Say to the Sun, "Don't Rise, " and to the Moon, "Don't Set": Two Oral Narratives from the Countryside of Maharashtra.

Author:Keune, Jon
Position::Book review

Say to the Sun, "Don't Rise, " and to the Moon, "Don't Set": Two Oral Narratives from the Countryside of Maharashtra. Edited and translated by Anne Feldhaus, with Ramdas Atkar and Raja ram Zagade. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. xii + 632, 3 illus. $99.

This substantial volume introduces two texts that will interest scholars of vernacular religion, oral history, folk culture, and rural sociology alike. At the heart are translations of two Marathi oral epics about the origins of Biroba and Dhuloba, major deities who are revered by traditionally semi-nomadic Dhangar (shepherd) communities in western India. Orally transmitted and performed for centuries, the stories were first recorded in the early 1970s by Gunther-Dietz Sontheimer. He had just begun analyzing them before his untimely death, leaving it to Anne Feldhaus and Sontheimer's long-time research assistants, Ramdas Atkar and Rajaram Zagade, to bring this material to a wider audience. In 2006 the team published a Marathi transcript all of the recordings, from which they selected and translated the two longest narratives to form the book under review. Atkar's and Zagade's participation was crucial, since they were present at the original recordings and were deeply familiar with Dhangar culture. Their cooperation with Feldhaus in translating the Dhangar performers' rural, colloquial Marathi reinforces the continuity between this English book and the original Marathi performances. The work's value today is compounded by the fact that, after four decades of social, economic, and technological changes, the Dhangar performance tradition and cultural memories it conveys have declined considerably. Say to the Sun ... documents a form of folk art and a way of rural life that is increasingly difficult to imagine, despite its prevalence up until the late twentieth century.

Feldhaus begins with a 120-page introduction to the stylistic, literary, and social background of the texts. She orients readers to contours of Dhangar life and the particularities of this literary form, which is called ovi but is stylistically distinct from the ovis of Jnandev and other Marathi poets. Ovi here encompasses the entire performance, including both poetry that is sung and the performers' basic prose commentary. The most elaborate ovi performances involve two teams of singers, "front" and "back," who work with each other and with musicians to move the plot along--something that readers see in the book's...

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