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Importance of Folklore: A Unique Ecosystem of Learning as Traditional Pedagogy of Society


Education serves as the cornerstone for not only the intellectual evolution of individuals but also the collective betterment of society. By dispelling myths and simplifying complex issues, genuine education empowers people to grasp the essence of existence, thereby nurturing responsible and financially autonomous citizens. In essence, education is not merely a process; it’s a transformative experience that holistically enriches our physiological, cognitive, intellectual, and spiritual faculties in a synergistic manner. Within this context, folklore emerges as an indispensable pedagogical tool, one that offers more than just quaint stories and cultural myths. While the term ‘folklore’ has often been narrowly construed as a compendium of oral traditions, its scope is indeed much broader. It encompasses the totality of a culture—its traditions, values, language, literature, art, music, culinary practices, and behavioral norms. Folklore serves as a mirror reflecting the societal ethos; it delineates the geography we inhabit, the values we hold dear, and, ultimately, defines our collective identity. Building upon the work of folklorist W. Bascom in 1965, folklore can be seen to serve four pivotal societal functions: (i) Providing amusement and entertainment, (ii) Validating cultural mores, (iii) Imparting education to both individuals and communities, and (iv) Reinforcing social conformity.

The primary focus of this research paper is to explore the multifaceted dimensions of folklore, with particular emphasis on its historical role as a potent instrument for experiential learning. Folklore, a cultural phenomenon that has evolved and been meticulously preserved since the pre-Vedic era, possesses the intrinsic capacity to captivate its audience. This engagement not only adds a layer of entertainment but also fortifies the deep-rooted tradition of storytelling, thereby making it a compelling subject for scholarly investigation in various interdisciplinary fields. Specifically, the paper will delve into how Indian folklore, rich in its diversity and complexity, can substantially augment existing educational paradigms and curricula.

In light of the innovative pedagogical approaches and methodologies encouraged by the National Education Policy of India, this paper aims to articulate how folklore can serve as a catalyst in experiential learning environments. It posits that folklore, as a cumulative cultural artifact passed down through successive generations, holds untapped potential to be repurposed for educational frameworks that focus on biodiversity, environmental stewardship, and social well-being.

This paper will also examine the potential of folklore as a unique educational resource that can cultivate essential life skills in students. These skills include, but are not limited to, environmental consciousness, creative and critical thinking abilities, as well as problem-solving capacities. To achieve this, a combination of descriptive analytical methods and field-based observations will be employed, offering a multi-dimensional lens through which the contributions of folklore to modern education can be assessed.


Folklore, a phenomenon perhaps as ancient as humanity itself, offers a rich tapestry of cultural and intellectual expressions that have transcended time and geography. Although the term ‘folklore’ was first coined by William Thoms in 1846, the essence of folklore has been an integral part of human civilizations far before that historical demarcation. According to R.A. Waterman, folklore serves as an umbrella term that encapsulates a variety of elements such as customs, beliefs, tales, magical practices, proverbs, riddles, and songs, thereby acting as a repository for the collective wisdom of a homogeneous, yet complex, group of people.

While folklore is undoubtedly a cornerstone in the foundation of culture, it holds a unique position by often being both parallel to and divergent from mainstream intellectual achievements. It persists largely through oral tradition, as an unbroken chain of knowledge passed down through generations, especially when few other archival methods are available. Folklore is not merely an object of academic curiosity; it offers a lens through which the complexities of human behaviour and cultural nuances can be examined.

The field of folklore studies has garnered attention from diverse academic disciplines, resulting in a variety of methodological approaches. From a humanistic standpoint, folklore research often emphasizes the ‘lore,’ predominantly adopting a literary approach that examines the recorded ‘texts’ of verbal traditions. On the other hand, social sciences focus more on the ‘folk,’ implementing an anthropological methodology to scrutinize the broader cultural implications of these traditions. In this sense, what a humanist may describe as ‘folk philosophy’ in proverbs, or ‘traditional metaphorical questions’ in riddles, an anthropologist may interpret as educational instruments or social markers.

Today, the academic landscape of folklore studies has evolved into a more unified field, commonly referred to as ‘Folkloristics,’ which is increasingly being recognized as a legitimate academic discipline. This modern approach to folklore studies embraces not only the oral but also the customary and material aspects of tradition, employing a myriad of theoretical and methodological frameworks in its analyses. Although folklore studies have branched into multiple theoretical approaches and schools of thought, the core of most research endeavours can still be seen as an attempt to unravel a set of fundamental questions: the definition, classification, sources, origin, transmission, variation, structure, function, meaning, purpose, use, and practical applications of folklore.

The term ‘folklore’ operates on multiple levels, serving as both a colloquial expression and an academic construct. At its most fundamental, folklore represents a living tapestry of traditional beliefs, narratives, and customs that are orally disseminated across generations. While the scope of folklore could be narrowly perceived as the collective oral traditions distinctive to a specific group, culture, or subculture, its academic rendering—often termed ‘folkloristics’—expands this boundary significantly. Within the context of academia, folkloristics entails a comprehensive body of knowledge encompassing not only orally transmitted literature but also material culture and customs that exist within or even on the fringes of mainstream, technologically advanced societies.

In contemporary studies, folklore is increasingly perceived as a branch of social science, sometimes even referred to as ‘traditional science.’ In this capacity, it is explored through methodical frameworks, often juxtaposed against the backdrop of current societal norms and practices. This positions folklore as a form of ‘living history,’ documenting the evolutionary trajectories of human communities across time.

Alan Dundes, a seminal figure in the field of folklore studies, categorizes folklore into an array of types that transcend the conventional confines of the discipline. His inventory not only incorporates the expected elements such as folktales, legends, myths, ballads, festivals, folk dances, and songs but also extends to include more subtle forms of folklore. These encompass children’s ‘counting out’ rhymes, culinary recipes, architectural typologies like houses, barns, and fences, and even ‘Latrina Lia’—the phenomena of informal writing observed in public restrooms. Dundes also mentions the specialized auditory cues employed to summon specific animals. His extensive list serves to underscore the sheer breadth of topics that folklore scholarship can address, each of which provides invaluable cultural insights (Dundes, 1963:3).

Genres of Folklore

1. Material Culture: Material culture in folklore comprises a wide array of physical objects that carry significant cultural meanings, such as folk art, vernacular architecture, textiles, and even modified mass-produced objects. These tangible elements often serve as important symbols of shared values and collective identity within a community. Folk art, for instance, encapsulates artistic expressions that are deeply rooted in traditional practices, often bypassing formal academic training. Vernacular architecture, on the other hand, reflects the local culture’s adaptation to environmental constraints, utilizing indigenous materials and techniques to create sustainable, functional designs.

2. Music: In the realm of music, folklore embraces a vast assortment of musical forms, including traditional tunes, folk melodies, and world music. These musical expressions often convey historical events, societal values, or individual experiences, and are usually characterized by their oral transmission and localized origins. The communal nature of these musical forms also fosters social cohesion and collective identity.

3. Prosaic Genres: Prosaic genres comprise a multitude of narrative forms such as myths, legends, urban legends, fairy tales, personal experience narratives, and riddles. These often function as educational tools that elucidate moral values, societal norms, and historical events. Personal experience narratives, for example, offer a window into individual lives, contributing to the broader tapestry of cultural discourse.

4. Verbal Art: This category includes linguistic expressions that take the form of jokes, proverbs, and word games. Jokes often serve to expose societal taboos or power structures, while proverbs encapsulate universal truths or cultural wisdom. Word games, such as puns or linguistic puzzles, reflect the creativity and nuances inherent in language and communication.

5. Belief and Religion: Folk religion, ritual and mythology, along with fasts and festivals, constitute the spiritual facet of folklore. These elements reveal the ethical foundations, cosmological views, and ritualistic practices that underpin a community’s belief systems.

6. Foodways: The relationship between food and culture is explored through traditional cooking customs and rituals associated with food preparation and consumption. These ‘foodways’ serve as markers of cultural identity and offer insights into historical migration patterns, agricultural practices, and even gender roles within the community.

7. Performing Arts Form: The performing arts in folklore include diverse forms like folk dances, folk drama, and folk epics. These performance genres serve not just as entertainment but also as living repositories of cultural heritage, often recounting historical events, communal beliefs, or moral lessons through their artistic expressions.

Reorienting Educational Policy: The Inclusion of Folkloristics and Applied Heritage Studies

In line with the ambitions of the National Education Policy 2020, which aims to foster well-rounded, competent individuals equipped with 21st-century skills, there is an imperative to reorient both curricula and pedagogical strategies. One innovative pathway towards achieving this objective involves incorporating Folkloristics and applied heritage studies into educational programs.

The Rationale for Folkloristics and Heritage Studies

Folkloristics and heritage studies have rapidly emerged as pivotal areas that shape how individuals, communities, and state-level actors engage with the past, envision the future, and construct their identities in the present. These fields not only preserve cultural richness but also serve as a conduit for applying historical wisdom to contemporary challenges. Thus, the mission should focus on training specialists who are well-versed in scholarly approaches to the subject and are competent to apply this expertise creatively, both within academic settings and beyond.

The Imperative of Folklore in the Age of Globalization

The advent of technology, the spread of mass culture, and the impacts of globalization have made it more pressing than ever to study and preserve folk materials and oral traditions. These are invaluable repositories of cultural identity and offer unique insights into the communal psyche. Therefore, a targeted study of the oral traditions of various communities within a nation becomes crucial for a meaningful exploration of its culture.

Objectives and Pedagogical Approaches

The primary aim of our discourse is to investigate how regional folklore can enrich society by inspiring ecosystem learning through traditional pedagogy. Historical analysis shows that such pedagogical methods were not isolated but were complementary to five other pedagogical approaches:

1. The Constructivist Approach: Rooted in the theory that learning is an interpretive, recursive, building process by active learners interacting with the physical and social world, constructivism highlights the “invisible pedagogy” that is inherent in folklore.

2. The Collaborative Approach: Folklore often thrives in communal settings, emphasizing the importance of learning through social interaction and cooperation.

3. The Reflective Approach: This approach encourages learners to understand and make sense of what they are learning, a common feature in folklore where stories and fables serve as reflective learning tools.

4. The Interrogative Approach: Folklore often involves questioning norms and understanding the ‘why’ behind traditions, serving as a perfect platform for inquiry-based learning.

5. The Enquiry-Based Pedagogy: This strategy encourages learners to ask questions and explore to acquire knowledge, similar to how folklore often raises questions that seek answers through storytelling or traditional practices.

Traditional folklore pedagogy, therefore, not only aligns well with these modern teaching methodologies but also enriches them by offering a deeper, culturally-rooted context. Through these approaches, learners can engage in active learning experiences, transforming accumulated information into actionable knowledge and understanding.

By embracing folklore and heritage studies, educational policies can thus make a monumental stride in cultivating holistic, culturally-sensitive individuals who are not only well-prepared for the modern world but also deeply rooted in their traditions.

1. Collaborative Approach: Collective Wisdom in Learning

The collaborative approach serves as a linchpin for enhanced educational experiences, advocating for collective learning as a pathway to deeper comprehension. Rooted in the belief that ‘many minds are better than one,’ this method fosters an interactive environment where learners can freely share experiences and knowledge. This symbiotic relationship among learners not only democratizes the classroom but also mirrors the communal nature of folklore. Folk stories and traditions are often passed down collectively, through community gatherings, shared rituals, or collective storytelling. Thus, a collaborative approach is not only pedagogically sound but also culturally affirming, echoing the communal learning found in traditional settings.

2. Reflective Approach: Introspection as a Learning Catalyst

The reflective approach places a premium on introspective activities like self-evaluation and self-reflection. It encourages learners to engage in a sort of ‘meta-learning,’ where they consider not just what they are learning but how they are learning it. Much like how folklore offers moral or philosophical lessons that require interpretation and personal reflection, the reflective approach demands a level of self-awareness that makes learning more targeted and effective. It helps learners internalize information, equipping them to apply their newfound knowledge contextually in both academic and real-world scenarios.

3. Integrative Approach: Building Networks of Knowledge

The integrative approach aims to transcend the compartmentalization of knowledge, promoting a holistic learning environment. Learners are encouraged to identify and explore connections between disparate pieces of information, effectively synthesizing a cohesive understanding of the subject matter. Folklore, too, is inherently integrative, often weaving together history, morality, culture, and social norms into a single narrative or tradition. This approach, therefore, is exceptionally well-suited for interdisciplinary courses that aim to provide a multi-faceted understanding of complex issues, much like what is encountered in Folkloristics and heritage studies.

4. Enquiry-Based Approach: Learning Through Exploration

Finally, the enquiry-based approach is distinct in its emphasis on active exploration and investigation. Learners are not just passive recipients of information; they are investigators, probing the boundaries of their understanding by asking questions and seeking answers. This parallels many aspects of folklore where the stories and traditions often pose rhetorical questions or moral dilemmas that prompt deep thought and invite active investigation.

By employing a combination of these pedagogical approaches—each with its unique strengths—the educational curriculum can achieve a multidimensional, enriching learning environment. This robust framework not only aligns well with modern educational goals set forth by policies like the National Education Policy 2020 but also dovetails seamlessly with traditional methods of learning, as exemplified by folklore and heritage studies.

Folklore as a Pedagogical Instrument: Bridging Traditional Wisdom and Modern Educational Practices

Drawing upon the multidimensional frameworks of collaborative, reflective, integrative, and enquiry-based pedagogical approaches, this paper aims to investigate the untapped pedagogical potentials embedded within folklore. We argue that folklore serves as a robust educational resource capable of enriching both intellectual and moral dimensions of learning across cultures and generations.

A. The Educational Potentials of Folklore

1. Cognitive and Linguistic Enrichment: Folklore, as a multifaceted construct, encompasses not just oral fictions but a rich tapestry of genres—ranging from myths, legends, and proverbs to songs, dances, and rituals. These genres are veritable treasure troves for cognitive and linguistic development. They present complex plots, which are imbued with a range of stylistic devices such as repetitions, metonyms, and metaphors, thereby serving as valuable tools for enhancing language acquisition and comprehension skills.

The aforementioned stylistic elements resonate well with the integrative and reflective approaches in pedagogy. They encourage learners to think critically and make connections, allowing them to assimilate new information efficiently. For instance, the recurring themes and motifs in folklore can be repetitively analyzed to develop an understanding of cultural, social, and even political narratives, hence fostering reflective thinking.

2. Humanistic and Moral Development: Moreover, folklore has an innate moral and humanistic dimension, often delivered via a well-structured narrative arc that builds towards an instructive conclusion. This particular aspect of folklore dovetails well with the collaborative and enquiry-based pedagogical models. Narratives that unfold gradually, climax, and resolve with a lesson serve as perfect mediums for group discussions and ethical debates, providing an enriching learning experience that extends beyond the academic sphere.

3. Practical Application in Diverse Learning Environments: The universal appeal and simplicity of folklore genres make them an ideal educational resource across a variety of educational settings and age groups. Whether it’s the cumulative effects of alliteration and rhythm in folk songs or the logical structuring in folktales, these elements make folklore an engaging and memorable pedagogical tool. Such features can be particularly beneficial for teachers aiming to adapt their methodologies to suit diverse levels of linguistic competence, thereby promoting skills like communication, listening, logic, and memory.

The intersectionality between folklore and modern pedagogical frameworks encapsulates a rich array of opportunities for enhancing education. Through careful integration of folklore’s diverse genres into curricula, educators can not only enrich the learning experience but also facilitate a deeper connection with the cultural soul of a community or nation. This proves instrumental in grooming well-rounded individuals, resonating well with educational policies such as the National Education Policy 2020, which aims for a holistic educational experience.Therefore, as we venture further into the 21st century, it becomes increasingly imperative to recognize and harness the pedagogical value ingrained in folklore, blending traditional wisdom with modern educational strategies for a richer, more nuanced approach to learning.

Comparative Analysis of Folklore Genres

1. Fairy Tales: Unlike other genres of folklore, fairy tales often involve magical elements and extraordinary adventures, usually devoid of religious or mythical undertones. They serve as captivating narratives that capture the imagination of young learners. The use of fairy tales in educational settings can effectively engage students in problem-solving activities, promote creative thinking, and enhance moral understanding through their recurring themes of good versus evil.

2. Myths: On the other hand, myths predominantly serve to explain natural phenomena, social customs, and belief systems, often involving divine or supernatural elements. They provide valuable insights into the cultural fabric and societal norms of a given community. Integrating myths into educational curricula encourages students to engage in reflective and collaborative discussions around the historical and social contexts from which these myths originated.

3. Sagas: Sagas are long, intricate narratives that often chronicle the exploits and histories of heroes or important figures. These offer rich linguistic and cultural contexts for the study of word origins, traditional crafts, and even national dishes. Sagas can be used to enhance critical thinking skills as they often require piecing together a series of connected events, thereby fostering an integrative approach to learning.

B. The Educational Significance of Local Folk Heritage

Though all folklore genres have educational merits, the most impactful are those drawn from the local heritage. These stories, traditions, and customs hold immediate relevance to students as they often echo the societal and cultural nuances they encounter in their daily lives. By using folklore from local sources, educators can tap into a reservoir of resources that are directly pertinent to the individual and societal identity of the students. This aligns with modern educational policies, such as the National Education Policy 2020, which emphasizes holistic, culturally-relevant educational experiences.

The comparative analysis of fairy tales, myths, and sagas illustrates that each genre brings its unique pedagogical benefits to the educational landscape. While they all enrich cognitive and socio-cultural development, local folk heritage holds a special place in shaping the curriculum. It lends itself effortlessly to the reflective, collaborative, integrative, and enquiry-based pedagogical models, creating a multi-faceted educational environment that is closely tied to the community’s heritage.

Challenges and Benefits of Utilizing Folklore in Character Education

While the inclusion of folklore in educational settings has indisputable merits, it is essential to also discuss the challenges that may arise when integrating such culturally rich materials into curricula. This section aims to elucidate both the benefits and the potential obstacles associated with the use of folklore in character education.

A. Benefits of Folklore in Character Education

1. Cultural Connection: One of the most significant advantages of incorporating folklore into educational programs is its capacity to foster a deep connection with heritage and culture. By exposing students to the traditional stories, myths, and practices of their respective communities, educators facilitate a robust understanding of cultural context, which enhances individual and collective identity.

2. Universal Values: Folklore also serves as a valuable resource for imparting universal values such as honesty, courage, and determination. Through stories that encapsulate these virtues, children from diverse cultural backgrounds can find common ground and shared understanding. This serves to not only enrich the character of individual students but also fosters a more inclusive and tolerant classroom environment.

B. Challenges in Implementing Folklore-Based Character Education

1. Age Appropriateness: One key challenge in utilizing folklore for character education is ensuring that the selected stories and materials are age-appropriate. Narratives that may be acceptable and educational for older students might be overwhelming or incomprehensible for younger audiences. Educators must meticulously curate folklore resources, aligning them with the cognitive and emotional development levels of their students.

2. Cultural Sensitivity: Another crucial consideration is cultural sensitivity. As folklore often embodies the norms, beliefs, and values of a specific culture, there is a risk of inadvertently perpetuating stereotypes or misconceptions if the stories are not handled with care. Therefore, educators must engage in a rigorous evaluation process to ensure that the selected folklore materials are respectful of diverse cultural backgrounds.

C. The Sociocultural Impact of Folklore Events

The collective power of folklore manifests most vividly in communal activities like fasts, festivals, and public musical performances. These events serve as reinforcing agents for cultural values, such as respect for elders and community solidarity. They provide a tangible platform for the abstract virtues and norms discussed in folklore stories, thereby bridging the gap between individual learning and community practice.

The application of folklore in character education is a nuanced endeavour that offers substantial benefits but is not without its challenges. A balanced approach, mindful of both the age-appropriateness and cultural sensitivities of the material, can make folklore an invaluable asset in forming well-rounded, culturally aware individuals. Coupled with communal events that reinforce these teachings, folklore becomes a compelling tool for holistic character development.

The Imperative of Folklore in a Globalized World: Educational and Societal Implications

In an era characterized by unprecedented connectivity, migration, and globalization, the role of folklore in preserving cultural heritage and enriching character education assumes heightened importance. This section explores how folklore serves as an indispensable tool in today’s rapidly changing world for instilling values such as freedom, justice, and compassion, thereby contributing to harmonious coexistence across diverse cultural landscapes.

A. The Cultural Relevance of Folklore in a Globalized Society

1. Preserving Values in a Shifting Landscape: In a world where cultural amalgamation is becoming the norm, folklore acts as a bulwark for preserving values and beliefs specific to various societies. This cultural preservation is not merely an exercise in nostalgia but a crucial endeavor to maintain the essence of what makes each community unique. At a time when materialism often overshadows deeper, more enduring virtues, folklore serves as a counterbalance, highlighting values like freedom, justice, and compassion that have been historically cherished by various communities.

2. Fostering Peaceful Coexistence: Folklore’s capacity to educate about different beliefs and values contributes significantly to fostering peaceful coexistence among races, ethnicities, and religions. By maintaining this rich tapestry of human diversity through stories, songs, and rituals, folklore offers a conduit for mutual understanding and respect.

B. The Revival of Folklore in Modern Character Education

1. Addressing the Character Education Gap: Despite the rapid advancements in technology, the essence of character education often appears to be lagging. Our children, growing up in a world dominated by digital media and often disconnected from their cultural roots, are increasingly deviating from the foundational aspects of character education. This lacuna necessitates a renaissance, one that is deeply rooted in folklore.

2. Building Community and Social Interaction: Folklore’s unique ability to foster a sense of community and promote positive social interactions cannot be overstated. The shared stories, values, and traditions provide common ground for individuals, thereby encouraging community building and social harmony.

3. Renewed Interest and National Initiatives: In recent years, a resurgence of interest in using folklore as an educational tool has been observed. The rich cultural context that folklore provides makes it an ideal candidate for national educational initiatives aimed at character building. These programs can harness folklore to instill values, create community bonds, and deepen cultural understanding, thereby preparing students to be well-rounded, competent individuals.

The role of folklore in contemporary society, particularly in character education, is both significant and increasingly relevant. In today’s globalized world, folklore is not just a reservoir of cultural heritage but a dynamic, evolving instrument for imparting values and fostering social harmony. To make the most of its potential, a concerted national initiative to integrate folklore into our educational pedagogy is both timely and essential.


The ancient Gurukuls of the Indian educational system had a holistic approach to learning. Teaching was an adopted and effective means of learning through experiences. The British colonialism system tidally and strategically exercised the western system of education devised to make people subservient with textbook based syllabus and teacher oriented where teacher was the master and students were learners. So, post-colonial India realised the need to revisit the original and conventional mode of learning through experience, the education system has not undergone a major paradigm shift since the British invaded India. Rot memorization and textual learning remain in the system in large measure even today. New education policy has stressed on value-based curriculum and skill-based learning. The aim of education has shifted from content-based learning to competency-based learning with increased significance and trust in education for acquiring 21st century skill. Therefore the nation based and knowledge based education is very much needed and in this regard we must trust on potentialities and educative value of folklore to our national educational policy. Because folklore has the innate ability to keep the learner enthralled and ensure active involvement and reflection of the learner giving opportunities for developing language and other skills, exposure to folklore can also bring the awareness for environmental, social and gender related issues.

Selected Bibliography

  1. Antti, A. 1961, The Types of Folktales. A Classification and Bibliography 
  2. Abraham, R.D. (1968) Introductory Remarks to a Rhetorical Theory of Folklore, The Journal of American Folklore, 81(320), 143-158
  3. Bauman Richard (ed). 1992 Folklore, Cultural Performances and Popular Entertainments: A Communication-centred Handbook, New York: Oxford University press
  4. B. Datta & others: A Handbook of Folklore Material of North East India ABILAC, Assam, 1994
  5. Dorson, Richard (ed). 1972 Folklore and Folklife, An Introduction, Chicago, University of Chicago press
  6. Dundes, Alan 1965, The Study of Folklore, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Prentice Hall.
  7. Dewey J., Experience and Education, 1938, New York: Simon and Schuster
  8. Kolb, D.A. Experimental Learning, 1984, Englwood Cliffs.
  9. Magner, T.F. (1965): The Folklore of Language Teaching. Bulletin of the Pennsylvania State Modern Language Association, 43(2), 59-63
  10. Prafulla Datta Goswami: Folk-Literature of Assam, An Introductory Survey, Dept. of Historical and Antiquarian Studies, Guwahati 1954
  11. National Education Policy 2020, Ministry of Education, Govt. of India. Guidelines for Innovative Pedagogical Approaches & Evaluation Reforms

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