Art of storytelling – The many arts in India
Storytelling has different mediums and forms across the world. Some storytellers simply narrate, while others use masks, puppets and musical instruments to convey the message. Storytelling is an integral part of the Indian culture, with every region having its own style of narrating the events and experiences. Here are some of the famous art forms of storytelling in India:
The little known 500-year-old art-form of Rajasthan is an amazing blend of picture painting, singing and narration of magical tales. Kaawad is just like a temple structure carved out of wood, with many apertures opening like the doors of a temple. Painted in bright colours, the mythical characters of the structure tell a story within the pictures, as each door is opened.
“We acquire the skill to present the story tuned to folk raga as a legacy,” says Papu Ram, a Kawad storyteller from Jodhpur. “Although our children are studying, we will not give up on this ancient art-form,” he says.
It is an informal art of Tamil storytelling, combined with a song. A Kathaiyum Paattum storyteller not only narrates an event, but breaks into a song, every now and then. The stories are often about kings, brave hunters or clever animals, ending with moral warnings of avoiding theft, lies, greed, etc.
"I enjoy the song and often sing to myself, but my grandchildren don’t find them interesting and only like the funny ones,” says Ayyamma, an enthusiastic storyteller from Chennai.
Another 35-year-old Kathaiyum Paattum teller, popularly known as Bhanumathi, has been working hard to keep this art form alive. She says, “The new generation is more interested in satellite television, but we are striving every day to keep this art-form alive.”
It is a compound of two Persian words, Dastan and Goi. Dastan means a ‘tale’, while Goi means ‘to tell’. These are oral in nature and can be recited or read aloud, telling tales of adventure, magic and welfare. In the past, Dastangois borrowed from other stories, such as Arabian nights and storytelling traditions such as Panchantrantra. However, Persian Dantangois started to focus on the life and adventures of Amir Hamza, the paternal uncle of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h).
This art-form was almost dead and buried, before Mahmood Farooqui played a huge role in the revival of Dastangoi in the 21st century. “Dastangoi was lost because of the cultural politics of the past. By our performances, we are bringing back something that had been discarded from our canon of consciousness,” he says.
People like Danish Hussain and Anusha Rizvi are some of the other top performers of this art-form.
Usually based on the life of a saint or a story from an Indian epic, Harikatha is a form of religious sermon, in which the story teller explores a religious theme. Compromising of storytelling, music, drama, dance, poetry and philosophy, this art-form aims to instil truth and righteousness in the minds of the people. Having its roots in southern India, the narration has many sub-plots and anecdotes, emphasizing various aspects of main story.
“I was drawn by the Sankirtanas by many great Harikatha stalwarts. I would go and listen to them and gradually got attracted to this art-form," says Simhachala Sastry, a well-known Harikatha artiste. He has been relentlessly propagating Harikatha across the country and earned a Kalaratna award from the government of Andra Pradesh as well.
It is a religious storytelling art-form, often involving professional story tellers reciting Hindu religious texts. Known as Kathakalashepa, stories with anecdotes are told in Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi. A storyteller interweaves the main story with music, dance and digressions. GR Bhagavathar has been the leading performer of this art form, who is occasionally accompanied by one or two singers and some musicians.
Although, all these art forms were on the verge of death, some individuals have come forward and put their hands up to preserve these treasures of our history and culture.