Popular Culture and 1857: A Memory Against Forgetting
This,paper studies the description of the Revolt of 1857 in local traditions, folk lores and other aspects of popular culture. The paper is divided into three parts. The first part traces the people' s memory of the revolt from the extant evidence. The second part discusses the process of assimilation of the memory of the event, through symbols and rituals in the folk tradition. The third part includes a detailed review of the contemporary relevance of the popular memory of 1857 in rural society.
The primary data of this paper has been collected mainly from the Bhojpuri region, and the folk lores of Avadhi, Bundeli and Kauravi have also been studied for purposes of comparison.
I may at first like to clarify that the term popular culture has been used in the paper in the sense of peasant folk cultures.1
The colonial narrators, described the Revolt of 1857 as the struggle of sepoys and decadent feudal landlords against the Biritsh rulers. They consciously overlooked the dynamic involvement of the people in this struggle. Unfortunately, the colonial narrative has served a pre-eminent part in the construction of our historical past. Indeed, it has to be admitted that several historians have of late studied the Revolt from the perspective of the participants, and the suffering people of India. Yet, their picture can hardly be said to be complete, for it ignores the evidence found in the local sources and folk tradition. Certainly, recent researches have now established that people were unified in their resistance to the British, regardless of religious and caste difference among them.2 It was a popular mass struggle, so its traces and images are imprinted in the various folk cultures. Its memories were transformed into a stream of folk traditions and popular values which are very much a part of village culture alive, even today. The peasants of the regions
* Research Associate, G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.
Social Scientist, Vol. 26, Nos. 1 - 4, Jan. - Apr. 1998