The Possession of Narratives: Telling and Transmitting Caste in Indian Folktales


This paper postulates that caste in India is not just a sociological category, or an existential reality, but has been historically constituted of narratives that shape both. It will elaborate this firstly, by offering a brief survey of the rich store of myths, fables and parables meant for the children that have emerged and been transmitted over a millennia in the subcontinent. These include the Jatakas (4th BCE), the Panchtantra (3rd BCE), and the Hitopadesh (8th-12th CE) –a few of its most famous examples. These stories are deployed today to instill in children the cultural values and a sense of history. Hence, and secondly, the paper will examine some of these narratives, to see how caste is represented in them, and to analyze the implications of such representations in their repeated retellings, in contemporary India It will attempt to show that choice of subject, theme, mode and genre of Children's Literature all substantially determine the meanings of 'caste' for the 'impressionable minds' they target. Through the detailed analysis, of highly popular stories in Baital Pachisi and Singhasan Battisi (11th CE), this paper will attempt to reveal how the children in India are introduced to the ideas of caste: how, when narrated by the paternal/maternal figure, the child imbibes the ideals of caste along with the other societal norms: how these ideas are juxtaposed by the child onto her social reality, leading to the verification and concretisation of caste ideologies. Towards this end, the author will also discuss, given the current political dispensation, how important it is to question this ideology and how it can be excoriated through the very process it seeks to be validated by.

Author Information
Siddharth N Kanoujia, University of Delhi, India

Paper Information
Conference: ECAH2017
Stream: Humanities - Ethnicity, Difference, Identity

This paper is part of the ECAH2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon