The Rajasthan Sahitya Akademi has cancelled the 2017-18 Ragheya Raghav award that was to be awarded to Hardan Harsh for his book Meera. According to media reports, the award was revoked after “some local groups objected to the derogatory references to Meera Bai”.
This week in Guftugu, we publish an excerpt from an interview with the academic Kumkum Sangari, who has worked extensively on oral traditions, especially the songs of Meera Bai. In the course of the conversation, Sangari explained the various interpretations of oral traditions. “To think of an oral tradition that produces a singular narrative is misplaced,” she says.
Recently, North India was rife with tension over the depiction of Padmavati in a movie. A common thread that runs across all such opposition to retellings is the sentiment of hurt. What does it hurt? Honour. Female figures such as Padmavati and Meera Bai are often made repositories of an entire community’s honour. “As a society, we do not have the courage to face the truth and we link our honour to our past,” Harsh has said, in one of his statements to the media.
But do Meera Bai’s songs carry this burden of honour? As Sangari says, the reception of these figures and the retellings are always determined by the social characteristics of class and caste of communities which retell them. For instance, Meera Bai’s honour would be important for upper caste groups. “But,” says Sangari, “Meera Bai songs are completely different when the lower castes sing them.”