Brother Cobra, Mother Bitch: Ethics and Ecology in Marathi Women's Storytelling
- The kahāṇī of Nāg pañcamī [of the farmer]
- The kahāṇī of Nāg pañcamī
- The kahāṇī of Ṛṣi pañcamī
- The kahāṇī of Monday
This paper examines the Kahāṇī genre of women's ritual storytelling from Maharashtra. With the help of my own stylistic translations of a few popular stories, I delineate the two major concerns that these stories address, namely, a Karma-based complex ethics of rewards and retribution through rebirths, and ecological awareness of the inter-relatedness of species. I discuss the social significance of the stories and the tension between the text and its context. I highlight the problematic placement of this genre in its ritual context by focusing on the anti-ritual import of one celebrated story. Finally I point out how these Kahāṇī stories defy classification as either myth or folktales, and how they incorporate aspects of both.
I would like to discuss the Kahāṇī storytelling tradition of Mahararashtra, a central western province of India, where I was born and raised speaking Marathi. I would start by giving you the social and customary context of the Marathi storytelling tradition, describe the structural and stylistic features of the Kahāṇī genre within that tradition, and then tell you a handful of Kahāṇī stories to illustrate two major concerns that, I believe, are foremost in this type of storytelling, namely, an awareness of ecology and recognition of the complexity of karma-based ethics. In passing I shall discuss the interrelation between the genre of storytelling and gender, in the light of a claim made by A. K Ramanujan in 1991 about the existence of a counter-system1 of women-centred stories in Indian folktales. I will conclude by pointing out the complex nature or the kahāṇi stories, which cannot be captured within a simple dychotomy between male stories versus women's stories.
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