• Villupattu: The Bow Song Traditio...

    "When Yasoda looked inside Krishna's mouth, she saw the whole world, but first she saw the bow." - Singing of Birth and Death, Stuart Blackburn (1988). Bow songs, or Villupattu, are an oral tradition from the southernmost part of India (Tamilnadu and some parts of Kerala), at the center of which, is a brightly decorated hunting bow used as a musical instrument, called the villu, accompanied by an ensemble of other instruments. This exhibition unveils the art form of villupattu with recordings from performances that come alive through narratives that revolve around birth and death stories, revealing the mythic stories of gods and goddesses as well as histories of local heroes (real-life men and women), whose stories earned them a place among the deified. The exhibition explores existing archival materials at the ARCE (1930s to 1980s), the ritualistic context of the bow-song performances which bring the narrative world and the religious world together, and the heart of the matter—the songs themselves.

    Track Information : Birth of Vallarakkan
    Performer(s) : Punkani & Group, Kuntal, Kanyakumari dist.
    Collection : Stuart Blackburn

    Exhibit - Annanmar Katai

    Annanmar Katai (The Elder Brothers Story) is a Tamil oral narrative epic dating back to at least the 15th-Century A.D. and is the story of three twins, two elder brothers - Ponnar and Sankar, and their younger sister - Tankal. It narrates the trials of tribulations of three generations of a farmer family whose patriarch (the grandfather of the Elder Brothers) moves to the land of the golden river (Ponnivala Nadu). He is then followed by his eight younger brothers, who covet their elder brother’s fertile share of land. The Annanmar Katai, in Prof. Brenda Beck’s words, is “a view from the margins,” about the lives and conflicts of artisan-trader, feudal-farmer, and tribal-hunter communities. It is a story of three generations of jealousy, quest for power, childlessness, magic, gods, monsters, love, and rivalry. The story ends with the two elder brothers sacrificing their lives willingly to the Gods and their sister performing the funeral rites for her brothers. An annual festival is performed every year in honor of the three twins to this day.

    Track Information :
    Performer(s) : Erucanampalayam Ramasami and Olappalayam Palanisami
    Collection : Brenda Beck Collection

    Andhra Pradesh

    These are selections from a collection of Telugu epics and story telling forms made by the well known scholar Velcherlu Narayan Rao in connection with his documentation of six Telugu epics. Though these traditions vary, they all intersperse the narrative with singing accompanied by an instrument.

    Ao Naga story telling

    The Ao Naga tribe has a rich storytelling tradition and consider the oral tradition as a means of preserving and passing down their culture from generation to generation. Ao stories are famous and include the history of their origin.

    Track Information : This is a tale of a prawn and a crab that lived together in the river. They would laugh and make fun of each other, and yet they were great friends. The story tries to describe the feeling of enjoying the present as our fates are already sealed.
    Performer(s) : Arenla Subong
    Collection : Tara Douglas
  • Manbhatt

    The Manbhatt tradition involves narration and singing of stories called "akhyan" from the Puranas to the accompaniment of music played on copper pot (man) for rhythmic accompaniment. The popularity of this tradition is attributed to Kavi Premanand whose mission it was to bring the epics and history to common people through accessible and simple language.The narrative consists of stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Puranas. These are also interspersed by episodes from everyday life. In current times, further accompaniment is provided by cymbals (jhanjh), barrel drum (pakhavaj), tabla, and harmonium.

    Track Information : Okha Haran, akhyan composed by Kavi Premanand- performed by Manbhatt Dharmiklal Pandya
    Performer(s) : Dharmiklal Pandya
    Collection : ARCE Atlas Project Collection

    Epic of Dhola

    The Dhola is an oral epic of Uttar Pradesh, also often referred to as the Dhola Maru to which it is connected. In UP the Dhola is, however, the story of Nal and Damayanti, and ends with the birth of their son, Dhola. Dhola is performed by men - singing and narrating by turns. It was traditionally accompanied by a chikara, a fiddle type instrument.

    Track Information :
    Performer(s) : Ram Swarup Dhimar
    Collection : Susan S. Wadley


    Rajasthan, like many other parts of India has a rich tradition of narrative traditions including oral epics and ballads. Among the more unique are the Pabuji and Devnarayan epics which are performed with a painted scroll. This section provides an overview of these traditions from the ARCE Collections


    This selection is drawn from a variety of narrative traditions of Karnataka, referred to as katha or kathe in plural. They are story narratives performed through recitation and music and include Burra Katha, Kamsale, Chaudike, Jogi and Tatva. Musically the Katha tradition follows both the Hindustani and the Karnatak raga families.