Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Art of Storytelling

Written By Nivriti Tripathi (Grade 9)

Mundane, prosaic, and monotonous as our textbooks are, the same tales of valorous kings and queens, benevolent sages, and scintillating fantasies, when narrated by our grandparents, grip our imagination instantly. Beneath the surface of our everyday lives, stories drive the course of our lives in a way that is unequivocal, yet mysterious: what is it about the skill of storytelling that injects even the most insipid of tales with such riveting appeal?

The most prevalent kind of storytelling is of religious storytelling, or kathas, practiced majorly in Hinduism. Katha, or Kathya, involves skilled storytellers reciting Hindu scriptures followed by commentary to appreciate the moral values preached by the texts. The most prominent katha traditions are: Purana-Pravachan, Kathakalakshepam, folktales, Harikatha Kalakshepam, and Pandavni.

Purana-Pravachan customarily consists of the recitation of revered scriptures, as detailed earlier. The storyteller, called an Athavachak or Vyas, frequently narrates the tale, accompanying it with bhajans, or devotional hymns. Popular scriptures narrated include the Ramayana, Bhagavata Purana, or Puranas. These stories reveal human nature and seek to instill moral values in the audience by showcasing the consequences of one’s actions and the importance of fulfilling one’s dharma, or duty, and their meaning is extrapolated in the latter commentary (Pravachan).

Kathakalakshepam, or anecdotal stories are retold in Hindi, Tamil, or Sanskrit by a masterful storyteller, trained particularly in classical storytelling in order to incorporate music, dance, and hymns into the narration. The word ‘Kathakalakshepam’ literally translates to “narrating the stories of ancient texts in a comprehensive manner to the common people”, thus, the storyteller imbues a sense of liveliness and vivaciousness into the tales through narration, acting, and the ability to comment on Indian mythological stories and events.

Folktales constituted of intrepid kings, queens, venturesome hunters, and witty animals with human-like abilities. They warn about the dangers of lying, theft, greed, and indulging in other vices. Targeted towards children, they nonetheless hold wisdom suitable for all ages and are passed down orally by grandmothers to their grandchildren. Each hamlet and region has its own folklore and tales; in Andhra Pradesh, these stories are known as Burra Katha, the ‘burra’ translating to drum and signifying the tradition to beat drums to signal everyone to gather to listen to these tales. That being said, it becomes evident how storytelling is a communal activity, and its influence unites people of all kinds alike.

Tamil Nadu has its Villu Pattu folktales, which talk of heroic ballads and legends, and are used to spread awareness regarding current political issues. These stories are told with a stringed instrument accompanying the narration. It is also home to Harikatha Kalakshepam, which is similar to Kalakshepam with the only difference being that it is impromptu and solo performers use voice modulations and revolve around mainly the goddesses Sita, Meenakshi, or Rukmina Kalyanam. This art form centers around three elements: music, subject-matter expertise, and the diction used to convey the message.

Pandavni is a renowned storytelling tradition in Chhattisgarh, with mainly male performers, however women have also begun actively partaking in this art. A singer with fellow musicians narrates incidents from the epic Mahabharata, which are of two varieties: Vedamati and Kapeelik.

Additionally, the classics of Panchatantra, Jataka tales, and the Kathasaritasagara which contain the best tales of valor, victory, and moral values taught through humorous characters of princes and princesses -as seen in the Kathasaritasagara- and clever animals. The Panchatantra majorly contains animal tales, while the Jataka tales are of resounding Buddhist values, they still convey important lessons for everyone, irrespective of their religions.

Even the acclaimed classical dance form Kathak, originates from the storytelling! The term Kathak is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘katha’ meaning ‘story’ and ‘Kathakar’ meaning ‘storyteller’. Wandering poets and bards performed tales inspired by epics, myths, and legends at the heart of India through dance and music. Kathak is characterized by subtle, graceful hand movements, extensive and detailed footwork, fluid body movements, and -most important- conveying emotions through abhinaya or facial expressions. As a Kathak dancer myself, it gives me immense pride and joy to say that Kathak incorporates both Hindu and Persian elements, given its history of flourishing in the courts of Mughal rulers. Kathak has three major schools or gharanas: Jaipur, Lucknow, and Banaras. While the Jaipur gharana focuses on detailed footwork and pirouettes, Lucknow and Banaras gharanas stress on delicate and graceful hand movements and facial expressions. The dancers wear bells or ghungroos, which harmonize beautifully with musical instruments. The storytelling elements are lucid due to the fact that the body is straight, and the focus is on the face and eyes. Dancers utilize swift turns, arm and neck movements, and eyebrow movements, making their faces expressive. The dances usually narrate the stories of Lord Krishna and goddess Radha.

In summary, the storytelling traditions of India have long brought communities together, bridged, and dissolved differences and inculcated valuable morals that would forever be cherished by anyone who has ever heard a story.

Featured Image Courtesy – The Talented Indian


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