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Folk Tales and Traditions in Swat

Swat has a rich and luscious history regarding art, literature and architecture. Due to modern technology and education, some wonderful traditions and customs of this magical valley are slowly passing away and the hi-tech generation of today is unfortunately oblivious of the important role it played in the unity and solidarity of the community in the bygone days. It is said that “ old is gold” and this adage aptly applies to the glorious traditions and values which were strictly and sincerely followed and adhered to. Today, the outreaching electronic media print media and communication media has intruded in to the spirit of our centuries old culture and has started hallowing it like a termite. The embarrassing and offensive programmes on TV networks and CDs have stolen the innocence and simplicity of the children. For the children of those days, a newborn in the family was a mystery to be solved and about which they asked different questions from the elders i.e. how he entered the household and family? From where did he appear? Where was he found etc? But today even a five year old can amply satisfy you about the reproduction process and complexities. Thanks to the intrusion of the ever-present media, which has educated and penetrated the innocent mind of our young generation.

In the good old days, as they are called by the aged, the emotions and sentiments of brotherhood and sympathy ruled over all the communities but today the nature and standards of the society has changed. In the past, people of respectable lineage were revered and respected for their notable families, knowledge and relation with the people but today wealth and material resources are the parameters on which people are weighed. The norms and values are drastically changing, those who were once ready to sacrifice even their lives for each other have now turned mere spectators to watch their fellow human beings in distress and trouble.

Several message and lesson pregnant stories and tales were narrated by the parents to their young ones during night sitting around the fireplaces as no TV or other temptation was available in the glorious old days. In some villages, there were some people like Chaucer’s storytellers in The Canterbury Tales who were expert and articulate in story telling and everyone sought their company in the long and dark chilly nights of winter to enjoy their thought provoking and delightful tales. Most of these tales and fables were based on myths where giants, troll, elves, fairies, witches, bogeymen, kings, prince and princesses were struggling to triumph and rule. Some of these tales and fables were based on real life and the characters were actual and typical human beings vulnerable to any natural or man made calamity.

Several others were based on religious or chivalric characters that fought and struggled for social, religious and moral codes. Some others were replete with humour and comedy, which only entertained and made people forget the worries of life for a few moments. Moreover, the parents and elders of the family also taught and memorized to their young ones the basic teachings and lessons of Islam. These traditions have almost crumbled to the ground and only in some far-off villages where the tentacles of modern technology have not reached yet, these centuries old customs and traditions are still alive and surviving.

Some of these tales have penetrated our culture from other famous entities and civilizations through books that were read in the local seminaries in the past or through verbal tradition. Arabian Nights have an explicit effect on the tales in Swat valley and the local narrators have created even new version. Mullah Nasiruddin who is famous all over the world for his funny and humorous stories has also evident impression on the tales that are in the glamorous valley of Swat. Some tales and fables are purely indigenous to different localities in the valley. The Killing of Old Men is the most famous and often quoted.

In several other primitive cultures especially nomadic people the killing of old and infirm of the community is widely known and accepted. In the famous Eskimo culture, the old and aged one of the community are often abandoned as they can no longer sustain themselves nor contribute to the community and are a burden on the community. Some famous proverbs and idioms have also been related with old age and its repercussions i.e. Age is a poverty, Age is sickness from which everyone must die, Youth rises, age falls etc. But still in most cultures old age is honored and revered and different proverbs associated with old age and the wisdom that accompanies has been coined i.e. An old man can see backward better than a young man forward, with old men take counsel, an old man can be outrun but not out counseled etc.

The tradition of orally narrating these fabulous tales and fables in the captivating Swat valley is dwindling gradually and our young generations are getting estranged from these precious customs and traditions.

Let us rekindle the flame of these valuable old traditions in our new generation and preserve our priceless treasure of oral narration, which has in a way educated and entertained the past generations of our beautiful valley.

Story telling culture in Swat

In the good old days, the tales were told in a different and spellbinding environment. In the long and dark nights of winter when electricity was not provided to most of the village, and all the members of the family would sleep together in one large room, which was called Kota in the local vernacular, in the dim light of oil lamps with the calm snow and pattering rain outside, the eldest of the family who used to be the grandmother started the tale with the children huddled together in their blankets from tip to toe except their heads out like a kangaroo’s Joey from its pouch, would listen keenly to every word uttered by her. They used to be very inquisitive and would ask several questions if they did not go with the rhythm of the story. Moreover, answering and responding to the narrator i.e. ha (yes) carry on, was an essential requirement for the listener which assured the narrator that they were listening properly and were not asleep. The moment the Ha sound stopped, the grandmother would realize that her grand children have stepped into the world of dreams where impossible and unbelievable happened all night long. Such was the life of the children of the recently past generation. These bedtime tales and stories were narrated in each household and not even a single kid would sleep without listening to a story from his weak and frail but loving grandmother.