The NFSC's Projects as Community-Centered Knowledge Bases by M.D.Muthukumaraswamy

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National Folklore Support Centre

                                     National Folklore Support Centre
No. 508, Fifth Floor, Kaveri Complex,96, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Nungambakkam, Chennai- 60034, India

Audio File of Lecture []


In the last three years (from 2004 to 2007) National Folklore Support Centre has firmly consolidated its position as the premier academic and public folklore organization in India through creation of resources such as a substantial audio visual archive based on ethnographic fieldwork, publications, documented public programs, Internet broadcastings, and specialized library facilities. This report details both theoretical and the material advancements made during the last three years and how we advanced towards developing projects that see folklore projects as community centered knowledge bases.

Program Strategies

National Folklore Support Centre adopted the following program strategies during the last three years and they yielded rich results in transforming the Centre into an important resources Centre for Folklore and allied disciplines in India.

# Creation of Resources for the field: Program initiatives at NFSC are undertaken primarily for the sake of creation of resources for the folklore field consisting of folk artists, scholars, activists, institutions, and communities. The types of resources are databases, methodologies, library and archival collections, manuals and guides, reference works such as encyclopaedia, replicable prototypes, publications and other media that act as forum for the field and create knowledge in a particular domain where there is a perceivable gap. NFSC has examples in each of the types mentioned above.

# Consistency of Approach: NFSC always serializes its programs. Whether it is publications or public programs NFSC pursues and sustains the scholarly quest through a serial in such a way that at the end of a serial we have a significant body of work. Examples of serialized programs include series of lectures, Indian Folklife, workshop in visual arts traditions of India, and research and documentation projects on the oral epics of India. In case of theoretical endeavours, an enquiry is carried over several seminars, symposia, and publications.

# Selection criteria for program/research themes: NFSC chooses to work with highly marginalized and historically disadvantaged communities. For the best deployment of resources, viability of a project, possibility of comparisons id different contexts, and prior research done are also taken into consideration in deciding on the program/ research themes.

4 Typical cycle of program related activities at NFSC:

  1. Do intensive ethnographic fieldwork at least for a year long period
  2. Archive the fieldwork collections
  3. Make a public presentation of the research collection at Indian School of Folklore
  4. Record the public presentation and take it to web broadcasting through
  5. Take the results including the responses to Indian Folklore Research Journal
  6. Return a copy of the entire documentation to the community
  7. Do follow up work on the basis of the responses from the community
  8. Do a community archive
  9. Consolidate the processes (i) to (viii) and take it to teaching programs of the Centre

5 Integrated Programming: NFSC's publications, public programs, research and documentation projects, and educational course modules are integrated in such a non linear way that the body of work created is always evolving.

6 Addressing and documenting the challenges: NFSC’s way of addressing the challenges involved in each of its projects is in built into the programming cycle and the solutions are arrived at through wide consultations with the constituencies NFSC serves.

7 Theory and practice: NFSC continuously theorizes and updates its practices and they are widely and freely shared.

8 Usage of Wikis: Of recently NFSC started using Wiki software for indexing and cross-referencing all of its serialized programs and now it has become a standard practice within NFSC to maintain in house and project based Wikis. The practice yields large corpus of retrievable reference works, which we intend to use as educational material for our courses.

Resources Created

1 Audio Visual Archive and Library facilities

During the last three years National Folklore Support Centre carried out eighteen ethnographic research and documentation projects all over India based on collaboration between Centre staff, folk artists and the larger scholarly community NFSC has networked with. All the documentation has been systematically archived at NFSC in an easy retrievable system and maintained as a public utility. NFSC's archive is available to scholarly and lay public alike for free usage. At the end of this grant period NFSC's archive and library together can be considered as a rich Asian Folklore Information Centre since its cross referenced and interlinked materials make it a wealthy knowledge base. In terms of numbers the NFSC's digital audiovisual archive consists of 1235 CDs and DVDs consisting of various categories such as folk forms in context, interviews, folk music, academic lectures, epic length oral narratives, documentaries, short films, fieldwork reports, notes and other collected materials. NFSC's library at present houses nearly 5000 scholarly books and 24 indexed journals.

2 Research Projects

The research and documentation projects were categorized into the following divisions: (1) Understanding discrimination in India (2) inquiry in 'tribal' India (3) folklore genres and performances in rural India and (4) folklore of the marginalized in Chennai city. The brief descriptions of the completed projects are appended below:

(A)."Performing Prahalatha myth": This project looks at the cultural geography in mid Tamil Nadu created by several performing arts traditions and myths that focus on the relationship between male child and father. The project accounts for the adoption of Prahaladha myth and performance by different migrant communities Project collaborators: Balaji Srinivasan and Gandhi, independent researchers, Chennai State: Tamil Nadu Language: Tamil District: Thanjavur

(B). “Oral epics of Kalahandi": This project tries to account for the causes for repeated famine in the district of Kalahandi through the study of Gond oral epics. Other issues addressed are fragmentation of Gond tribes, their stunted transformation from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists and the erosion of Gond tribal language. Project collaborator: Mahendra Kumar Misra, Tribal Education Officer, Government of Orissa, Bhuvaneswar State: Orissa Language: Gond District: Kalahandi

(c)."Abang oral epic performances": This audiovisual documentation project on Abang oral epic performances aims towards conserving and creating linguistic resources for the Adi tribal language. Project collaborator: Center for Culture and Development, Itanagar. State: Arunachal Pradesh Language: Adi District: East Siang

(d). "Drummed oral narratives of Anantapur": With the documentation created through the project it is intended to print the oral narratives in colloquial Telugu and to empower the low caste drummers. Project collaborator: Seshasastry, Professor of Telugu, S.K.University, Anantapur State: Andhra Pradesh Language: Telugu District: Anantapur

(e) "The story of Manasa': The study of the narrated performances of the story of Manasa reveals the feminine world view of life in the western districts of Assam. Project collaborator: Kishore Bhattacharji, Professor of Folklore, Guahati University, Guahati State: Assam Language: Assamese District: Dhubri

(f). "Mylaralinga ritual and performances": This research project advances the existing knowledge on the pastoral deities of South India. Project collaborator: M.N.Venkatesha Professor of Folklore and Tribal studies, Dravidian University, Kuppam State: Karnataka Language: Kannada District: Bellary

(G). "Dangi Ramayana”: The adoption of the pan Indian epic of Ramayana by the Dangi tribal community is the focus of this research project. Project collaborator: Aruna Joshi, Editor, 'Dhol' tribal language magazine, Baroda State: Gujarat Language: Dangi District: Dang

(h). "Documenting grass root leadership": This study tries to place grass root service leaders of rural Rajasthan in their ethnographic contexts and attempts to analyze the connection between the cultural values and the qualities of leadership. Project collaborators: Seva Mandir, Udaipur and National Foundation of India, New Delhi State: Rajasthan Language: Rajasthani District: Udaipur

(I). "The uses of ethnography in aiding the creativity of women artisans of Bhuj": The earthquake hit women artisans of Bhuj have been rehabilitated by an organization called Kala Raksha. By collecting and documenting folklore surrounding the crafts of these women artisans, placing them in their own ethnographic context and returning the documentation back to the artisans this research project attempts to aid the creativity of the women artisans. State: Gujarat Language: Gujarati District: Bhuj

(j). "Interrogating untouchability of Mala and Madiga communities through Jambapuranam”: This project documents the superior social attitudes the so-called untouchables maintain through their origin myths. Project collaborator: P.Subbachary, Professor, Department of Folklore, Dravidian University, Kuppam State: Andhra Pradesh Language: Telugu District:

(K). “The dynamics of Sufi music": With this project it is aimed to document the unknown Sufi musicians, their lives and music. State: Rajasthan Language: Urdu District: Bermer

(L). “Documenting South Indian puppetry”: This project documents at ethnographic documentation of South Indian shadow puppetry in their original contexts. Project collaborators: Ramachandra Pulavar for Kerala, A.K.Perumal for Tamil Nadu and S.A.Krishnaiah for Karnataka 2006 to 2007

(m) “Documenting folklore of Chennai city”: This innovative project has the objectives of building up an extensive archival collection on the folklore of Chennai city Project Collaborator: V. Ramakrishnan. Based on a yearlong documentation NFSC has released a folk music album featuring 'Songs of Gunangudi Masthan Sahib' by Mylai Venu.

(n) “Muslim women's songs of West Bengal”: With the collaboration of Makbul Islam this project will make inroads into the world view of Muslim women of West Bengal through the study of their marriage songs

(o) Folklore of the Transgendered community in Tamilnadu: Collaborating with two transgendered persons Priya Babu and Priyadarshini NFSC facilitated documentation of the cultural expressions of the transgender community in Tamilnadu in such a way that the documentation has an unmediated representation of themselves, their heritages, art and traditions. Out of the year long documentation NFSC has released an edited version of a video documentary on their lives.

(P) Documenting inter-tribal relationships in Northeastern India: NFSC awarded two fellowships in Northeastern India to document intertribal relationships expressed in folklore. Apart from rich audiovisual documentation the research fellows Arunima das and Karuna Kakuti have submitted detailed annotated bibliography of works available only in the regional languages.


1 Indian Folklife :

Over the years, Indian Folklife has established itself as a reliable source of information and analyses in Indian folklore and allied disciplines. Freely distributed, Indian Folklife has a print run of 1600 copies. The printed issues are also uploaded in our website in the PDF format for free downloading. This facility has made Indian Folklife a highly referenced, cited, and indexed online journal in numerous prestigious and scholarly online monitors and catalogues. Our networks created through Indian Folklife are growing. Rotating editorship has by many bounds enhanced the quality of the articles and participation. The recent issues of the newsletter have been uploaded in our website in PDF format for free downloading and this has increased accessibility substantially.

During the last three years 13 quarterly issues have been published making the total to 27 issues. All of them can be accessed from our website

2 Indian Folklore Research Journal:

Published annually Indian Folklore Research Journal is prestigious peer reviewed scholarly journal having an international editorial board. The journal received regular contributions from national and international scholars. During this grant period NFSC has brought out four annual issues of Indian Folklore Research Journal. With its consistency of high scholarly standard and regularity of publication IFRJ has earned an impeccable scholarly reputation.

3 Books

1 Folklore as Discourse edited by M.D.Muthukumaraswamy

Nineteen seminal papers on various aspects of Indian folklore written by eminent scholars are collected together here in a volume. Exploring the way folklore organizes itself in different societal contexts in India is the focus of the different scholars presented here. Divided into easy sections this book organizes complex thoughts on Indian folklore in an accessible format useful for students, scholars, and lay public. While Jawaharlal Handoo, Arupjyoti Saikia and Sadhana Naithani examine the relationship between folklore and the historical discourses, Peter Claus and K.M. Chander analyze how folklore as the discipline handles the problems presented by such social history of attitudes and perspectives. Venugopalan Nair, Kishore Bhattacharjee, Laltluangliana Khiangte, Pulikonda Subbachary, and Guru Rao Bapat as practitioners of the discipline describe the discourses of distinctive folklore genres such as festival, legends, myths and folk theatre. Chandan Kumar Sharma and Desmond Kharmawphlang enquire into the construction of identities aided by language and lore. While Lalita Handoo presents insights into the power and practices of the discourse of gender Eric Miller writes on the politics of technology and culture involved in the public presentation of folklore. Nirmal Selvamony, Saugata Bhaduri and Raghavan Payyanad take discourse analysis to examine the workings of ideology, religion, and worldview and Bharathi Harishankar and Theodore Baskaran take it to understand the print medium and Cinema. This volume as a whole would prove to be an essential reading for anyone interested in Indian society and culture.

2 Indian Folktales from Mauritius by Dawood Auleer and Lee Haring

The book Indian Folktales from Mauritius translated and collected by Dawood Auleear and Lee Haring was published during the month of August 2006. We have published the book with transliteration of creolized Bhojpuri of Mauritius and English translations of the tales. We requested Shri Kalahasti Subramaniyam, famous Kalamkari folk artist to illustrate the tales for the publication. On the one hand we were facilitating a folk artist to encounter migrated versions of his native tales and on the other; we were providing new contexts and opportunities for him to expand his artistic practice. Kalahasti Subramaniyam came out with very imaginative illustrations without compromising his ideas of the traditional idiom of his own Kalamkari art.

3 Mailaralinga Jatre: Reflections on the dynamics of folklore by M.N.Venkatesha

The manuscript Mailaralinga Jatre: Reflections on Dynamics of Folklore by M.N. Venkatesha has been published in November 2007

4 'Epic of the warriors' Translated from Kannada into English by Shankar Narayana D.poojary

Written first in Kannada by Bannanje Babu Amin "Koti Chennaya" has attained the status of a classic in Kannada literary world. The focus of the book is portraying the life and achievements of the twin extraordinary warriors of Tulunadu-Koti Chennaya. Their life was a perpetual struggle against the social order of their times. Since they fought against social oppression, discrimination, and injustice, they have become cultural heroes of the region and they are worshipped in special shrines today. While the first manuscript is summary of the oral epic along with analysis of the story as a literary work, and as a social history of Tulunadu, the second manuscript is an actual translation of the oral epic along with transliteration of the sung word.

5 Oral epics of Kalahandi by Mahendra Kumar Misra

The manuscript of Oral Epics of Kalahandi is the research manuscript submitted by Mahendra Kumar Mishra as an awardee of NFSC fellowship program. In this manuscript, the challenge is to verify the double translation of the oral epics. The oral epics of Kalahandi were recorded in tribal languages and dialects of the region. Since these tribal dialects and languages do not have scripts, we had to ask the author to write them down in spoken Oriya. The spoken Oriya is then changed into translatable literary Oriya and from there we worked with the author to produce a translation in English which is as close as possible to its original.

Public Programs at Indian School of Folklore

The Centre initiated five different types of public programs to be conducted every month as part of the activities of the School. This is apart from the workshops and seminars mentioned above were conducted in the Indian School of folklore. They are broadly classified as:

1 Issues in Arts and Humanities Today: Lecture Series: NFSC conducted twenty lectures during the last three years. Interdisciplinary in nature this lecture series aims to bring the current issues in arts and humanities to the focus of the discerning public of Chennai City.

2 New images for the Public sphere: Film screenings: NFSC has been theorizing about the nature of multiple public spheres in India through seminars symposia and publications. One of the serious concerns expressed by both the scholars and folk artists is that the urban public spheres are completely occupied by commercial cinema and television and it is very difficult to draw the attention of the lay public on serious issues concerning rural society and Folklore in general. Through regular screenings of documentary videos NFSC has created a forum and space for those neglected images in the public sphere of Chennai. 18 important documentary films were screened in the last three years

3 Arts, Crafts and Creativity: Workshop series: Through a well researched and carefully arranged exhibition of folk art featuring lecture demonstration interviews with the artists and sale of his/her works the Centre highlighted the individual creativity of the folk artists embedded in their respective traditions. The lectures and demonstrations that followed focused on the transmission patterns of the art to the next generation.

4 Public presentation of research projects: Our research projects classified under three major themes like Enquiry into Tribal India, Folkore Genres and Performances in rural India and Understanding Discrimination were presented by the research collaborators of the projects. The lectures opened up a new vista to the audience. The lectures were interspersed with field photographs, interviews and video documentation.

5. What is freedom?; Lecture Series: Building his arguments over NFSC significant body of documented folklore material across the country, M.D.Muthukumaraswamy explored the central theme of our time 'What is freedom?' Organized partly as the presentation of NFSC's documentation on Indian Folklore this lecture series intended to show how folklore material as subjects of philosophy can invigorate social sciences and humanities.


Now, the Centre's website tops Yahoo, Google and Rediff search engine results as a reliable source of information on Indian folklore and folk artists. We have already made three thousand addresses of Indian folk artists available online. We have integrated a free ware called "Moodle" into our website to offer online courses based on our research projects. While the field videos, audios and recording of academic events constitute a significant body of course ware for the online courses we are yet to make them resources for online teaching.

NFSC's Research Findings and Learning Experiences during the last three years

At the dawn of the new century, in the year 2000, National Folklore Support Centre conducted a historic international workshop on 'From Fieldwork to Public Domain: The Processes of Folklorist's Work'. Speaking at the workshop Alan Jabbour, the then Director of American Folklife Center, envisioned the manner the twentieth century also known as the documentary century is giving way to the onset of the digital century transforming the expertise of folklorists in favour of the communities they serve and empower. Ever since this initiation of the international dialogue, National Folklore Support Centre has constantly strived to understand and engage with the nature and dynamics of Indian public spheres in relation to cultures and expressions of disadvantaged and marginalized communities. Our scholarly pursuits followed the trajectory of doing intensive ethnographic fieldwork, following it up with public presentations of the researches and linking the queries thrown up in either in fieldwork or in the public presentations to publications, conventions, conferences, and Internet web casting. Apart from accumulating a large body of audio visual documentation as archival holdings we have also created a network of scholars, institutions, and folk artists across India at the grassroots level. Simultaneously, the constituencies we serve have grown internationally especially through our publications and have made us both a contributor towards and an access provider for global scholarship in the field of social sciences and humanities.

Our major research finding regarding the dynamics of public sphere in India with reference to the cultures and expressions of marginalized communities is that there is an existence of multiple public spheres in India and they are constituted mainly by folklore. If such folklore constituting the rural public spheres moves out of its ritualized contexts but still stays within inherited sites of practice then it changes the social dynamics itself. Evidences of such transformation have been widely chronicled by other scholars especially with reference to Dehumanize, Warli, and Gondh paintings. Our own documentation includes Dalit drumming and its accompanying narratives in the state of Andhra Pradesh achieving superior status by moving into the rural public sphere. Many of the theoretical issues and debates connected with the dynamics of multiple public spheres and folklore have been published in the book FOLKLORE, PUBLIC SPHERE, AND CIVIL SOCIETY (published jointly by National Folklore Support Centre and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts). Our second major research finding is that urban public spheres mostly occupied by the commercial media would not allow spaces for the discourses of folklore to emerge and carve out their social legitimacy unless and otherwise such discourses are presented by the communities themselves and aided by detailed folklore documentation. For instance, when we collaborated with the members of transgender community in Tamil Nadu to document their lives and lore they chose to edit a documentary video out of the year long documentation. With the video documentary they went back to other community members, organized themselves, and changed the public opinion in favour of recognizing their legitimate rights. If we were to apply Mary Douglas' group and grid theory to understand the dynamics of the aftermath of folklore documentation of transgender community in Tamil Nadu, what we see is a community coming out of its 'enclave' of secrecy, criminality, and marginalization to carve out its legitimate space in the society. Such progress would not have been possible for them without the documentation of their culture and folklore. Although the transgender community project is unique in many ways it offers us new ways of looking at issues of empowerment for many other communities in the urban public sphere by deciding what should be the discourse rather than just going by the prevalent dictates of what is allowed and what is not allowed. When we further pursued the relationship between the organization of discourses and constitution of public spheres we understood that every public sphere in India regardless of whether it is rural or urban is highly stratified and exclusions really decide what should be there in the public sphere. This led us to gather perspectives from the scholars from the field on studying folklore itself as discourse. This resulted in publication of another book FOLKLORE AS DISCOURSE (published by National Folklore Support Centre). Folklore as discourse opens up the opportunity to study the discontinuities and fragmentation that have occurred in Indian civil society due to extreme social inequalities and limited access to education. The most important learning experience from our theoretical endeavors and research projects would be that the discourse of folklore is intimately linked with the public sphere it inherits and the public sphere in turn coincides with the 'Cultural Area'. The idea of cultural area disregards the administrative borders of states and liberates us from the shackles of parochialism so often associated with folklore studies in India. Defining culture areas beyond the political and administrative borders is to adopt the insider's perspective and accept ways in which the people's cultures we are studying define themselves inside an eco region. It also reveals that the community grants the social person hood through its folklore whereas the culture area creates the citizen. The result may not provide neat, consistent demarcations, but it does reveal indigenous cosmologies, world views, knowledge systems, and diversity of expressions and cultures. As it is in the case of public sector folklore organizations worldwide, the single motivating factor behind National Folklore Support Centre's work is also to research, present, conserve, educate, and celebrate the diversity of cultures and their expressions. We believe that the constant dialogue on cultural diversity in the public domain holds the key to the maintenance of a healthy civil society and strengthening of democratic processes.

While the advancements made in the field of digital technologies greatly facilitate our work in terms of making unobtrusive and participatory documentation and almost instantaneous transmission to the public domain possible, taking the digital documentation back to the communities themselves present numerous innovative opportunities. Learning from the experiences of our research projects we would like to move forward to establish digital community archives for local culture and knowledge. This is also the time when worldwide success stories of digital community archives have started emerging as viable ways of sustenance and subsistence for fragile communities to access their own knowledge systems and to create social capital by interacting with thriving industries such as cultural tourism, proliferation of FM radio stations, media and entertainment industry. Milton Singer noted a shift in India to a greater emphasis on aesthetic and entertainment values at the expense of values associated with religious merit in the 1970s. Susan Wadley analysing the audio cassette productions based on folk epic singing noted the continuation of the shift, as religion increasingly merged in novel ways into an emerging popular culture (INDIAN FOLKLORE RESEARCH JOURNAL, NUMBER 1, 2001). Guy Poitevin called such spread of 'secondary orality' as strategic assets of the communities (INDIAN FOLKLORE RESEARCH JOURNAL, NUMBER 2, 2002). The advent and spread of Internet further expands the possibilities for marginalized communities to convert their folklore into social capital. Return to Workshop main page