Nine hundred years ago a remarkable collection of
stories called Kathasaritsagara, the ''Ocean of Stories", was
produced in Kashmir. Somadeva, its author, is said to have included in this tome
many stories which he had heard from others and which, in fact, had their origin
in folk-literature. The Kathasaritsagara, which may justly be called a
treasure of folk tales, has had considerable influence on countries which were
in close touch with India during the Middle Ages.
The first collection of Kashmiri folk tales in English
was brought out by the late Rev. John Hinton Knowles towards the end of the last
century. Sometime later, a renowned scholar, the late Sir Auriel Stein,
published another collection of this kind. Hatim's Tales, as this latter
is called, is a collection of tales in verse and prose recited in Kashmiri for
the savant by one Hatim who was an oilman by profession. These two works can by
no means be said to exhaust the harvest of tales garnered in the fertile minds
of the people. The present editor has endeavoured to collect some of the more
interesting tales current in the valley of Kashmir which, but for two
exceptions, have not appeared earlier.
Tales, myths, sagas and other narratives comprise
perhaps the most interesting part of the literature named "Folklore",
a term coined in 1846 by W.J. Thoms to designate the traditional learning of the
uncultured classes of civilized nations. This is not the place to go into minute
details on the subject. Suffice it to say that folk tales comprise a respectable
volume of literature in all languages which is being explored with increasing
interest everywhere. The earliest tales of this kind are traced to about 2800
B.C. in Egypt.
There is an unmistakable similarity in many folk tales
of countries as far apart as Kashmir and France or China and Sweden. The obvious
conclusion is that they have all been influenced by a common stock of tales
which appear as variants in different languages. Apart from this there is the
same affinity between the folk tales of different countries as in their fables,
legends, myths, apologues, etc. There is, therefore, nothing to be surprised at
if some of the folk tales of Kashmir have close parallels in other countries.
Several tales in this volume are based on incidents
centering on real persons. By and large, however, the tales portray a large
variety of men and women, both individuals and types, and project peoples'
beliefs, customs, ideals, preferences and prejudices in all their rich variety
as few other literary forms can do. As a matter of fact they impart meaning and
substance to culture as it is crystallized in our day-to-day living. In this
sense they are allied to myths. "Myths," according to the Encyclopaedia
of Religion. and Ethics, "are not created out of nothing .... It [a
myth] is always the covering, the shell, to a kernel of truth contained inside
.... Folk tales are the myths of the race." Many tales in this volume could
without doubt be called the myths of the race living in this land.
The present editor would feel his labours amply
rewarded if the folk tales presented here quicken the curiosity of the reader
for longer and wider excursions in this domain.
The author considers it a privilege to express his
gratitude to Mr. G. M. Sadiq, Minister for Education, Jammu and Kashmir, for his
generous response to the request to write a foreword to this book. He is
indebted to Rev. W.A.W. Jarvis, of the St. Stephen's College, Delhi, who read
the proofs of a portion of the book and made several valuable suggestions for
its improvement. Thanks are due also to Mr. R. C. Dhar, Librarian, Research
Department, Srinagar for the assistance rendered to the writer in the
preparation of this book, and to Mr. Mohan Ji Raina, who produced the
illustrations inserted in this book.
S. L. SADHU