Oral Performance of Ancient Texts: presenting stories to contemporary audiences

Ananth Rao

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    Storytelling is a term that can cover a range from spontaneous tales that a grandparent might recount to their grandchildren, to tales from the village raconteur with a touch of the unbelievable, to stories presented by a scholar or performer based on the literary masterpieces of a particular heritage. This paper is concerned with the art of oral performance in which stories from epic and classical literature in the Indian heritage are presented before an audience in a formal setting. It is an account of the creation of two storytelling performances presented at the national Sanskrit conferences held in 2007 and in 2010 at the Australian National University, Canberra. It starts with a brief discussion of orality in the Indian tradition and recounts how two main styles of storytelling emerged: the marga (mainstream) puraṇa pravacana style with its reliance exclusively on text and the desi (vernacular) katha kalakṣepa style mainly reliant on songs from the bhakti (devotional) literature in the regional languages. This is followed by an outline of my approach in employing the best features of these two styles to create a hybrid style appealing to modern audiences by combining the structural formality derived from textual authenticity with the informal spontaneity which is the essence of the katha kalakṣepa style. The main part of the paper details the creation of the performance versions of two stories: Valmiki's writing of the Ramayaṇa, and the story of the king Mucukunda from the Bhagavata Puraṇa. I conclude with some remarks on how placing an ancient story in today's world enhances the experience for both audience and performer.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)131-145
    JournalJournal of the Oriental Society of Australia
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


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