Literary Shelf

The Place of the Marginalised

in Indian Folktales

This article is written jointly with Mrs. Jagjeet Kour, Research Scholar, Department of English, APS University, Rewa, MP. India


“Folk” the word signifies common people. Folktales are for common consumption of masses, rural, urban, rich, poor, young or old. Folktales of India have grown out of everyday experiences of the common man. Our folktales carry the smell of our soil. The spirit of our folktales is democratic where the otherwise marginalised section of the society finds a place of prominence. Our marginalised emotions like fear, sorrow, jealousy and violence also find expression in folktales as they describe sufferings and pain. The spectrum of folktales covers everyday joy to profound gratification to pain and misery. Women, children, disabled and Dalits find full expression in folktales. Not only marginalised human groups but all flora and fauna are well depicted in Indian folktales. Through personification, animals and trees, winds and plants also speak through folktales. Folktales portray a worldview which establishes the interdependence of all beings. Man, nature, animal kingdom and spirits- all form a fabric of life. In the present paper, we will study the worldview of Indian folktales which gives place to all, mainstream and marginalised alike.

Key Words: Folk, world-view, marginalized, mainstream, personification, interdependence

History, traditionally speaks about regimes, kings, queens, rulers, and winners. Folktales record practices, behaviour, beliefs and traditions of common man. Study of mythology and folktales of a community helps us in understanding history and culture of a community. Myths and folktales help us in understanding how culture evolves. Folktales help us in understanding political, religious, philosophical and survival issues. The potter, the mechanic, the housewife, the labourer, artisans, children, spirits, trees, flora-fauna all find place in folktales. Anyone who wants to know the base of society must read and know about the common folks. Folktales tell us about the lives of common people. Folktales help to understand any society or community. Indian folktales give optimistic view of Indian society. Folktales give voices to animals, trees and nature all around. Indian folktales acts as a bridge between mainstream literature and common people, marginalised as well. There are tales about women, children and artisans. There are tales about spirits, sick people, handicapped people, frustrated men and women. In folktales trees and animals speak and act. In folktales trees and animals are personified. Generally women are not supposed to raise their voices at home or outside home. Folktales tell us about their sufferings. Marginalised people express themselves through folktales. These folktales give multilayered meanings. Folktales record events of social and moral importance. These events are related to weavers, farmers, fishers, hunters and herders. Thus folktales also tell us about the adventures with domestic and wild animals. Folktales tell us about marginalised feelings of human societies like greed, jealousy, trickery, cunningness and fear. Some of the folktales become voices of marginalised.

History – Culture – Mythology – Folktales

An investigation of Indian folktales would demonstrate to us that life in its totality, the psychological, spiritual and physical is communicated through the symbols of mythology. Aside from people and super humans, creatures, fowls, the elements and streams have a position of importance both emblematically and abstractly. The mythic tradition of India especially those associated with the cult of the Goddess have an immediate bearing on the status of ladies and the creation of social foundations in India. Establishments like marriage, family-joint and atomic, stations and class have been assuming a critical job in Indian life and writings from the plain ancient occasions. Social foundations as the shapers of mentalities in Indian life and the place of myth and folklore in that have been an issue of lasting interest. In an Indian family while the dad is preeminent expert, the mother is the focal point of domestic and emotional life. The impact of profound situated, maternal attachment on Indian culture is significant. In India the commonest sublimation is the serious mother-Goddess love of womanhood in the abstract. Indian social orders appear to encourage and create in lady a resilience even under a limited encircled life. Indian ladies regardless of unfriendly impacts of the Purdah and the patriarchal frameworks have today accomplished a place of solidarity.

Once upon a time some girls were discussing about their marriage. Each one of them gave account of the gifts they are supposed to get from their relatives. One of them Bopoluchi was an orphan. She was exceptionally beautiful. She had no one from whom she could expect something. But still she boasted that her uncle will bring jewels, silken dresses and valuables for her marriage. Girls were busy in talking. A robber over heard all this. He got attracted towards Bopoluchi. He made a plan to deceive Bopoluchi. The robber dressed himself nicely and collected jewels, silken dresses and valuables. Then he said to Bopoluchi “I am your uncle and I have arranged your marriage”. Bopoluchi was very much pleased and believed the robber. She packed up few things she possessed in a bundle and set off with the robber in high spirits. As they proceeded through the woods creatures like crow, peacock and jackal tried to warn her but failed to help her. This story portrays Bopoluchi as a beautiful, brave but innocent girl. As she found herself in problem she bravely outwitted and fought against the troop of robbers (Steel,1894). Bopoluchi was able to help herself and came out rich and victorious. This story is about an orphan girl and her adventure. Birds and animals are personified in this tale. It shows that creature around can smell the danger one should put an ear on the voices of the nature. The story indicates that things are difficult for an orphan. It is difficult for an individual to survive without family.

There is a wonderful story ‘Tell it to the Walls’ collected by A. K. Ramanujan that tells us about agony of women. Once upon a time there was a woman living in a village. She was a widow. She had four sons and daughters-in-law and grand children. But in spite of all this she was very lonely. She could not tell her woes and sufferings to anyone. She was becoming fat. One day she visited an abandoned house. There she faced one wall and started complaining about his elder son. As a result the wall fell down. Then she faced another wall and complained about her second son. Again the wall collapsed. Finally she poured all her grief. The house collapsed. But she became lighter. If she had expressed all this in her household may be her own house had collapsed (Shodhganga). This story tells us about power of expressed and unexpressed feelings. This story also tells us that it takes sacrifices to bind the family in one thread. It also tells that communication breaks walls. It is more important to build bridges between hearts than building houses.

‘How Kava Deceived Kavi and Defeated Her’ is a Bheel folktale. Kava and Kavi were first man and woman. They both were at ease with each other. Once upon a time Deva wants to check that who is better among the two. They thought to complicate their relation. They advise Kava that it is not easy to defeat her. If he could not win the competition she would dominate. There is a race between Kava and Kavi. Kavi symbolises shakti in this tale. She has all the potential to defeat Kava. Kava tries to distract Kavi by jewels as gifts. She refuses the gifts. But as the story proceeds Kava manages to distract Kavi with jewellery. As Kavi wears all the jewellery like breastplate, jhanjhar(anklet), bangles, nose ring day by day she burdenes herself. Finally Kava defeats Kavi. This story tells us how male dominance started. There is a custom to pay bridal price in Bheel community. This tale tells us how women became secondary (Shodhganga). This is an important tale which tells women that richness of mind and soul is more important than gold and jewels.

There are folktales about poor artisans. Poor artisans are mocked by the society. They struggle everyday to maintain self esteem. Once upon a time there lived a little weaver. His name was Prince Victor, his head was big but his legs were thin. He was weak and small. People ridiculed him for his looks. One day he killed a mosquito with shuttle while he was weaving on the loom. He felt proud the way he smashed the mosquito. He shared this act of bravery with his neighbours as well. The neighbours mocked him. The weaver’s wife was a beautiful young lady. She was tired of his foolishness. She told him to keep his mouth shut. But he became very proud of skill with which he smashed the mosquito. He seized her by the hair and beat her. ‘I will go into the world’ he said to himself. ‘The man who can shoot a mosquito dead with a shuttle ought not to hide his light under a bushel.’ He left home. His wife gave him some food to carry along. She had given him poisoned food. She added flavoured spices to the food to hide the smell of poison. She wanted to get rid of her husband. In spite of all his foolishness somehow one day he managed to get name and fame (Steel,1894).

This story tells us about poor weavers. Weavers do their work sitting on one place for hours. But what they get is not sufficient to fulfil their needs. All these things frustrate them. This frustration leads to unhappy family life. In lower strata of society domestic violence is common. Lack of education in unskilled labourers creates many problems in society.

Peasie and Beansie is a tale of two sisters. Peasie decides to meet her old father who lives in nearby village. Peasie takes care of plum tree, fire, water stream and Pipal tree while she passes through the woods. All these rewarded her with gifts. All non human characters like plum tree, pipal tree, fire and river are personified. They call Peasie for help while her journey through the woods. She frees fire from ashes. She clears thorns scattered around the plum tree. She soothes pipal tree by binding its broken branch. She clears sand and dead leaves from the water stream. Peasie is a sensible and caring girl. Her father receives her affectionately. Father gives her blessings and gifts. But her sister Beansie does not cares about anything. She denies help to water stream, plum tree, pipal tree and fire. She suffers a lot while her journey through the woods. Beansie just visits her father out of greed and in return she is treated badly by her brother and sister-in-law. She comes back to her home wounded and hungry (Steel,1894).

It tells us that nature blesses us when we take care of our surrounding flora and fauna. Mother Nature repays us the way we treat her. This story appreciates the humanistic approach and environmental friendly behaviours in human beings.

In Indian folktales children are portrayed vividly. Orphan children are central characters of some of the stories. How miserable their life is portrayed in the story Little Anklebone. In this story the little boy wanders barefoot and takes care of flock of sheep of his aunt. The story tells us how mean and heartless a person may behave with an orphan poor child. His aunt suggests him to offer himself to the wolf instead of a sheep. The poor fellow asks a favour from the beast to hang his anklebone on a tree near the pond (Steel,1894). In Indian folktales we see children struggle to survive after their mother is dead. What their father does for them only that he gets married again. Children are puzzled by their step mother. In Indian folktales we rarely see a step father. Because in Indian scenario we find remarriage of widow rare. But we find many stories of ill treatment of children by step mothers. It is quite amazing in a country like India where motherly instinct of woman is highly appreciated we see step mothers treat children badly. There are stories of couples longing for children. They have children by the blessings of faqirs, jogis and saints. These folktales approves that children are not bi products of marriage but they are bliss.

There is story about the birth of Lord Rama and his brothers. The story tells us that Raja Dushrath brings blessed kheer for his three queens. After having that blessed kheer the queens have children. Similarly in Prince Half-A-Son the king is longing for children instead he has seven queens. Interestingly he is blessed by a faqir. He brings mangoes for his seven queens. After having mangoes six queens bore sons. The seventh queen gives birth to a son who has half of the body, one eye, one hand and one foot only. This is because her mango has been half nibbled by a mouse. She could have half of it only. The story tells us how he is able to surpass his normal brothers. His deformity becomes his strength. His mother worries about his future. She loses affection of her husband. She loves her son but at the same time she is depressed. The brothers of half-a-prince want to kill him. They push half-a –prince in a well. In the well a serpent, a demon and a parrot live together. Half-a-prince listens about their secrets. He takes its advantage. As the story advances he grows strong and become successful. He wins power and money. He cures and marries a beautiful princess(Steel,1894). In this folktale we see a demon, a serpent and a parrot playing important role.

This folktale indicates that happiness of mother relies upon her children. Here we see envy/concern, hatred/love, depression/hope. This story clearly states that we must believe in our children. Prince-half-a son (Adhiya) is very much confident about himself. He is determined. Her mother does not want him to go with his brothers. But he insists to do so. He gains everything what a prince must have. This folktale tells us that it is strength of mind that gives success and happiness. Any physical or bodily deformity could not stop a person to achieve success. In another version of this story there is a mangoose born to the seventh queen. He is a winner in the same fashion just because he adores his mother very much. The story establishes that one who respects his/her mother will be a winner always. We have folktales of sick people who are expelled out of village because of the infectious diseases or physical deformities. They get cured by the blessing of saints or selfless care of the spouse.

The simple joys and deep concerns of marginalised are registered through folktales of India. The problem of defining the margins and the centre of human society arises due to the strife of ‘the self’ and ‘the identity’. In western countries concept of self and identity have different paradigms. In Indian context surrendering the self is highest ideal to achieve. Kavi is not defeated by Kava. She simply smiles when Kava wins the race. She knows that she can win anytime. Kavi does not struggle for supremacy. This is her strength but taken as her weakness by the society. Bopoluchi is an ordinary girl. She fights with all her strength when caught in danger. There are no supernatural agents to save her. She herself becomes saviour. Society may ridicule poor artisans and labourers but cannot ignore them. They form the base of society. Their voices and sighs will not vanish. Children, women, artisans, trees, flora-fauna have registered their voices through folktales. The worldview of folktales is all inclusive. The problem of marginalised people is to get attention of the world. The folktales of India solve this problem up to some extent. Folktales are tales of tears and smiles. Canvas of folktales portrays bigger, secular and democratic picture of Indian society and culture.


  1. Web resources
  3. Chapter IV Prakriti's Voices in Folktales... – Shodhganga


More by :  Prof. Shubha Tiwari

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