Jawaharlal Handoo is a Professor, writer, and a pre-eminent scholar of folklore studies in the Indian sub-continent. Studied in Kashmir University, got doctorate in Folklore from Kurukshetra University in 1968. Pivotal force in organizing many national and international workshops on Folklore in India and abroad. Handoo has edited and published more than one hundred research papers and over a dozen books.

Folklore in Modern India


The role oral traditions play or have played in the present context of Indian society can’t be overlooked. This shows the status folklore and the folk metaphors have in the actual regularities of Indian society and civilization, both synchronically and diachronically. Without claiming to be an expert on the folklore of the entire Indian subcontinent, I am almost certain that the basic paradigm of Indian folklore in terms of its multidimensional structure, themes, meaning, function and the current use seems to be very much shared in almost all parts of the subcontinent. If one fails to see the presence of this paradigm on the surface it is because it has a substratum status and reveals its nature by a small effort of comparison and interpretation. Although one can explain the historical reasons of this phenomenon, I believe that this similarity can also be explained by other social phenomena the entire region is famous for: migrations, diaspora, racial connections and even polygenetic developments in folklore that have taken place on parts of the sub-continent.
Discourse: Verbal and Non-verbal
Discourse has been defined in various ways in many disciplines. Most of these definitions project the defined view and the objectives of the discipline they represent; 1 so we have not one but many discourses: folk discourse, scholarly discourse, women’s discourse, political discourse, racist discourse, colonial discourse, etc. That each discipline must pursue its own objectives through the discourse it generates is not the point here. The main issue is that within this variety of discourses, scholars, more often than not, heavily depend on the written or verbal behaviour to define, explain and analyse these discourses. One should have no objection to this dependence as long as it fulfils the fundamental needs of conceptualizing discourse as a phenomenon, not entirely based on verbal behaviour. In other words, it involves many more things besides the written texts or the utterances. If one chooses to stick to the verbal behaviour definition of discourse, as many do, then the entire discourse of the museums, architecture, the history of art, the artifacts and colours used in a ritual, the body movements of a performance, modern advertisement, cinema, most of mass culture, and folk designs and other things in the study of oral tradition, which actually make the phenomenon of discourse as a serious entity in many sciences will fall apart and even after the best efforts leave the phenomenon of discourse incomplete as it has happened. Von Dijk makes this point clearer when he says, “Discourse is not a simple enterprise. In its full richness it involves all the levels and methods of analysis of language, cognition, interaction, society and culture.”2
One must also realise that the classicalisation of discourse in India from oral to written, from non-power to power, from collective to individual, and from non-ownership to rigid ownership as one finds in classical written tradition of discourse despite its excellent qualities in some areas of human inquiry, made discourse a product, a kind of goods, which added, besides the economic and other dimensions, the dimension of power to it. Consider for example the following remarks of Michel Foucault:
“In our culture (and doubtless in many others), discourse was not originally a product, a thing, a kind of goods. It was essentially an act – an act placed in the bipolar field of the sacred and the profane, the licit and illicit, the religious and the blasphemous. Historically, it was a gesture fraught with risks before becoming goods caught up in the circuit of ownership.”3
The paradigm of historical discourse also suffered the same fate as the classical literary discourse. In various ways, these were interchangeable discourses. The palace poet was historian also and as such thinking history, writing history and perpetuating “history” essentially became a powerful civilising discourse based on the stories of kings, more often than not the exaggerated or false stories of kings and their palace surroundings. This discourse and this paradigm (I prefer to call it “palace paradigm”), had no place for the folk or their lore and has not only mislead generations on the Indian subcontinent, but has also blurred the story–the real story–of humankind and helped the hegemony of power politics and domination despite many changes that took