The documentation of folk songs, folklore, folk art and other forms of folk expression that exhibits in the Anga region of Bihar speaks a true narrative of society and culture that has almost faded away in the modern era of technologically complex society and culture. ‘Anga’ region comprises the areas of modern-day Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal states of India, which were the part of Ancient Anga Mahajanapada in the Mahajanapada Era and where Angika language is used predominantly by their native speakers.
Before knowing more about Angika Folk culture, it is important for people to know about the significance of folklore or folk culture and the need to document them. The documentation of folklore has the ability to manipulate and coerce our perceptions and attitudes towards a certain folk culture. It has immense potential and prospects to offer an effective representation of issues and situations that surround the everyday life of certain folk cultures. They are a powerful medium for the generation of localised content specific to the values and lifestyles of the various communities. Many folk documentations are devoted to recording the extinctions and disappearances of folk items. Folk art forms in India are prevalent in numerous forms.
Angika as a culture inherits various folk and modern songs and poems that are relevant in modern-day socio-political scenarios. The folklore of Angika is one of a kind which has various forms of struggle, protest and narratives of age-old cultural traditions that are vividly inspirational for modern-day socio-political discourse.
Beginning with the folklore of Angika, which is known as ‘Bihula-Bishahari’ gatha. It is a story of a snake goddess and a rich merchant who refuses to offer worship to her. After various tussles, Bihula persuaded Chando, the merchant, to worship Bishahari. In this folklore, the protagonist ‘Bihula’ is a woman who dominates every other male counterpart and wins every battle against them. This folklore shows the authority of males over certain institutions, mainly the religious, social and household institutions.
The revolt of Bihula against every institution and successfully getting through is what makes this folklore an interesting one and highly recommendable in contemporary gendered-political discourse and activism. As Dr. Amrendra Kumar, when asked about why Angika Folklore is important to conserve, quotes; “So that the immense courage of the female caste, her courage to stand like the Himalaya against adversity, becomes the strength of modern women; so that today’s people can progress in the development of a colourless consciousness in the society.”
Parallel to the above narrative of women’s empowerment, this folklore also contains another narrative that is in the form of environmental protest. Anga region from ancient times has been inhabited heavily by the peasant class generally related to agriculture and farming, consequently, it had a large expanse of agricultural land covers and forest belts surrounding them.
Due to the progress in agricultural forms and market trade an overall degradation of the forest begins as the phenomenon continues to occur even today. There is, therefore, a need to recover and make intelligible a principle of interaction between forest and folk together in one living space. Peasants recognise a life force which flows through agriculture, through its food chain and life cycle. From which all the elements of agriculture, including beasts, draw nourishment. They are careful observers of food chains and life cycle and of the origins, development and demise of the individual and collective social life of the varied materials in a forest.
In this folklore, too, the peasant class understands the food cycle in which the snake is an essential part of agriculture. The protest of the peasant class against the trading class is about the snake and the importance of its existence. By introducing a fable in society about nature and its forces in order to conserve out of fear, humans have always created those subjects in mythical creatures or gods. When the killing of snakes for its leather products grew in the market of the then times, the peasant class resorted to the idea of deifying the snake into a goddess.
The second reason which has been variously argued among the local scholars about deifying the snake into goddess is that the snakes have always been viewed as poisonous and harmful creatures to humans. But the peasant class, as it understands the biodiversity and the need for coexistence without any pretence to other creatures existing in nature, protests against the rapidly urbanising idea of segregating the creatures into binaries of needful and harmful. Thus, the idea of the deifying of the snake in the form of a goddess seems meaningful. So that the killing due to fear related to this species might stop, and people, in turn, become more empathetic towards them and curious about its role in nature.
Although this method of protest can be an age-old folk form, its relevance cannot be ignored even today. As the eminent Angika writer and scholar, Dr Amrendra demonstrated in the speech delivered on Manjusha art, “with the popularity of Manjusha art and its folklore, the misconceptions of people regarding snakes will also be erased.”
Elegant literature, in spite of its extreme chivalry, many times does not live long. There may be many reasons for this — whether it is to bring its pace according to its era or to speak in favour of any section of the society by making it a subject of its choice. Such literature gets backstaged as soon as the social order and its phenomenon change.
Such an accident has never happened in folk literature. The meaning of keeping it friendly to the people is that, even if some person or class has gone against the value or well-being of the society, there is no propaganda of hatred against them in this literature, but there is a request for its well-being. These lines from a folk poem of Angika literature represent the same:
“I went to the well of the village chief to fetch water,
the chief stares at me,
there’s a thought I should throw the pitcher towards him in order to kill him But I didn’t, for his reputation as a chief would be tarnished.”
Similar lines are found in other paragraphs of this folk song of Angika. Even the opponents would not allow the folk songs of such protest to end. And then it is also a matter to be seen here how the folk songs have become new again after incorporating even the Panchayati village system in the course of its journey. How can such folk literature die? Seeing this panchronic cosmopolitan form of folklore, Ralph Williams, the critical scholar of folk literature, once wrote that folklore is a tree of the forest, whose roots are under the ground but in which new branches, leaves and flowers keep emerging continuously.
This change in the folk literature of angika may have been less visible due to its being in the hands of grandmothers, but its folk drama and literature have been dynamic with the consciousness of the society.
Folklore of Angika can be the repository of countless micro-narratives of history. The narratives are a commentary and, at times, a source of the official history of this region. Folk forms are not fossilised things but part of an ongoing living process. At the same time, folk forms have been a device for the people to negotiate untold sufferings and hurts. Folk forms may be individual but always stress the collective experience of the immediate audience or the community they address.
Even when an individual is there, he/she represents the voice of the folk. Thus folk songs and ballads are important and are considered a powerful weapon. Alan Dundes, the renowned folklorist, argued, “the important question is not what is folklore, nor where does folklore originate, nor how it is transmitted. The important question is what does folklore do for the folk.” By understanding the power of four forms of art and expression to voice dissent or protest and subvert existing social equations, we can begin to comprehend the role folklore has played and continues to play in our lives.
Featured image source: Folkartopedia