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Mythology & Folklore

Typical Folk Tale Themes:

This material is a natural choice for the study of folktales and storytelling. Each of the twenty six episodes can be subdivided into three to five smaller units. Each and every one of these segments takes on the character of a folktale. The larger teacher’s manual discusses every one of these short tales and provides suitable questions for classroom discussion focused on any one of them. In particular, this manual suggests how to relate each one to everyday modern experience.

Folk Epic Creation:

Clearly this story has grown over the many generations of its retelling. Probably first told in about the sixteenth century, most of the extension was likely backwards; that is, the story parts describing the parents and grandparents of the heroes were created later than the description of the heroic twins who rule in the third generation. The story provides an excellent example for the discussion of how bards operate, how they try to please their audiences, and how they attempt to “fill in gaps” to help satisfy a listener’s curiosity.

Folk Epic Authenticity:

This legend is amazing for its breadth, its depth, and its authenticity. It accurately summarizes the history of the region it describes, covering about 600 years of known history through the lives of three generations in one local family. Although the details are undoubtedly fanciful, the broad strokes are grounded and when blended together produce an accurate ambience of the times. What makes an epic authentic is a good topic for classroom discussion.

Indo-European and Christian Myth-Themes:

The story provides plenty of opportunity for discussing Indo-European mythology, particularly the theme of twins (vis the Asvins and their horses). There are also strong parallels with Christian traditions including concepts such as annunciation, virgin birth, a last supper, a sacrificial death for the hero(es) and then the heroes’ final ascension to begin life anew alongside the father-god (for the Ponnivala story this is a new life to be enjoyed in the counsel chambers of the great Lord Shiva).

Vedic and Dravidian Myth-Themes:

This legend also blends into the larger story several important Vedic myths, particularly the tale of Rudra and the mating antelopes, and the story of the goddess Sati at her father Daksa’s sacrifice. Going somewhat further afield one can also point to ritual sacrificial posts and sun maidens as points where ancient Vedic myth content resurfaces in this folk material. Themes linking the story to concepts found in the very earliest Tamil literature are also identifiable. The worship of seven virgin sisters appears in the first tier of this literature. The same women (presumably) are also portrayed on an important Indus Valley seal that dates back to roughly 3,500 B.C. A separate essay is available for teacher reference when discussing these topics.

Mythic Fragments Shared With India’s Classical Epics:

Although the Ponnivala story is quite independent of India’s great epics, there are many obvious thematic references and borrowings worthy of study. A list for teachers to use is provided separately.