Folk Tales

Folk Tales tales composed orally by illiterate people belonging to rural communities and passed on from one generation to the next by means of telling and retelling. Because of their oral nature, folk tales often tend to have different versions.

Folk tales may include fairy tales, called rupkatha or parikahini in Bangla. Although called 'fairy tales', all such stories do not necessarily have fairies, but are stories of a prince's adventures and his winning the hand of a beautiful princess or about the rewards bestowed on a kind girl because of her humility, kindness, hard work etc. These stories contain accounts of magical powers, divine help etc. In German, this type of tale is called 'marchen'. Books like Thakurmar Jhuli, Thakurdadar Jhuli, Thandidir Thale etc, edited by dakshinaranjan mitra majumder, are collections of fairy tales.

There is another longer type of tale, similar to the fairy tale, but in which names and places correspond to geographical and historical facts; for example, The Arabian Nights, The Persian Tales, Vikramaditya or Talbetaler Galpa etc. King Solomon or Caliph Harun-al-Rashid of the Arabian Nights and Vikramaditya of vetalapanchavingshati are historical characters. This type of tale is called romavcha-katha in Bangla. A blend of rupkatha and romanchakatha is noticed in Bangla puthi literature in stories such as Saifulmuluk Badiujjamal.

Stories with animals as their main characters are common in all cultures. In these stories animals talk and behave like human beings. Animal stories that contain a moral are called 'fables' in English and nitikatha in Bangla. Aesop's Fables, Pavchatantra and Hitopadesh are excellent examples of fables. Another similar type of narrative is the moralising tale, known as upadeshkatha.

A very short type of story found all over the world is called 'noodle-story', 'numbskull-story', 'merry tale' or 'humorous tale' in English and rabgakatha or hasir galpa in Bangla. Books like Babgalir Hasir Galpa by jasimuddin, Tuntunir Bai by upendra kishore roychowdhury, Toontoony and Other Tales by Ashraf Siddiqui etc contain several stories of this category.

In some stories a single fearless hero wins the hearts of people by accomplishing various impossible tasks. Hercules and Prometheus in Greek mythology and Sindbad the Sailor in the Arabian Nights can be regarded as heroes of this type. These tales are known as 'hero-tales' or birkatha in Bangla. Apart from The Arabian Nights this type of story is found in books like Talbetaler Galpa, Kishoreganjer Lokakahini etc.

Different local events which are believed to have really taken place in the past, and which gain popularity through oral transmission, are known in English as 'local legends', 'local tradition' etc. 'The Pied Piper of Hamelin' is an example of this kind of story. Episodes like Kamalasundari or Chaudhurir Ladai in purbabanga-gitika, Kingbadantir Deshe by Subodh Ghosh and Kingbadantir Bangla by Ashraf Siddiqui contain stories with similar characteristics.

There is another category of folk tales, locally known as srstikatha and 'creation myth' in English. These stories are narrated to explain why the coat of a tiger is striped, why the kutum pakhi came to be yellow in colour, or how a particular tree, a river or a constellation came into being etc.

A particular category of stories is the tall tale, in Bangla ganjakhuri galpa (tales of lying): for example, the story of the two gigantic men who brushed their teeth with palmyra and banyan trees and emptied a pond in one draught. Besides, there is another type of story used for testing intelligence, called 'riddle' in English and dhandhamulak galpa in Bangla. These stories were composed with the aim of testing the intelligence of newlyweds or of people seeking employment at royal courts. Examples of these are found in the stories of gopal bhand.

There is yet another group of stories known as shikli galpa (cumulative tale) where one episode follows another and new characters keep on being added. Stories like 'Tuntuni and the Barber', 'The Barber and the Fox' (nak kete narun pelam, tak dumadum dum) etc in Tuntunir Bai belong to this category. [Ashraf Siddiqui]

Bibliography Stith Thomson, The Folktale, New York, 1951; Ashraf Siddiqui ed, Bengali Folklore Collections and Studies: 1800-1947, Bangla Academy, Dhaka, January 1979-December 1980; Ashraf Siddiqui, Lokasahitya, 2 vols. Dhaka, 1994.

See also folk literature.