Saturday, April 21, 2012

Not so different as you'd think, and the stuff of nightmares

This week Dr. Shabbir Mian from the McDaniel Physics department visited to teach us about tales from Bangladesh.

It was interesting to closely examine literature from an Eastern culture, even more so since the professor had grown up with these stories instead of being an expert on them; I enjoyed analyzing the story with him as he did not already have preconceived ideas and we were able to teach him some as well.

Dr. Mian started the lecture in the best way possible by giving us some background information about Bangladesh. He told us why the Taj Mahal was built (as a mausoleum for a Sultan’s wife) and how that story in itself is like a tale. Then the geography of Bangladesh was explained and given importance: the tales reflect the geography. As such there are many stories involving water thanks to the Indian Ocean and river deltas, lush forests, flat land but some hills, hot weather, and monsoons. These elements along with some from the neighboring countries of India and Burma as well as early trade with China all combine to make up the stories of Bangladesh in an easy to see way.

Many of the stories come from the Rupkotha. There are generally no fairies, something that has been quite common in the other fairy tales that we have read. Most of the stories seem more like what we have classified as folk tales as the majority of them were passed down orally and therefore have slight variations in character. This concept was seen in the different versions of Blue Lotus and Red Lotus that we read/saw, especially as the plots themselves were slightly different. Other stories come from the Panchatantra from 550 AD Sanskrit, the Jataka from 5th century BC Ceylon, the Lal Behari Dey English translations of older tales from the late 19th century, and the Grandmother’s and Grandfather’s Bag which emphasizes the importance of the old passing stories down to the young. There are also more modern tales that are just as imaginative as the older ones; keeping the stories and ideals alive, even bringing in the western fairy tales which are novel to that area.

These stories are generally full of life lessons, much like the other stories that have been read, although not in a civilit√© manner. Virtues are rewarded, like in many stories; and evil is punished as it is in many of the darker versions of stories that we have read. There are almost always demons and monsters, talking animals, and magic. Sometimes there are ascetics which happily offer help and ask nothing in return, somewhat like a fairy godmother.  Another common feature is the jealous co-wife which takes over the role of the evil stepmother. The characters of these stories can be from many different racial and ethnic backgrounds thanks to the constant involvement of other countries in the development of Bangladesh.

The story we read, Blue Lotus and Red Lotus, shared very many themes and ideas with many of the earlier stories that we read while remaining seemingly new and refreshing. It could be classified as AT type 720 as the Blue lotus’ demon mother slew him, although she also ate him (instead of the father) and buried him for later rebirth (instead of the sister). This rebirth reflected the prized trait of virtue. The hero had to go away on a quest, as one of Vladmir Propp’s conventions, and later had to return home to regain his power. The importance of colors was brought up, although examined to be different from those in the other stories we have read since red is pure in this case instead of passionate or evil. There was a possible tie between both cultures in the treatment of the mother figure. In most tales the mother figure must be pushed away for personal growth to occur. The mother is defeated; however in Bengali culture mothers are extremely important. This conflict is possibly cured by the fact that she was killed indirectly through the murder of the hornet instead. Another difference was that the father’s health was restored instead of the son taking over as would be expected. Family is obviously praised more in the Bengali culture than in others.
Overall, it just goes to show that perhaps cultures are not as different as one would think. Jung was touching on this idea with his universal archetypes; however it is much more interesting to see the ideas in play through reading and seeing them through my own eyes. Don’t fail to read something just because you think it’s going to be too different and weird; it may be more similar than you’d think.
This week I'll be ending with the video Dr. Mian showed us that genuinely terrified me, as I'm sure it would also terrify children who watched it; although maybe not.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFq-J7_a9D4

To make you feel a little better, here is a video I found of some adorable kids covering Sonne by Rammstein:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bqpRoVxH2jc

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