episodes. These two versions are preserved in manuscripts by the families of principal singers called Bakhani. Irrespective of caste these stories used to be sung collectively by only male members of society during the Athau festival in the month of Bhadau (mid August-mid September) and lasting for eight days. Sadly, Thulo Khela in Suanakot-Barakot area is no more performed. The Thulo khela is sung mainly in three tunes, the principal one is termed Dhuska. Hence sometimes the story itself is confused with Thulo Dhusko. Dhuska is based on classical music. The other main tunes are termed Khela and Chalali. The accompanying musical instruments in the Thulo Khela are hudka and mijara (pair of cymbals). However, in the concluding day a big festival takes place in which dhola and damuva are also used. Formerly people also used to be entertained with mask dance showing hunters hunting hirana-chittala (two different species of deer) with bow and arrow. Interestingly, three people together formed one hirana/chittala. These two versions seem to suggest strong social differences. Thus, in version 1, which is strikingly local in perception, Sita is attributed far more miracles than Rama. Some of the episodes in this version have close correspondences with the Rama-chhadi of Jaunsar-Baur region. At this stage it is an open issue whether the upholders of version 1 represented the early settlers of Uttarakhand. Version 2 of the Rama story is more or less an abbreviated form of the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulasidasa. In it Rama is not only attributed several miracles but he is also depicted as the manifestation of god Vishnu himself. It is likely that version 2 was created by certain social groups to challenge the ritual hegemony of the upholders of version 1. However, it is certain that version 2 came into existence only after the currency of the Ramacharitamanasa in Askot region. In addition to these two detailed versions parts of legends relating to the story of Rama are also found in association with certain local deities, for example, the jagar of Airi, and ghatyali of Gadhadevi. We think that these diverse folk traditions indicate some sort of interaction between the "Great tradition" and "Little tradition".

Myths of the margins: folklore of the borderland between India and Nepal  
Badri Narayan TEWARI, GB Pant Institute, Allahabad

This paper would like to discuss the making and remaking of Bhagait folk ballad tradition popular among marginalized and Dalit castes residing in the Indo-Nepal border region in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It will also explore element of dissent, role of memories and identity assertions of the marginalized communities through these folklores. Here we will also try to reveal the flowing, flexible and moving nature of Identities in the borderland. The term Bhagait originated from the term Bhagat (Bhakt). Bhagait represents a different kind of bhakti singing tradition of the marginalized communities in which they don't sing for the gods like Rama and Krishna but sing the ballads to the glory of their folk heroes, Bir and gosai related with the mostly low and subaltern origin. The Bhagait tradition is an important constituent of art and cultural folk singing tradition among the castes like Mushhars, Dusadhs, Passees, Kumhars (potter), etc., in the Indo-Nepal bordering regions of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, in parts of the Maithili and Bhojpuri linguistic and cultural zones. In Bhagait tradition Bhagat mandali containing the group of folk performers called Gain (singers) sings and performs in the ballad form of the folk heroes related with marginalised castes. A group of 10-12 singers containing one mulgain (chief singer) and other Gain (singers) sings this ballad in rituals of Manauti and other festive occasions of Dalit life. The other function of this tradition is to create a counter space to Brahmanic ritual in which Bhagat (lower caste Tantric kind of priest) with this Bhagait performance performs ritual in the life of marginal communities. The third purpose of Bhagait singing is entertainment. It is difficult to say in contemporary time, which purpose occurs primarily and arrange it hierarchically. The Kriti and charit of the mythical heroes like Dina-Bhadri (Mushhar) Sahlesh (Dusadhs) Lal Kha (Dom) are sung. These folk heroes act as deities of the communities and community heroes. They recur in the collective memories of the marginalized communities through rituals, worship and ballad and are an integral part of the identities of the social groups. To see the influence of the memory of the myths on the communities, political forces are trying to intervene in these cultural constructions and improvise ballads which suit their politics. However, as a part of the oral traditions these ballads are always flexible. These keep on changing but when these enter the print medium, these become fixed. The fixing of orally constructed identity also contributes in the fixing the communities identity. Some of these ballads in contemporary times are also being played as Nautanki in these areas. The stories sung in these Bhagait traditions related with folk heroes like Dina Bhadri and Sahlesh are also picked by some of the city based theatre groups and improvised as theatre for urban people. An interesting feature of the making of these ballads singing traditions is that in most of the stories narrated these ballads are related with Nepal tarai region. The folk heroes narrated in these songs are either born in Nepal or they die in Nepal. So in spite of administrative division, these stories criss-cross between Nepal and bordering regions of India. The audience for these singing performances practices also lies in Nepal. People residing in Nepal who speak dialects like Maithili and Bhojpuri invite the Bhagat Mandali for performance at the time of various rituals and social occasions. The bordering location of this artistic tradition also adds some interesting elements in the form, content and performances of this genre.

The Bangani Mahabharata: Structures and Contexts  
Claus Peter ZOLLER, University of Oslo

The Bangani Mahabharata, locally called Panduan, is performed annually in February during the 5-day festival "Dance of the Drummers". The epic is performed by low-caste professional musicians in front of the temples of the deity Mahasu. The linguistic (and musical) structures of the epic are remarkably complex, and the language of the epic differs radically from normal spoken Bangani. This will be illustrated with examples from different levels of grammar  (phonology, morphology, syntax); in addition, it will be explained how the flexible poetic forms are created during performance. The complex linguistic structures correspond with equally complex contexts. Thus the epic is embedded a) in the Purana-like structure of the « Dance of the Drummer » festival ; b) it is a crucial element within the cycle of annual festivals ; c) it is a main device for integrating the myth of the advent of God Mahasu in Bangan into a larger historical frame ; d) and it offers the scholar a data source for comparison with other oral and written Mahabharata traditions and with individual myths and motifs found in the Himalayas and, in fact, in performance traditions all over South Asia. Last not least, structures and contexts of the Bangani Mahabharata allow the reconstruction of important political and religious changes having occurred in Bangan in the past.