Folklore is the traditional cultural forms of any group that is communicated through language, actions, verbal or expressive literature, behaviours, visible through the material life (including customs, rituals) and performances (arts and crafts) and public displays of the individual or community.
Folklore encompasses all knowledge that is either transmitted through word of mouth and all arts and techniques that passes from generation to generation. It embraces the whole panorama of human life and traditional culture.
In our society, folklore implies some kind of falsity and fantasy, associated with simple, ignorant people as compared to the high classical arts, which are seen as being elite. It is strongly seen with the rural folk and said to be different from the literate elite. Folk tales and stories often are considered to be based on incorrect facts and myths.
While it is true for some genres of folklore, like tales and stories, it would be wrong to imply that all forms of folk culture have some notions of falsehood inherent in it. It is very much based on the material life of the people and some forms like theatre and performance are very much based on tangible truths.
Folklore contains the whole gamut of the society and belongs to all. It can be said here that it also fulfils and satisfies certain basic functions of the society. Folk culture comprises of learned habits, beliefs, rituals, institutions and expressions of the people. Therefore, folk culture truly encompasses all.
Folklore is our cultural property in the form of tangible and intangible material including verbal expressions, such as folktales, folk poetry, riddles, jokes, words, symbol and indication; musical expressions, such as folk songs and instrumental music; expression by action, such as folk dances, plays and artistic forms or rituals; whether or not reduced to a material form, as intangible and tangible expression, such as, production of art, in particular, drawings, painting, carvings, sculptures, pottery, terracotta, mosaic, woodwork, metal ware, jewellery, basket weaving, needlework, textiles, carpets, costumes, crafts, musical instruments, archaeological specimens and sites and other historical materials and architectural forms.
The various genres of folk culture include:
The sub-genres of oral literature include, oral narratives/stories/tales, folk poetry, legends, proverbs, riddles and folk speech. Some of the important sub genres of material culture are crafts, art, folk architecture, folk costumes, folk cookery etc.
Some of the subgenres of social folk customs include, celebrations and festivals, recreation and games, folk medicine, folk religion, etc. Folk drama, folk music, folk dance, and conscious presentations by individuals or groups with folk instruments, costumes and props are some of the subgenres of performing folk art.
Folklore is our heritage as we have inherited it from our ancestors bequeath as landscapes, structures, objects, traditions, and culture. It is the resource of the past which is valued, preserved and exhibited by a community as symbols of their collective glory. Folklore can also be looked as cultural resources and global recognition and identification of our region.
Identity is the set of elements which is essential to distinguish the specific existence of a group or individual. Collective identity of people is constructed on the basis of history, culture, religious beliefs, class, ethnicity or nationalism and is the key factor in the process of construction of heritage.
However, folklore is our collective social identity and is looked as a significant part of nationhood and nationalism. And social identity emphasize on commonalities and features that are shared between individuals and folklore posit the cosmopolitanism or shared social identity.
Kashmir is credited with possessing a rich folklore because of its robust cultural past. This richness of Kashmiri folklore is attributed to the confluence of multiple factors. Kashmiri folklore since times has been a source of history, entertainment and recreation, self-expression, description of family and family issues and social life, customs and traditions, dress and ornaments, dwellings, foods and drinks, fairs and festivals, mourning and celebrations, protest against tyranny, etc.
An indispensable part of folklore is our mother tongue which is on the verge of extinction and can be termed as endangered language that is spoken by a sufficient number of people to make survival a prospect, but only in complementary conditions and with an augmentation of the civic conservation.
The phrase ‘endangered language sounds severe and ultimate with its unwelcome appearance for our mother tongue but, it has similar connotations and overtones. To say that is like saying that a human being is deceased but the situation can be observed from our younger generation.
Religion is a part of the daily existence of life and is expressed in everyday rituals, speeches, stories and songs. It also affects both the private practices and pubic ritual activities and also the material life like clothing, food and objects.
Legends about religious figures, saints, etc. supernatural narratives, magic and occult practices, use of devotional texts etc. are all replete with the concerns of religion and all are deeply religious in content and hence a part of folklore.
Folklore is a strong cultural symbol that advocates national and ethnic pride. This is primarily done through the development, preservation, imitation and collection of literature, language and traditions.
Folklore promote ideas of a strong historical and cultural nationalism and greatly emphasize the ideas of the individual and creativity and it inspire an interest in antiquity, tradition and culture.
Folk ballads and folk songs are a tool to protest against social, economic and political oppression, women’s protest against unjust patriarchal hierarchy etc. through songs, festivals, poetry, dance, plays etc. Folklore is an echo of the past, but at the same time it is also the vigorous voice of the present.
Folklore has given a special impetus to Nationalistic fervour and patriotism, in the past and is deeply connected with our tradition. As tradition involves change and continuity, cultural symbols, items and icons of folklore all undergo a process of change. Folklore, hence, is in a continuous process of flux and is inherently dynamic and deeply connected to the social life and its processes of change and alterations.
Hence this is an artistic process that is both creative and imaginative and in a state of flux and change. So we need to accept the changes as progress of our culture.
In the wake of globalization, culture in general and folk culture in particular needs special attention to safeguard its own social ideas, values, identity and heritage.
Therefore, it is necessary to study and preserve this vital area for arousing culture consciousness among the zealots of the exotic ranging from corporate groups to that of policy makers and social activists, specific institutions: like museums, libraries, archives, academic institutions, and freelance art and folk culture lovers.
Folklore covers almost our entire life experiences. It is present in our daily life and is with us from birth to death. We cannot deny its presence in speech, actions, behaviour and culture. None of the studies of human life, from ethnography, history, linguistics to literature can ignore folklore. It is acquiring more and more importance globally.
So it is the need of hour to save and document our cultural heritage as it is our identity. For preservation, protection and promotion of our traditional cultural properties in general and folklore in particular, we all must involve ourselves it this cause to save our identity.
Author works at Department of Archaeology (CCAS), University of Kashmir