Indian Folk Tales

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

From stories of the Buddha's previous lives to tales about how to live a moral life, Indian folk tales combine morals with religious, cultural, and historical stories. In this lesson, we'll take a closer look at Indian folk tales.

''The Blind Men and the Elephant''

What could a story featuring blind men and a elephant possibly convey? In Indian culture, a lot! It's one of a multitude of folk tales, or stories passed by word-of-mouth from generation to generation, with significance beyond their simple titles.

The Blind Men and the Elephant teaches a lesson about tolerance.
blind man, men, elephant, indian, folk, tale

In short, the story relates the adventures of six blind men who have to learn what an elephant is like simply through the sense of touch. Each man touches a single, different part of the elephant then describes the entire animal based on their own experiences. Of course, all their descriptions are wildly different. It leads to a moral, (or lesson) as many folk tales have, that people tend to see an entire situation through their own mindset, without taking into account the views of others.

That simple story is just the start of this interesting lesson on Indian (that's the country of India) folk tales. Read on to learn more.

Learning about Indian Folk Tales

India's rich culture and history provide a natural venue for generational folk tales. With stories ranging from celebrations of heroes to historical accounts to religious parables to moral tales aimed at children, there is something for everyone in Indian storytelling.

Many of India's most popular folk tales belong to one of three categories of writing: the Hitopadesha, the Jataka, and the Panchatantra.

Hitopadesha Tales

The Hitopadesha was composed by Narayana Pandit, with origins dating back about 1,000 years. The Hitopadesha is full of stories about animals that are well-received by both children and adults.

Popular Examples:

1. ''The Blind Vulture'': A blind vulture who goes to live in a tree with younger birds garners their pity and favor. They provide the vulture with food; in return, the vulture promises to look after their young ones when the birds are away gathering food. While the birds are away, a smooth-talking cat worms her way into the camp and deceives the vulture into thinking of her as a friend. Because the vulture cannot see, the cat is able to eat the young birds one by one. When the older birds return, they see the vulture (the cat has disappeared) lying beside the bones of their children. They kill the vulture for his perceived sin. The moral of this story is not to treat a total stranger like a close friend.

2. ''The Elephant and the Jackal'': A ruthless elephant has become the enemy of the rest of forest creatures. After he creates chaos for everyone, the other animals decide to find a way to rid themselves of the elephant. Tasked with putting a plan into action, the old jackal approaches the elephant and offers him praise. He tells the elephant that he is to become king. The day of the ceremony, the jackal leads the elephant through a swampy area, where the elephant gets stuck. The other animals refuse to come to his aid and he dies. The moral of this story is that a tyrant must answer for his behaviors.

Jataka Tales

Serving as a basis for knowledge and morality, the Jataka stories were to teach the Indian people about the importance of honesty and sacrifice, among other virtues. The Jataka is packed full of stories about the previous births and lives of Gautama Buddha. The Buddha appears throughout the tales in various forms, including as a god and as an elephant.

Popular Examples:

1. ''The Mosquito and the Carpenter'': A carpenter trying to rid himself of a mosquito that has landed on his head implores his son to help him. The son, wielding an ax, intends to strike only the mosquito but accidentally kills his father in the process. The Bodhisatta (a representation of the Buddha) witnesses the entire ordeal and remarks that it's better to have a foe with sense than a friend without any.

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