Worried that the state of Gujarat was losing its folklore tradition (because it was passed down orally from generation to generation), Jhaverchand Meghani traveled across the state for years, gathering many folktales and ballads into five volumes. Written in a uniquely colorful, colloquial language, they were published as a multi-volume collection titled Saurashtra ni Rasdhar (meaning: The Essence of Saurashtra).
The story here (original title: Garaasani, which refers to the specific clan of the protagonist) is from the first volume and is still quite popular. As ancient folklore, it is a simply told tale but with layers of socio-cultural meaning and significance. In particular, it showcases the values and traditions of the Rajput clans: bravery, pride, independence, and choosing death before dishonor. Old-fashioned as these values might be, the narrative is beautiful in how it illustrates them rather than preaches about them.
Meghani’s interest in folklore grew during his time in Bengal when he studied the language and understood the influences of Bengali folklore on Bengali intellectuals and litterateurs. Driven to explore the regional folklore of his own culture, Meghani gave up his factory job and moved back home to Saurashtra. There, various factors and people encouraged and motivated his interest in folk literature and song and helped him dive deeper.
During his time as the part-time literary editor of a weekly magazine, Meghani began to spend the balance of his free time each week to travel the length and breadth of Saurashtra (as Gujarat was known then) searching out folklore and oral traditions. He sought out bards, balladeers, religous singers, storytellers, and women-folk in various communities. Painstakingly documenting everything he heard, comparing different versions for the most authentic ones, and publishing the final versions in newspapers first and then in book form, Meghani captured hundreds of folktales and folksongs. In addition to the five volumes of Saurashtra ni Rasdhaar, he published eleven more story volumes and ten volumes of folksongs.
Dedicated to the forms of folk literature, Meghani also produced several articles and books of research and criticism about it. There are also travelogues culled from his journals about all the journeys he undertook to gather all the songs and stories.
While there were several other Gujarati writers of his time and before who also contributed to Gujarat’s folk literature, Meghani remains a stand-out because of how he looked deeply at the form as a cultural, historical, and aesthetic artifact rather than just as stories. Many say that he not only read and wrote folk literature but he lived it and he revived it.
One of the several dominant themes of Meghani’s own fiction and the folktales and songs he wrote is about strong characters fighting back against oppressive socio-cultural traditions and customs. This story, “Rupali Ba," exemplifies this theme very well.
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