Folktales of India

A. K. Ramanujan, Author, Yoji Yamaguchi, Editor
A. K. Ramanujan, Author, Yoji Yamaguchi, Editor Pantheon Books $24 (345p) ISBN 978-0-394-55479-2
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The 111 tales chosen by translator and poet Ramanujan illustrate the heterogeneity of Indian society and its oral folktale tradition. Ranging in length from a few paragraphs to 10 pages, the short narratives fall into seven basic categories: male-, female- or family-centered; concerning either fate or the supernatural; humorous; animal tales; and metafiction. The stories are arranged in ``cycles or sessions''--11 groupings containing at least one example of each of the seven themes. Additionally, the associative nature of the tales within each cycle further reinforces the storyteller illusion. Unlike myths, folktales are profane rather than sacred. Thus there are tales wherein humans outwit either gods or fate itself, and where the poor mock the rich (and the caste system). Two recurring characters are the jesters Tenali Rama and Ghopal Bhar, tricksters akin to the Western harlequin. According to Ramanujan, entertainment rather than education is the primary purpose of the folktale, a goal achieved by these stories even when they are also didactic. (Feb.)
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