Updated: Nov 28, 2020
The Indian tradition of storytelling A tradition means along established custom or belief passed on from one generation to another. In India storytelling has been this movement, which they passed on to us from the time of creation through Yogis, saints, grandparents and Gurus. Epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are the offspring’s of such a culture and we need to continue to be the keepers of this tradition.
In the Indian tradition this is precisely how we have preserved and passed on the stories not just as entertainment but more important for learning. The Gurus and masters in the Gurukula system of education using ‘Stories’ as a tool of learning taught concepts and values. Through stories older generations passed on their oral laws and understanding of the subtle laws that constitute human existence. Thus by studying oral stories, we understand many ancient belief systems and ideologies. For example, one of the famous stories is that of Dattatreya, the three headed leader of the avadootas and his many gurus. This immortal yogi and sage understand the essence of existence from twenty-four gurus in nature including the sun moon, wind, deer, trees, earth etc. This story illustrates how every moment of considered awareness can be a learning experience and how we can learn from Prakriti, the environment into which we are born. Thus by studying oral stories, we understand many ancient belief systems and ideologies. In each state, the stories had localised characters specially the folk tales and that became the culture of each state too. You will not find Kangaroo in any of the Indian tales and in the same way, you will not find an elephant or a peacock in a Swedish folk tale. People told these stories around a fireplace in the local regions in their own styles.
My journey The beginning of my storytelling journey goes back to 1947 when British rule in India officially ended. Independent India then started to rebuild herself and a modern era had begun. People migrated to cities in search of greener pastures and employment. Indians shared stories of freedom and families were now beginning to become a nuclear unit. My parents, too, were a part of this movement. My father came to Mumbai in search of better prospects and my mother hailed from Tanjore in South India. They had grown up on a rich diet of stories. However, in 1956 after I was born, I began to listen to my parents’ exchange of sounds words and stories to each other. Since there was an absence of technology, I grew up reading books, especially classics to read. My father read aloud in English and my mother told me stories in Tamil. My mother told me folk tales and my father my read stories from history and legends. I accompanied my parents to religious discourses and afterwards replayed the Harikatha teller’s styles, the film stars and cartoon characters from films. Play reading, socialising and listening to stories were the key learning formats in a typical day in the 1960s. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s was fun. While we went to English medium schools we also visited friends relatives, listened to discourses, stories from my parents and grandmother. Listening played a predominant part in my upbringing, be it tales, music, songs, cultural programs or movies.
One of the tales I vividly remember is How EEEE.... (A housefly in Tamil) forgot his name and my mother telling it to me in Tamil. My father told me stories of Hitler, Napoleon, the Romans, and told us stories from the classics like Ivanhoe, the Scarlet pimpernel, Oliver twist and David Copperfield. The styles they adopted were so different. My mother had an exaggerated expression when she told the stories and my father concentrated on the language and the tone of the hero as he told the story.
Storytelling and Story Writing A storyteller is a teller of tales. A storywriter writes stories. Is there a difference one may ask? Perhaps there is. While one is more an extrovert, the other is probably an introvert. One begins the journey outside sharing collecting and giving stories whilst the writer jots downs listens observes and notes down points.
It is strange that from the quiet corners of a library I emerged like the Moth out of a cocoon to be a Storyteller. Not to forget that vesting period of being within is what prepared me to emerge out as a storyteller. From 1998, I began to wander from one land to another crossing mountains, hills, valleys, cities and towns - covering many parts of our own country and the vast expanse of the Earth.
The Storytelling movement has been a very emotional journey for me. I have cried, laughed, enjoyed, and got frustrated felt lonely and excited all at different times. What perhaps helped me to wade through this journey was travelling to different nooks and corners of the World exploring collecting and sharing stories. A storyteller’s journey helps one to flower both within and outside of ourselves.
From 2000 I began to expand my centres of Storytelling developed an Academy to teach Storytelling and had the unique opportunity to facilitate training centres around the world.
In the laps of the Himalayas 2018- 23 years after travelling, training I opened a centre in the Himalayas in collaboration with the Himalayan writers retreat to offer the Academy course as a residential one at Sathkol in the Kumaon region. After a long time of no pause and reflections I began to venture, more into the Himalayan ranges. Here the mind compelled me to stay beyond my storytelling work.
The mind slowly began to withdraw and the moth settled on the leaf of a tree. The golden heavens of the Himalayan peaks opened out. I felt the need to unwind and knew that it cannot happen overnight. I had built many invisible walls of prison around me. Just as the world moved, I too moved along logging on to Face book, what’s app, planning strategies on expanding to the regions I needed to cover, travel, plan and facilitate people. Ironically, the people who attended my courses felt de stressed and transformed and gave me what we call a “High”.
I was floating above the clouds. I had several encounters with saints, gurus, masters and meditations along this journey and I think my body and mind began to urge me to return to the source. While the multitude of men in cities was agitating in their brains about intellectual reflections, I began to crave for silence and cessation of thoughts. As I entered the mountainous region, I chanced upon the snow-clad peaks. They stood tall against the fading violet sunset rays. It was night and I slept alone in a cottage that night. It was the 120th batch that I was facilitating here and the people and participants had left after the four-day residential course. My tired feet urged me to make it rest. I was now alone here facing the three beautiful mountain peaks of the Trishul and the Kanchenjunga range. I watched them as I walked back to the cottage made of the local mud and settled into my room on the top from where I could watch them. The air filled my lungs.
In that sacred silence, I heard my heartbeat and breath and felt that they were competing to be louder than the other was. It was late in the evening and my tired body watched the beautiful sunset. As the sun showed off his purple pink dress and the sky was, folding him in - fear and awe all grasped me at the same time. I by now had gotten over the fear of darkness but now. I sensed the cicada and a sweet song of the robin bulbul not too far away.
That night I suddenly woke up to a loud thumping sound above my tiled roof. I imagined the fox, leopard and my still mind suddenly became agitated. What could it be? It was very loud as if it was very close to me. I dare not open the door. I waited and waited. Then I heard some crushing sound of leaves. It lasted a while and then all of a sudden the silence was back. I woke up that morning and went to the cook who explained that it was a * ‘Yellow throated Pine Marten!. It usually comes to the Eucalyptus tree in the night and eats some fruits. The next morning and day was my day of BEING IN THE MOMENT- nothing to do. I decided to take a walk around the bend which leads to the Ramchandra Mission gate. You can actually keep gazing at the peaks as they show different profiles of themselves to you. The trees echo the mountains and the mountains are in the trees too. A dog suddenly brushes past you and barks in fear. As you go upward, one teashop is always the last one to close. In these parts of the Kumoan region of the Himalayas, there is just one person with one teashop open after every 2 to 3 kms. This man not only makes tea and samosas but also acts in the night street plays in the town. He is Ravana, Bhima and does many roles from the Epics as entertainments for the people here.
He sits and makes hot samosas for everyone and he can talk, sit, stand and make people happy all the time. Generally, on the second day of our course, we all walk up to this shop and have samosas and tea. His hands have a magical precision and he can remove the samosas exactly on time. I have a quiet time with him as he narrates his tale and serves me the tea. I watch the peaks, which look taller from here.
As I walk up the curve of the road that bends downward tracing the snow filled mountains an old woman is walking up the slope with a bundle of wood ten times the size of her body. She can balance it without holding it with her hands. Her face is freckled but her steps are firm. She walks sure footed with confidence talking to her colleague along the way and asking me if I am fine as I pass by her.
She must be thinking how I am bending double under my weight to keep one foot after the other as I climb up the curve of the slope. They are innocent, plain-hearted people perhaps living in the moment. I wonder if they even know what Ego is. Their lives are busy tending to the cows, cutting collecting and carrying the wood form the forest, traversing the mountain ranges and walking up like the spiders. Then again walking to the nearby spring to fetch water, cook and fend for themselves and their families.
As I entered the cottage made of up I decided to shower, after lunch took some green tea, and sat facing the three Himalayan peaks Trishul, Nanda Devi, Panchachuli facing me on the opposite side. By the way Sathkol is on the way to Almora- the Kumoan region of the Himalayan ranges.
Tall trees surrounded the place and slowly I began to merge with the peaks. I could see the top part of the complete creamy white slowly enter my head and freeze my thoughts. I slowly began to feel my breath and heart beat in unison and the bitterness and ego fall off slowly from my insides like the dry dead golden leaves that fell off from the deodar tree close to me. “Freedom” and Joy seemed to dance within. This was perhaps the best activity that was happening after ages. Moreover, all this time I realised I had been running and running thinking, I am occupying myself like the chicken with a cut head.
Remembrances like a pleasant perfume lingered from the past and as I watched the golden sun turn a deep orange and dressing, the white peaks in the distance.
I remembered that it was during a similar trip to a mountain when the mind was still young fresh and happy that I had been to *Tiruvannamalai –south India in 1996 when I actually heard the mountain speak to me during my parikrama around it. I had found my first story. That was the Story I found to embark my career upon as a storyteller in 1996. Every time I narrated that story, I had my listeners completely engrossed.
As the evening lingers and the sunless sky turns into dusk the stillness within and without begins to grow more intense. The wind heralds me to return to the tree and I pick up a book to read, relax, and allow my body to wrap itself into sleep.
The chapter I was reading was the story of the woman saint who meditated for 13 long years on the Himalayan peaks of Tibet. As my eyelids drooped off into sleep, I remembered that face of the saint who helped me when I first climbed the peaks of Gomukh in 2010. I am feeling sleepy and perhaps you will want to read about it next time.
Into its fold
The folds of the Himalayas Filling the space between The Earth and the sky My hands stretch out to reach them. As I walk past the curve of the road They shrink towards the horizon To measure the expanse of the Universe.
*Marten, any of several weasel-like carnivores of the genus Martes (family Mustelidae), found in Canada and parts of the United States and in the Old World from Europe to the Malay region. ... Martens are forest-dwelling and usually solitary. They climb easily and feed rapaciously on animals, fruit, and carrion. *Tiruvannamali is a temple town and a major pilgrimage centre in Tamil Nadu. Tiruvannamalai is named after the central deity of the Annamalaiyar Temple, Annamalaiyar. Every full moon, tens of thousands of pilgrims worship Annamalaiyar by circumambulating the Annamalai hill barefoot. The circumambulation covers a distance of 14 kilometres (8.7 mi), and is referred to as Girivalam. According to Hindu legend, the walk removes sins, fulfils desires and helps achieve freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth.