We have been practising storytelling as an art form since millenniums now. And now in the present time, it is hard to imagine life without stories, whether it’s through a book, a film, a play, or a poem. Storytelling has influenced all aspects of our life. Traditionally, the oral stories have been handed over from one generation to the next.
But where did this intrinsic part of our life originate? Unfortunately, there is no one answer for this question. Just as in the ancient Indian times there was no absolute truth for any subject other than mathematics. Everyone had his or her own theory for everything. But the one that I find the most interesting and most close to the truth is that the origin of storytelling may have come across as an excuse of failure. Don’t you think we do the same thing till now? Cooking up stories to cover up our failures, but let’s leave that for some other day and some other blog.
The oldest surviving tale in the storytelling history known to humans is the epic, Gilgamesh, which is related to the deeds of an old Sumerian king. The earliest origin of storytelling can be found in the Egypt, when the sons of Cheops entertained their father with stories.
The history of storytelling reveals that the stories came in all different varieties, like, myths, legends, fairy tales, ghost tales, trickster stories, hero stories, fables, epics, adventure, etc. Passing from generation to generation, these stories reflected the wisdom and knowledge of the people of that time. It became common for people to believe in God, which bound them to a common heritage and belief.
It is even believed by many historians and psychologists that storytelling is one of the many things that define and blind our humanity. Humans are perhaps the only animals that create and tell stories.
The Indian way of storytelling is a little different from the way of storytelling from around the globe. So the concept that a story has to give a sense of conclusion at the end is not exactly a traditional Indian concept, it is actually a modern western concept, and people believe that this comes from Aristotle’s poetics. But the concept that a story must have a sense of conclusion, a sense of catharsis at the end, whether positive or negative, it’s not an Indian way.
And when you understand this, a lot of traditional Indian stories start making sense. Like when I first heard the complete Ramayana from my grandmother, the ending didn’t make any sense to me. Because if the story had ended where Ram kills Raavan, rescues Sita and come back to Ayodhya and ruled happily ever after, it would have been a perfect story just like any other western story, with a sense of conclusion, but the Ramayana doesn’t end there. And strangely Ram abandons Sita and never marries anyone again, he remains alone and unhappy. Why did this happen? I had no clue.
The same thing happens in the Mahabharata, if the story had ended where the Pandavas won and ruled happily ever after, it’d have given a sense of conclusion, but the Mahabharata doesn’t end there. The Pandavas and Draupadi climb the mountains to go to Devaloka and one by one the Pandavas and Draupadi start jumping down that mountain and only Yudhishthira and a dog make it, they make into Devaloka and they find Duryodhana and the Kauravas there. This made no sense to me. The Kauravas are supposed to be evil, what are they doing in heaven? The Pandavas had defeated them.
At that time my elders told me that in a traditional Indian storytelling way you are not supposed to get a sense of conclusion, rather the ending should be such that it keeps disturbing you throughout you’re life, and not just one life but many lifetimes. The only reason behind it is that the purpose of a story is not to give you a good time, the real purpose of a story is to make readers or listeners explore and learn some philosophies and the best way to learn some philosophies is to ask questions, the word question comes from the word ‘Quest’ and you only ask questions when you are unhappy with where you are. So the ending has to be such that it forces you to ask question which will in turn help you learn new philosophies. But here we must understand that the questions may vary from person to person, the answers may vary from person to person because every individual has his/ her own life journey so obviously their answers and questions will also be different.
What do you think about the Indian way of storytelling? Let me know in the comments section and share this blog with your friends and family if you like it.