Friday, October 21, 2016

Many Texts, Many Voices

National seminar and symposiums
 ifc   Indian Folklore Congress
Kelina campus, University of Mumbai
October 18, 19, and 20, 2016


Since the 21st century, oral history in India has grown from being a method in folkloristics to  become a key component in academic discussions. Oral history continues to be an important means by academics in 'writing new history'. Practitioners across a range of academic disciplines have also developed the method as a way of recording, understanding and archiving narrated memories. One should be happy to know that oral history has also emerging as an International movement . The dominance of written sources by professional historians is diminishing all over. ‘History from below’ (Perkin 1976) and ‘hidden from history’ ( Rowbotham 1977) were the two key concepts extended the boundary of writing oral histories.   
In India, oral history is providing an alternative to conventional history, filling gaps the latter leaves in the wake of its demand on being ‘written’. Often those who involved in this ‘written history’ herald from the ‘elite’ classes and therefore, fail to sufficiently represent the views and sentiments of the masses. The absence of oral narratives, legends, tales and other materials by various communities, only aggravates this gap, giving rise to a ‘history without people’.   
In this paper, I am intended to explain the importance of oral history where many texts proclaim many voices by taking an example from history of medieval Karnataka. While doing so, I have rejected the standard stereotypical distinction between history, literature and folklore, which has predominated in Indian academic domain for the past two centuries. It is my belief that there need not have to be a distinction between them as all constitute part of the same discourse and are internal to language.  
Much have been written, published and discussed on the ancient city of vijayanagara ( Purushottama Bilimale 1998).  It is an established truth that Hampi  was the urban core of the imperial city and the surrounding principalities of the capital of the vijayanagara empire  during the 14th century to 16th century CE. Notes by foreign travellers such as Abdur Razak , the Persian who visited Vijayanagara in 1440, mention seven fortifications before the gates to the royal palace.  The notes of Robert Sewell describe countless shops and bazars  (markets) filled with people from different nationalities.  However, surprisingly, the writings on Vijayanagara history never mention much about Kampila’s son Kumararama who lived in the early period of Vijayanagara. Historians pushed his name to footnotes, because inscriptions do not speak much about him. Neither Kumararama had an extensive kingdom, nor did he build any big temple or a fort. Hence, his place in Karnataka history has been completely downsized. However, in the folklore of Karnataka, Kumararama has been considered as the most popular hero and a cultural champion.  
To mention a few, four major medieval epic texts were available in Kannada language on  Kumararama. 11 folk epics on him have been collected by scholars. Five major festivals are attributed to his name. Lt. Col. Mackenzie collected six kaifiats ( written documents) on Kumararama during 1798-99. He is a hero in many legends and tales. His story has been recreated in Burra katha form both in Telugu and Kannada languages. Yakshagana and puppetry made him hero in their performances. There are few films made on him, novels have been written on him. Wooden sculptures represents Kumararama in festivals.  
With this huge information, a question is asked, why Kumararama has become so important to Kannada culture and not so important to historians. This paper will try to answer this question with an understanding of writing history on the basis of oral traditions is not easy.  

(The presentation is supported by audio-video materials on Kumararama)  

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