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Updated: February 8, 2013 15:39 IST

Pearls of wisdom

C. S. Venkiteswaran
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Keralathile Pazhanchollukal
The Hindu Keralathile Pazhanchollukal

Keralathile Pazhanjollukal (A collection of Malayalam proverbs) published by Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) is a veritable tome (951 pages) of oral wisdom and a significant contribution to the field of oral culture studies.

The unique feature of this collection is that it is put together by collecting proverbs through public participation: more than 300 persons from all over the state excavated their memories to collect and record proverbs and phrases for this book that compiles more than 20,000 proverbs. This book will be of immense use to scholars and students of history, sociology, anthropology, linguistics and cultural studies.

Seldom finding a place in the world of the written word, these turns of phrases and usages have a live quality to them, often carrying the spontaneous fire and spicy taste of the local. In their long passage through the mouths of generations, these pearls of popular wisdom throw interesting light upon various aspects of our culture and everyday life – fears and prejudices, yearnings and injunctions, notions about right and wrong, proper and improper, normal and abnormal, self and others.

As historian K.N. Panicker observes in the preface, a lot of linguistic and sociological work of interdisciplinary nature need to be done to unravel interesting aspects of our history, society and culture. The proverbs, which have been examined and edited by a group of eminent scholars, are grouped under 24 heads such as agriculture, caste, climate, rituals, god, Satan, medicine/knowledge, home, history/philosophy, mythology, five elements, animal world, flora, fauna, man/woman, body/organs, character/mind, food/clothing/hygiene, performing arts/arts/music/painting, martial arts, numerals/units/measures, the four goals of life, and place/geography. There is a brief note accompanying each proverb, explaining the meaning and putting them in their socio-cultural context. These notes also explain difficult and archaic words/usages and also provide links to related proverbs. Proverbs of similar nature are clubbed together paraphrasing their variations due to region, slang, culture and community. The categories that top the list are character/mind (5,570 proverbs), medicine/knowledge (3,265), history/philosophy (1,747) and the animal world (1,458).

This veritable treasury of words and phrases, usages and metaphors can be explored and excavated by future researchers to draw insights into our history in all its regional and cultural diversity.

It is interesting to note that these proverbs are not all archaic or belong to a distant past. Some of them are either of recent past or contemporary versions of old ones.

This endeavour, one hopes, will be enriched through more contributions and annotations by readers and scholars; such an exercise will go a long way to deepen our understanding of the cultural dynamics and historical evolution of ‘orality’ in our life and society.

Keralathile Pazhanjollukal

Published by KCHR

Rs. 750

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