Folklore and Archaeology

Dr. Arunchandra S. Pathak

            Folklore is an umbrella term used to denote the fields of human knowledge comprising of folk-arts, folk-literature and folk-reminiscence. The stalwarts like Durgabai Bhagwat, Tarkatirth Lakshamanshastri Joshi, Vasudev Sharan Agarwal, Kundanlal Upreti have given their lot to bring out the essence of these streams of knowledge and folk-wisdom. The initiatives and works done by Dr. R. C. Dhere have given a new direction to the folk and cultural studies.

            Folklore is a mirror of folk reminiscence. The reflection of local or folk past we see in the folklore has to be unearthed to reach the crux of factual past. The factual past remains hidden under many a layers of folk reminiscences and the core of history remains covered in the dynamic expressions of folk reminiscences. And thus, the spirit of culture echoed in history has to be studied through a thorough understanding and interpretation of folklore. The tools and methodologies of Archaeo-anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Sociology and overall humanities have to be employed by a researcher to bring out the clear picture of cultural life of any people. Archaeologists are benefitted well by such in-depth understandings of folklore which works like a bridge between the archeological discoveries, investigations and interpretations. The excavated sites and artifacts give us the information about the ‘lived life’ back in that respective past, and the study of folk-reminiscences as well as their local expressions gives valuable insights regarding the cultural continuities.

            The following paper will throw a light on this process of wholesome understanding of cultural and shared past, in which folk-reminiscences have been successfully implemented as the sources for archaeological interpretations and investigations.

Folk reminiscences from Mahanubhav Literature

            The best example of an organic symbiosis of folk-reminiscences and religious canons is “Lilacharitra” created in the 12th and 13th century Maharashtra. While reading the “Lilacharitra”, a natural inference can be drawn that many a folklore and folk-reminiscences have been highlighted via a constructive discourse and oration given by Shri Chakradhar Swami. For example, an episode describes Shri Chakradhara showing his disciple गौतमाचे भाताडे” near Trambakeshwar. The same tale can be seen various literary sources of cultural past. The seer who discovered the undying stream of Godavari was Rishi Gautam, and hence Godavari or the ‘Dakshin Ganga’ is also called as ‘Gautami-Ganga’.

            According to the story narrated by Shri Chakradhar, Rishi Gautam used to reside near Tryambakeshwar, and on account of his innate capabilities acquired through severe penance, paddy seeds sown during the early mornings, used to get ripe by the afternoons, which was the staple mean of sustenance for seer Gautam. For the atonement of sin of killing a cow, he again by means of the severe penance brought down the Ganga to southern India, who had her abode in the matted hairlocks of Lord Shankar. The seer Gautam enjoys same veneration which the Bhagirath enjoys in North India in the context of “Gangaavataran”. There are many tales and narrations related to Godavari and the center of all such tales is “Seer Gautam”. An incident referring back to Pre-historic or Early historic times seems to have been recorded in the expressions of folk reminiscence. The same tale can be found recorded in the Puranas which were created during the 6th to 10th century A.D. These Puranas are Shivapuran, Naradpuran, Varahpuran, Brahmavaivartapuran. There was belief among scholars that, the narrations mentioned in these Puranas are all unreal and fantasies. But F. E. Pargitert has given a true justice to these Puranas and their usage as the sources of History. Here I would like to point out that, the narrative episode of Godavari’s genesis which was becoming hazy from folk retention and which had found its place in Puranas, was once again told by Chakradhar Swami to his disciples. After this re-telling, the same story appears again in the Puranas like Bhavishyottar Purana which was created during the Late Yadava times. This same story finds its place in the Godavari Maahatmya, Tryambakeshwar Maahatmya, Siddhaguru Maahatmya.


            Very interestingly, these folk reminiscences are often attached to certain historical event. The clear evidence of this phenomenon can be found at “Nidhi Niwas” – “Nevasa”. The ‘Lila’, orated here by Shri Chakradhar is as follows: One of his female disciple excavates some ground on an old mound (Location is same as today’s Dnyaneshwar temple), and stumbles upon some human bones, which she shows to Chakradhar Swami; on which Shri Chakradhar Swami instructs her that these bones belong to the men of very bygone age; do not displace them or rather put them back from where you unearthed the same. The same mound can still be found. When Dr. H. D. Sankaliya excavated this mound, he came across the remains of human settlements dating back to 2500 B.C. to 13th/14th Century A.D. These all findings have been recorded in the Nevasa Excavation report published by Deccan College.

            The narrations about the temples at Devgaon (Taluka Vaijapur, Dist. Aurangabad) and about the Dhoreshwar Temple at Paithan (Dist. Aurangabad) given by Chakradhar Swami are also very interesting and of investigative values. These and such examples denote the significance of folk-reminiscences in the construction of History of Marathwada.

Folk reminiscences and Archaeology – interconnection from Kandhar Dist. Nanded

            While scrutinizing the mound of the dead at Mohenjodaro, the remains of a glorious civilization were found. The same can be said about the Kandhar. Many legends and anecdotes were prevalent regarding the historicity of this place. It was said that, this place was called as the “Panchalpur”, founded by none other than the Pandavas. Not only this, there is a field outside the village boundary, which was locally called as “Rakshasache Shet (Devil’s filed)”. And even today a huge monster still lays dead there. When he was killed, his cap flew over and landed in the village. Such of many tales are prevalent in the village and came down to present generation by tradition. Folk reminiscences are very much analogous to natural constitution of any community and thus folklore evolves with the respective culture and becomes a constituent factor in the natural progression towards civilization. And this whole historical growth preserves many of the episodes of its shared past in the medium of folklore and folk expressions.

            The “toppled city” (पालथी नगरी) is still shown by the people at Paithan. The empire and the imperial Satavahanas had their capital at Paithan, the ruins of which are still located by the people and the same historical episode of glorious settlement and its desertion has been preserved in the folk reminiscences.

Ter (Dist. Osmanabad)

            This settlement was a huge trade and market center during the periods of Satavahanas in the 1st and 2nd Century A.D. This was the prime site of the trade and commercial relations, which the contemporary India had with Rome. This place was called as ‘Satyapur’, because of a shared notion that the trade taking place here was founded on the mutual trust, integrity and the truth of the guilds. The same notion can be seen reflected in the “Satyapuri Maahatmya”.

            Nevasa, Paithan, Ter are actually the historical planes over which the local history and site’s historicity is fraternized in the anecdotes, traditions, folklore and reminiscences. It was proved here that the anecdotes can be the guiding lights towards the historical truths about many places. One of such interesting site is Kandhar (Dist. Nanded).

The field which was called as Rakshasache Shet (Devil’s Field), was excavated by Maharashtra State Archaeology Department and Deccan College, Pune in the year 1984. This excavation uncovered a huge temple complex with a premier deity as Kshetrapal. This was a Rashtrakuta structural complex. The Kshetrapal Image found here in a horizontal posture is the largest one found in whole Kshetrapal images of Southern and Central Asia.

The Remains of Kshetrapal Temple Complex at Kandhar -

            The Kshetrapal image found in here is of 23 M. in length, to be set in a peripheral compound pattern of 118” x 111” Sq ft. which measured 75” ft. The foot of this Kshetrapal is of 5” and the width of wrist measured 3” – 3”, the girth of waist 15” – 6” while the torso was of 22” – 4”. The enormity of this sculptural remain must have boosted the generation of such an interesting folk reminiscence. When this same folk reminiscence attracted the attention of researchers and archaeologists, the enormous remains of Kshetrapal belonging to the past of 1000 years before present were surfaced. This same incident prompted a scholar like me explore an area or a field located nearby the Kandhar proper, which was called as Joginiche Shet or Joginiche Patta (जोगीनीचे शेत/जोगीनीचे पट्ट). This exploration revealed that the same field contains a well or a Kallol belonging to the period of Rashtrakutas. During those times, the temple of Saptamatrukas must have been located here. When the excavation was undertaken here for the purpose of clearing the land while road construction; the images of Saptamatrukas were found. Even today, an image of a female deity painted in red vermilion has been installed in the same field and the image commands a deep veneration among the villagers. Among the images of Saptamatrukas, Chamunda, Bhairavi, Kaumari, Vaishnavi can be distinctively identified. The images measure 5.3” x 3”.

            Ancient Panchalpur means the capital of Pandavas. While deriving the clear inferences from these folk reminiscences, it becomes clear that during the 10th century, this place was ruled by the Rashtrakutas, and it was the capital of Rashtrakuta king Krushna III (939 – 965 A.D.). This urban center was deliberately and elaborately founded by the Rashtrakutas. Later on the capital of Rashtrakutas again went back to Manyakheta or Malkhed. During the periods of Islamic onslaught the settlement fell prey to destructions. The overall collapse resulted in the wiping of many folk reminiscences and the contexts of inscriptions and related records were lost in communal shuffles. But, people didn’t forget the glories of past and their glorious past remained living via shared traditions and anecdotes covered in folk expressions. Thus arise the legends like ‘Panchalpur’ and its establishment by Pandavas. The stalwarts like D. D. Kosambi have tried to highlight the importance of folklore and folk reminiscence in the processes of historical interpretations and understandings. Dr. R. C. Dhere has given many fresh insights for the further researches in this field. We all can go further in this field by understanding and following their methodologies and approaches. But for the same, a new perspective will have to be ingrained by future researchers and investigators. These studies and researches will definitely pave way for the new breath in the cultural studies and research.


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