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142033 SE Oral Traditions in India and Nepal (2021W)

Continuous assessment of course work


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


max. 36 participants
Language: English



Mi 10:00-11:30, SR 6, ab 6.10.


Aims, contents and method of the course

The oral traditions of South Asia, which are still very much alive for the most part, have proven to be a very fruitful field of research in recent decades. They provide access to the understanding of local knowledge and practices of folk religion and thus give an insight into little-known, local, often "subaltern" forms of speaking and thinking. For example, one learns about popular heroes of the low-castes, or about women’s views which are critical of patriarchal society. The songs and stories covered in this course (especially from northern India and Nepal) are often closely related to the complex, supra-regional writing tradition. While initially mainly the oral "texts" were the focus of studies in the field of literature, in recent times increasingly the wider performative, cultural and social contexts have come into focus. Both approaches, the text-oriented and the performance-oriented, make it possible to fully investigate the aesthetic dimension of these forms of language, in the sense of a poetics of formalized speech. In this context, the pragmatic and social aspects of linguistic performances (such as in ritual activities) will also be examined. This also opens up the possibility of studying linguistic forms in relation to constellations of power and authority and clarifying to what extent poetically effective ways of speaking can have a socially effective, critical and innovative potential.

• Introduction: Orality and literacy
• Epics: oral and written traditions
• Bards and performance
• Songs of women
• Gender, hegemony and resistance
• Narratives: myth and history
• Possession and divination
• Performance: words and deeds
• Poetic language as ritual technique
• Modern orality

Assessment and permitted materials

The assessment is based on: regular participation, preparation through reading and active participation (30%), a presentation with thesis paper (20%) and a term paper (50%). Teaching material is partly provided on Moodle.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

Examination topics

Reading list

Appadurai, Arjun, Frank J. Korom, Margaret A. Mills (eds.). 1991. Gender, genre, and power in South Asian expressive traditions. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Blackburn, Stuart H., Peter J. Claus, Joyce B. Flueckiger and Susan S. Wadley (eds.). 1989. Oral epics in India. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.

Blackburn, Stuart. 2008. Himalayan tribal tales: oral tradition and culture in the Apatani Valley. Leiden u.a.: Brill.

Flueckiger, Joyce Burkhalter (ed.) 1991. Boundaries of the text: epic performances in South and Southeast Asia. Ann Arbor: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan.

Hess, Linda. 2015. Bodies of song: Kabir oral traditions and performative worlds in North India. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hiltebeitel, Alf. 1999. Rethinking India's oral and classical epics: Draupadi among Rajputs, Muslims and Dalits. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Lecomte-Tilouine, Marie (ed.) 2009. Bards and mediums: history, culture and politics in the Central Himalayan kingdoms. Almora: Almora Book Depot.

Maskarinec, Gregory G. 1995. The rulings of the night: an ethnography of Nepalese shaman oral texts. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.
Raheja, Gloria Goodwin & Ann Grodzins Gold. 1994. Listen to the heron's words: reimagining gender and kinship in North India. Berkeley etc.: University of California Press.

Ramanujan, A.K. 1999. The collected essays of A. K. Ramanujan. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Richman, Paula (ed.) 1991. Many Rāmāyaṇas: the diversity of a narrative tradition in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Sax, William S. 2002. Dancing the self: personhood and performance in the Pāṇḍav Līla of Garhwal. New York: Oxford University Press.
Smith, John D. 1991. The epic of Pābūjī. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wadley, Susan S.. 2004. Raja Nal and the goddess: the North Indian epic dhola in performance. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Association in the course directory


Last modified: We 13.10.2021 12:09