Hindu Folklore / Mythology Needed
August 15, 2006 7:26 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone help me find Indian / Hindi folklore?

ESPECIALLY illustrated or with photos of festivals and traditional costume related to those festivals. My limited understanding of the topic tells me that it's sort of regionally fractured, and that's fine. If there is a "major" set of myths/folklore, I'd love to know it. I've tried Googling for this, but I realized pretty quickly that I sort of don't know what I'm looking for or at, and therefore my ability to determine which resources are actually good is pretty limited.

I'm also up for book suggestions.
posted by Medieval Maven to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
maven - Are you looking for folklore/mythology/literature, or are you looking for festivals/costumes/pictures?
There is some overlap (in that some festivals refer to mythological events), but in the literature you'll generally find books on festivals OR books on mythology. The overlap isnt that tight, in part because both festivals and mythologies arent quite standardized across India, lots of diversity based on region.
You'll have an easier time finding a book with descriptions of festivals, OR a book of stories from the mythology/folklore. I.e., the two things are generally treated as separate topics.
posted by jak68 at 7:35 PM on August 15, 2006

Response by poster: This may be slightly maddening, but I would take illustrations and photos of either or both. Actually, it would be good to have some mythology and/or folk tales to read to contextualize the pictures. To make a long story longer, we are working on a production concept with an Indian/Hindi flavor and we're trying to do some stylized costumes based on traditional dress, folklore or mythology, and/or associated festivals. I have a better familiarity with Caribbean information of the same flavor, but it's not really helping me track down any good visuals or information on India.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:46 PM on August 15, 2006

Best answer: If there is a "major" set of myths/folklore, I'd love to know it.

There are; but these wont necesarily completely or "directly" correspond with festivals/costumes/pics.

When you talk about mythology/folklore in hinduism/India, it has to be broken down a bit cuz there's just too much.

The Panchatantra are Aesop's Fables style short stories usually with a maxim at the end; they're also similar to the Buddhist "Jataka" tales (previous lives of the Buddha, told as cute and amusing stories involving talking animals).

The Puranas -- approx. 12th century compilations of what is more properly called 'mythologies' involving the various gods and their interactions and adventures; most people compare these to the Greek and Roman mythological stories. Most of the bedtime stories that (a stereotypical Indian) grandmother would tell her grandchildren in India, are probably drawn from the Puranas or the Panchatantra.

The two main epics -- the Ramayana and Mahabharata -- are very long narratives but also contain shorter stories that branch off here and there and provide lots of commonly known mythological stories, tales, characters, (and inform much of the art and sculpture). If there is any overlap between mythology and festival in India (dont forget a lot of the festivals are derived simply from vedic ritual worship and so dont necessarily relate "directly" back to the mythologies -- it depends on what festival you have in mind.)

Each of these genres contain characters, events, and stories that most Indians will have SOME familiarity with. So in that sense each of these genres is "major".
posted by jak68 at 7:50 PM on August 15, 2006

This may be slightly maddening, but I would take illustrations and photos of either or both.

Hmmm. Sounds like you need a book or two on Indian or Hindu art/sculpture (which would provide you with visuals, illustrations, pictures, traditional poses, dress, etc). Perhaps AS WELL AS a book on Indian festivals/clothing/dress (again, for the visuals).
You could search under these keywords in amazon; theres no shortage of decent books on these topics.

If you want contextualizing text, What you'd have to do is first decide on the sculpture/character/figure/event/festival you want to do, and then search for information on that characters/event's background in the mythology (either on the internet, or wikipedia or amazon).

Ie, go thru the pics first, find what you like, identify it, and THEN find its background. That would simplify things considerably for you. It shouldnt be that complicated; there's no shortage of easily looked-up info on any indian mythological/festival character or event.
posted by jak68 at 7:57 PM on August 15, 2006

(p.s., if you want the short answer, probably you'll just want to do krishna-with-flute. (Remember Jethro Tull?) Comes with a lovely backstory and everything).

pic and some background
Costume is easily reproduced: paint yourself blue, get a flute, tie a nice turban on your head, a bedsheet around your waist (look at the pic), and a garland.

Its a love story...

If you're just looking for a quick Indian flavor, that should be enough I imagine. Would be instantly recognizable to any Indian.
posted by jak68 at 8:22 PM on August 15, 2006

I have a book right in front of me called Hindoo Fairy Tales [Old Deccan Days]. It has been "collected from oral tradition" by Mary Frere. Haven't cracked it yet - found it at a library sale a few months ago.
The edition I have is a 1967 Dover Press reprint "of an unabridged republication of the third edition, as published by John Murray circa 1881."
The book is illustrated.
Perhaps you could track this book down? I'm sure it's out of print, but I bet you could dig it up.
Also, perhaps searches using "Hindoo" instead of "Hindu" will turn up some other goodies.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:25 PM on August 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you! This has been helpful so far, but if you think of anything else, I will appreciate it greatly.

I will use what I have so far to better my research.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:29 PM on August 15, 2006

It sounds like you need to get ahold of some AmarChitraKathaen.
posted by mds35 at 8:30 PM on August 15, 2006

Black Peacock
posted by revonrut at 8:49 PM on August 15, 2006

I'd second mds35's suggestion. Amar Chitra Katha are comic books (there are hundreds of them) covering Indian mythology, folktales, history, etc; very popular in India as well, and they would give you back stories and visuals all in one shot. But because there are so many, again you may want to first identify the subject you're interested in, and then search for that subject at the amarchitrakatha website above.

Here's a U.S. distributor for them. They cost about 2 bucks each.
posted by jak68 at 9:43 PM on August 15, 2006

Try watching Bollywood movies for inspiration - some of the stories are based on either well-known tales, or folklore, and they're a good starting point.
posted by divabat at 1:06 AM on August 16, 2006

If you are after major myths, you probably can't go past the Ramayana. AFAIK, it is *the* major myth of India, alongside the Mahabharata, which is longer and more convoluted, so not as useful for your purposes.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:29 AM on August 16, 2006

oh, and i have to link this, just for the pleasure of anybody visiting or watching this thread: The Sitayana, by Nina Paley. (basically, snippets of the Ramayana, from the point of view of his wife, Sita)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:32 AM on August 16, 2006

Old Deccan Days and some other pre-1930s religion/mythology texts are available online at sacred-texts.org. I looked at it last night and decided it probably wouldn't fit your needs, but at least some of the illustrations are on there.
posted by cobaltnine at 4:17 AM on August 16, 2006

The Ramayana was turned into a wildly popular series on Indian TV in the mid-1980s. No idea how easy it is to track down a copy, but it'd be a rich vein for you to tap, I'd imagine.


Hindi = language spoken by the majority in many north Indian states

Hindu = religion practised by majority of Indians.


posted by gompa at 7:29 AM on August 16, 2006

I had to do a paper comparing folktales across ethnicities in undergrad, and my library at Big State University was a fabulous resource. TONS of books on the mythology of every conceivable culture. Try checking your local univeristies online catalogs.
posted by gatorae at 9:31 AM on August 16, 2006

I made the same nitpick once and was told that Hindi has another definition - "adj : of or relating to or supporting Hinduism; "the Hindu faith" - it doesn't seem commonly used (and just sounds wrong to me, but it is there in the dictionary.)
posted by PY at 6:24 PM on August 16, 2006

PY - Re: the nitpick - wow, I've never heard that use of the word "hindi", as an adjective of Hindu. And I'm in the field. Its in the dictionary though, apparantly, but I'd be willing to guess its a 19th century usage that has long since gone out of use.
posted by jak68 at 7:43 PM on August 16, 2006

Response by poster: My handle is medieval so 19th century is positively modern to me.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:19 PM on August 16, 2006

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