Know Your Folks: Traditional Folk Media in India

Posted on November 26, 2010 in Culture-Vulture

By P. Asha Ritu:

Folk media is an effective means of communication in today’s world since it not only helps connect people with their cultures but also revives the lost culture of the society. Folk media forms the language of expression for the local populace and gives them a chance to voice out their opinions on various issues. It depicts the constantly changing face of any society along with its virtues and vices. It is a method to underline certain dominant ideologies of the society through its own people. If observed closely, traditional folk media is an excellent tool to enhance communication and promote dialogue at the grass root level of any society.

The most popular form of traditional folk media is the folk dance. Colorful, vibrant, melancholic, elegant, graceful — all these attributes form the core of folk dances. They attract audience since the tunes are generally feet tapping and very well liked by the local crowd. The folk dances vary in range from the mountains to the plains to the desert to the coastal areas. Every geographical area differs in the type of dances that it offers. For example, in India, Punjab has Bhangra as their folk dance which is energetic and colorful for it is a dance of celebration for them while down south in Kerala, their folk dance is Mayil Attam( the peacock dance) which is elegant and is performed at village get-togethers. Traditional folk dances are an excellent mix of traditional folk music and folk tales that help communicate messages in an effective manner.

Folk music is yet another popular form of folk media. Music is governed by the language, colloquial accent, and instruments used by the local people. Thus, each territorial area has a distinct folk music of its own. Folk music is especially admired since it does not require elaborate set ups or any preparation. Wherever a crowd gathers, people begin to sing and others gradually join. Lyrics of folk music are pretty striking since they echo the problems of the people with a satirical taunt to the government and the officials. Folk songs of Bihar, UP, MP are very satirical and are often used effectively before elections to keep the people from getting allured by false promises.

Students performing street theatre on GM Crops

Street theatre is one more form of folk media that is being used widely to propagate socio political messages and to create awareness for social issues. A group of people perform on streets, and gather crowds. The objective here is to make people a part of the play and thus convey the social message. Thus, even a common man identifies with the issue and becomes a part of the act. Street plays are short, direct, loud, and over expressive since they are performed in places where there are huge crowds. They are known to propagate strong social reforms and are considered as powerful tools to mobilize crowds towards a certain matter.

Puppetry is another form of folk media that is equally entertaining and informative. Puppets come in four basic types- glove puppets, string puppets, rod puppets and shadow puppets. Each type is found in a particular state like glove puppets are found in Kerala, Odissa, and Tamilnadu. Puppet shows follow a story, a popular legend or a folk tale and end in a moral or social message. Children, adults, aged — all enjoy puppet shows. Paintings and sculptures also form an integral part of traditional folk media. The paintings depict life and socio-cultural environment of local people. This is a form of expression without words or music. They are not just images but give us a clear idea of what the people face in a societal setup, their problems, their struggles etc.

Thus, traditional folk media is much more than mere song and dance. They are a medium of expression for the common man, and a way to vent out his feelings. Along with mainstream media, even traditional folk media must be encouraged so that our grass roots are as strong as the class on top of the pyramid!

Image courtesy: for street theatre, for lead pic.