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Folklore and Hinduism

Story telling is a major part of Hindu literature, covering a wide range of topics to convey ideas. Like all religions, fiction, exaggeration, mysticism and super natural phenomena make stories interesting (like today movies based on history and scientific facts). Many times, many individual stories are combined and connected to make a big story.

Folklore of India

The folklore of India compasses the folklore of the nation of India and the Indian subcontinent. Folk religion in Hinduism may explain the rationale behind local religious practices, and contain local myths that explain the existence of local religious customs or the rituals. However, folklore as currently understood goes beyond religious or supernatural beliefs and practices, and compasses the entire body of social tradition whose chief vehicle of transmission is oral.

Indian folk heroes like Rama, Krishna in Sanskrit epics are well known to every one. They have found a place in written literature. Folk heroes including romantic heros, are some times deified and are worshipped in the village. Some folk tales have been modified and included in puranas. Some exist as local ones, with out religious connection. Many have been left out and dying slowly.

The castes and tribes of India have maintained their diversities of culture through their language and customs. So in addition to national heroes, regional heroes and local folk and tribal heroes are alive in the collective memory of the people. Let's take examples of the Santhals or the Gonds. The Santhals have their culture heroes Beer Kherwal and Bidu Chandan. Gonds have their folk hero Chital Singh Chhatti. Banjara folk hero is Lakha Banjara or Raja Isalu.

But not only heroes, the heroines of Indian folklore have also significant contribution in shaping the culture of India. Banjara epics are heroine-centric. These epics reflect the "sati" cult.

The word “Jataka” means “birth” in both the Pali and Sanskrit languages. The Jataka tales, among the oldest and best known of Buddhist texts. These are the stories that tell about the previous lives of the Buddha, in both human and animal form.

Panchatantra, is a collection of five volumes of stories written by a teacher to help instruct the different aspects of kinghood for princes. It is a good manual for a prospective king, to help him in deciding how to rule, how to choose his fellow friends, fellow ministers, how to conduct himself in daily life etc. Every story in Pancha Tantra has a moral.

Hitopadesha is a collection of Sanskrit fables.

Tirumala Hill Venkatesa

A smart hunter on a hunting trip was chasing a wild elephant in the forest. The elephant runs into a garden where Princess Padmavati and her maids were present. Hunter (Srinivasa), protects the princess. Srinivasa and Padmavathi fall in love. They got married. But, Srinivasa has to borrow large amount of money for marriage, which took them a long time to return. This incident was the folk tale, to impress that a capable commoner can marry a princess and also to be careful while borrowing.
The loan given to Lord Venkateshwara by Kubera was 14 million in Ramamudra Coins. The loanee should repay it with interest in one thousand Deva years after the loanee’s marriage. Govindaraja (Balarama in previous birth), an elder brother of Venkateshwara helped by counting the money.

Bridegroom folktales

People find it difficult to find suitable groom to get their daughters married. Many folk tales of lucky ones getting son inlaw. Later the groom names changed to God's name to make it divine story. This way some of old temples can be converted for new Gods.

Markandeya's daughter was so young, and that she didn't even know how to put salt in her cooking. But Vishnu was willing to eat without salt, for which he came to be known as Upilliappan or the lord without salt. The temple was an old natural worship temple with no idols. Deity was Oppilla appan (ஒப்பில்லா அப்பன்), meaning one without comparison (தனக்கு ஒப்பார் இல்லாத அப்பன் - ஒப்பில்லா அப்பன்). Changed to similar sounding name, Upilliappan with the above folk tale.

Sati cult

A Princess was suffering due to war between her father's and husband's country. She has to choose between the two. When she chose husband, her father disowned her and did not invite her for an important family function. She committed suicide. There are many similar tales like this, where a woman gives her life to stop a war between husband and father in the battle field.

This was adopted by Shiva-Sati story. Daksha and Prasuti named their daughter Sati. Sati went to her father to inform about chosen husband Shiva. Daksha was not happy and cut his daughter away from her family. Daksha did not invite Shiva or Sati for a yagna. When Sati went uninvited, she was ridiculed or thrown out. Sati immolated her mortal body through her yogic powers. Daksha himself was decapitated by Virabhadra, sent by Shiva. Later Daksha's head was substituted for that of a goat. Having learned his lesson, Daksha spent his remaining years as a devotee of Shiva. There are many versions of this story.

This includes fairy tale based on astronomy also. Moon revolves around 27 or 28 constellations and Rohini will the closest constellation in the moon's orbit. Moon is personified as male married to 27 or 28 maidens and Rohini is his favourite wife. Daksha, (may be chaldean astronomer), identified and named 28 stars system and all stars are considered as his daughter. The system starts with Abhijit. Later the system was replaced by astronomer Bhadra, with 27 stars and starts with mesha (goat) rasi. Head star in Daksha's system was deleted. Starting star was in mesha. This makes a fine folk tale, Daksha's head was cut and replaced by goat head.

Madurai Meenakshi

Tataatakai (Meenakshi) was the daughter of Pandya King Malayadwaja Pandyan. She ruled Madurai after her father and conquered many kingdoms. She wanted to marry one, who can compete with her. During one such conquests she met Lord sundareswaror siva yogi/siddhar. She fell in love with him. This folk tale brings out the problem of a recluse who marries the daughter of an proud and aristocratic mother. Meenakshi is a women with a beautiful eyes, fish eyed. Tamil names are Angayarkanni. Meenakshi is said to have a dusky complexion, and got a greenish tint by applying turmeric.

Madurai may be derived from Madhura (sweetness) is known by many names such as Koodal, Malligai Maanagar and Thirualavai. Madurai is one of the oldest cities in India. Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple was built by King Kulasekara Pandya (1190-1216 CE). The temples has entrances in all the four directions and contains two shrines with nine storeys one for Lord Sundareswarar and Meenakshi. The idol of goddess is said to be made from single emerald. The holy Tank is called by many names and as it bears the Golden lotus it is gold Porthamarai Kolam. The area surrounding the pond was said to be the meeting places of Tamil poets of those days. The sculptures on the pillars of the Halls depict the life story of Meenakshi and the miracles of Lord Shiva. All round the year, there is some or the other festival celebrated at Madurai Meenakshi temple. Among them, most popular and important is Meenakshi Thirukalyanam (the divine marriage of Meenakshi) in the month of April.

Sundaranandhar was based at Madurai, like Rama Devar and Macha Muni.இவர் மிகவும் அழகான தோற்றத்தைக் கொண்டிருந்ததால் சுந்தரானந்தர் என்று அழைக்கப் பட்டார். இவருக்கு வல்லப சித்தர் என்கிற பெயரும் உண்டு. மதுரை மீனாட்சி அம்மன் கோவிலில் இவருக்கு தனி சந்நிதி அமைந்திருக்கிறது.

Silapadikaram, describes Tadaatakai as a warrior Goddess, with 3 breasts is unique among Indian goddesses. The Silapadikaram also describes her body as being coloured two ways - the right side is crimson in colour, and the left is dark coloured. Some folk tales indiacte some link to the Greek goddess Artemisn. Truly Tadaatakai of the .

Ayyappa Sabarimala

Many tribal temples exist at many places in the surrounding Sabarimala like Nilakkal, Kalaketty, and Karimala. Enroute, there are shrines of Nagaraja and Nagayakshi. Tribals beat on drums, play stringed instruments and sing folk songs. Devotees also worship a trident and lamp here, and offer coconuts. One adivasi nature temple near pullumedu forest guards building, is unique.

Dharma Shasta, means a person who has the power to make and implement dharmas or righteousness in the society. In countryside temples spread over Tamil Nadu, Sastha is called Ayyanar and is worshipped with his two consorts Poorna and Pushkala. Sastha’s Vahana is a horse. He is portrayed as hunting in forests, linked to being Vettackorumakan. Sastha is shown to have lieutenants like Karuppan, Veeran, Madurai Veeran, Kathavarayan—Bhoothaganas.

The members of the Pandalam Royal Family are descendants of the Pandya dynasty who moved to Kerala. Ayyappan or Ayyan was the army chief of the Pandalam royal family. Ayyan with vavar, was instrumental in the defeat of Udayanan, who attacked Sabarimala region. After their demise, followers constructed Sastha temple at Erumeli and Vavar Mosque. Later Ayyappan and Sastha became synonymous.

Hindu Indian Folk Tales

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