Narrations from the mountains | Daily News

Narrations from the mountains

During the month of April in 1991, I had to spend a few days in Nepal attending the first literary seminar of SAARC countries. One of the topics of interest happened to be folklore. The participants had the chance of discussing various aspects of folklore, how it had instilled new genres of literary insights around the world, with special reference to folktales in the countries around the world.

At the end of the literary seminar, I bought some folktale collections from a city in Nepal in order to pursue my interest on the subject further. One such collection is Nepalese folktales: The Seven Sisters and Other Nepalese Tales collected and translated into English by well-known Nepalese scholar, Kesar Lal. The collection indicates that it was first published in 1976.

The collector cum scholar, Kesar Lal, states, in a brief preface, that he had collected quite a number of Nepalese tales from the collection titled Folktales, Lore and Legend of Nepal. This work, I could not find. He says further that due to several socio-economic conditions, folktales are gradually waning off from the verbal communication patterns. Nevertheless, the collector scholar had the chance to meeting several interlocutors and transferring the creative legacy in the mother tongue. As such, he thanks these farmers, housewives and lamas or priests who had helped him.

Magical and fairytale-like

In this collection, there are thirteen tales of varying interest and human experiences. Some could be branded as magical tales and fairy tales. In browsing the pages, I found a particular tale that reminds of a mini Jataka tale.

The tale is titled The Four Friends. It centres around four animals in the forest: an elephant, a monkey, a rabbit and a bird. They all live adhering to five precepts that they have inherited. The bird is supposed to be the oldest and the youngest, the elephant. They declare to the other animals that they believe in the following declaration.

Not to take life.
Not to steal.
Not to indulge in carnal pleasures.
Not to tell lies.
Not to drink any intoxicant.

The inhabitants in the nearby villages admire these qualities and try to follow them as closer as possible. The king of the area wishes to see the creatures mentioned. But they never wanted to meet the king. As such, they just declare that they need to live in peace and harmony. This turns into a Jataka tale when the narrator says that after the death of the four animals, they are reborn as humans.

The bird is reborn as the Buddha. The rest are reborn as the disciples of the Buddha: two chief disciples, Sariputta and Moggallana and the third senior disciple, Kassapa named by the narrator as Kungan. I felt that this is a clear indicator that the folktale teller had been influenced by popular Buddhist folklore as well as the life of the Buddha.

Word of mouth

It is interesting to see that some of these tales have been narrated by the word of mouth or verbally in order to impart a sense of spiritualism. One good example is the tale titled The Four Brothers. The brothers had to sacrifice their only sister in order to get a good harvest. But they had to do it reluctantly. The tale teller makes the listener (later the reader) feel that the ritual known as sacrifice may not yield good results, nevertheless to know how it is done may make a person a repulsive effect on the same. As such, at the end of the tale, the narrator seems to say words to the following effect.

May he who tells the tale,
Get a wreath of flowers,
He who listens to it,
A laurel of gold
May the tale itself
To heaven go
And may it return
When it’s time
To tell it again.

This type of mini poem as found at the end of a story reveals the fact that story-telling or spinning tales had gradually developed into the form of ballads or tales in verse form. They are basically tales of wonder and fantasy. But they are linked to the reality or the happenings on the living conditions. They are told in order to safeguard social ethics.

In this direction, the reader or the listener feels that a folktale is inseparable from religious teachings. These tales evoke a sense of imparting the value of retaining good virtues, necessary for leading a better life, as against the evil involvement. I felt that the tale titled as The Yeti is a rare creation in the narrative layers. The term Yeti as explained is the Sherpa word for the abominable snowman of the Himalayas. The reader comes to know of a great Lama who had lived in the Himalayan region all alone. He was a great meditator and is seen in deep thoughts and engrossed in prayers some time.

As time goes, the Lama comes to know of a Yeti, and they become intimate friends. The Yeti gradually lived as an inseparable being in the abode of the Lama. The yeti too attends on the Lama by offering whatever food he managed to get. One day, Lama found that the Yeti has not returned as usual. As such, he went in search of the Yeti. The Lama wondered far and wide. And at last, he found that the Yeti fallen down and dead in a landslide. The Lama who felt so sad severed the head of the Yeti and cut the rest of the body into pieces, enabling the vultures to eat. The Lama who took the head with him and having gone through a service for the dead, Yeti, he presented the head to a nearby Buddhist temple.

According to the tale teller, the head of the Yeti is seen even to this day.

All in all, as the reader observes, each of these Nepalese tales attempt to dissipate a narrative intermixed with a sense of human feeling that culminates in wisdom. For this further study of creative forms of communication, these Nepali tales provide an ocean of bright facets. Ultimately these tales in various forms may, I am sure, be made use of as dialogues as well as investigative creations.