Religion and Moral Lessons in South India Folklore

Contemplating on the theme of “folklore,” I recalled a scene from my new release, Crooked Lines, where Sagai, one of the two main characters, has hitched a ride on back of a bullock cart in South India to get to the orphanage where, as a young seminarian, he will spend a few months caring for children at a run-down orphanage.

Along the way, Sagai happens upon a Hindu folklore tradition. This scene below was taken from a true scenario that my husband had experienced as a young seminarian in Tamil Nadu, South India in the early 1980s. This scene offers a peek at South India Folklore-Theru Koothu. (which means street play).

Sounds of singing, flutes, and drumming whirled in the night air along with aromatic holy ash, incense, and burning oil. Sagai scooted the suitcase behind his back and sat up. An elephant blessed children with its trunk. This wasn’t the Christian orphanage, but a Hindu temple entrance.

Sagai rose to his knees. At the other entrance, a shop front displayed bowls of red powder and garlands, offerings to the deity.
Over the din, he yelled. “Why did we stop?”

“Road block.”

He stood on the back of the cart, curious about the crowd beside the temple. Gaslights propped on pillars cast a glow over a musical troupe. Actors and actresses in dramatic make-up and elaborate colorful costumes watched the musicians.

images (2)The folklore tradition–Theru Koothu–was a street play performed in a junction, in open air, to teach a moral lesson to the community.

When the musical interlude ended, musicians retreated to a wooden bench. Actors and actresses took center stage and the bullock driver leaned back and crossed his arms.

A man dressed in king’s finery sat on a gold painted throne in the middle of the street.

“Lord Rama, we do not want you to take a soiled wife.” One of the actors bowed before the makeshift throne.

A scene from Uttara Ramayana! He knew this play very well, already half over. When Rama returned to Ayodhya after killing the demon king Ravana and rescuing his wife, Sita, he was crowned king. However, Rama’s subjects rejected Sita as their queen because she was no longer pure.

“But as king, I must perform many rituals and in all of them, the presence of a wife is required.” Lord Rama raised his hand under the gas lamp glow.

untitled (21)The street scene ended with a compromise. A golden effigy of Sita was placed next to Rama as he performed necessary rituals.

After the scene, a clown ran into the street, a custom to digress from the religious theme to a present village issue. It seemed the headman had some moral issues of his own. The clown lampooned him for taking advantage of certain village women.

The driver, not so interested in the moral lesson, clicked his tongue and snapped the ropes. The bullocks headed down a new road. So, not a road block after all, but an entertainment break. Sagai leaned back and stared up into the night sky, wondering what lay ahead for him in Andimadam.

Later, in that same chapter, after caring for the orphans in Andimadam, Sagai takes the children to the town center where  Christians perform a Vasagapa–a street play that involves the entire community (even Hindus). This is based on a true event that occurs each Holy Week in this small Tamil Nadu village. Here’s a look at that scene from CROOKED LINES:

On Maundy Thursday, as the church bell struck twelve, Sagai and his youth group stood on the parish steps. Residents from surrounding villages, Christians and Hindus alike, arrived as the scene opened in the Garden of Gethsemane. A few boys gasped and grabbed onto Sagai’s arm when the frightening Roman soldiers arrived to arrest Jesus, taking him to the Sanhedrin to Pontius Pilate.

When they tied Jesus to the pillar, Balu wiped his eyes. The brutality, so well performed, ripped through Sagai’s heart as if he were the one being flogged. Feeling each lash, he held back tears, as his body flinched. The women and children didn’t control their emotions. Gasps, sobs and wails penetrated the solemn night.

At dawn, Sagai and the boys entered the chapel to sit in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament–the Body of Christ. At noon, the way of the cross began. A few who’d been fasting, swooned in the street as they followed Christ’s last steps on earth. Sagai also felt weary, but bore his discomfort as penance for the heavy weight of his own sins, especially his struggle with blind obedience and his occasional revulsion against superiors.

Along the way, villagers served water and buttermilk from clay pots. By the fifth station, Jesus grew weary and fell. Impatient, the soldiers pulled Simon of Cyrene out of the crowd and ordered him to help carry the cross. Sagai kept his eyes on Jesus, how he suffered, yet continued on towards his death–for a purpose.

He breathed a prayer. Jesus, let me also help carry your cross by carrying the crosses of others. Let me be Simon. Make me strong, Lord. This path toward priesthood is long and difficult.

Soldiers pressed Jesus’ arms onto the large wooden cross, and holding down his hands, seemed to press nails into His flesh. A heavy hammer fell with a clang. Metal on metal. Metal into flesh and wood. Children held their hands over their mouths and over their hearts, women and men gasped and cried out loudly. Many fell to the dirt, wailing.

The fourteenth station, where Jesus was laid in the tomb, brought everyone back to the church. Sagai stood with the boys, staring at the stripped bare altar. In complete silence, they surrounded the cross as though sitting around a coffin.
During the meditation on the last seven words of Christ from the cross, one the orphans tugged on Sagai’s arm. “Did my sin cause Jesus’ death?”

“All of our sins did.”

Balu and his friends lowered their head as the boy lay prostrate before the cross and wept. “Oh, Jesus. I am so sorry.”

Most fell to their knees crying as if they’d lost a loved one.

The Passion narrative continued. Like a typical funeral procession, the body–a life size statue of Jesus, encased in a glass box, was carried to his burial place. Women fell in the street, struck their chests and cried out loud. He could not be a stoic participant any longer. Emotions bubbled up, choked in his throat, and along with the boys he wept openly.

Sagai and his group returned to the village Saturday night for the liturgy of the Paschal Vigil and the joyful celebration of the Resurrection. The sad faces of the previous days were filled with peace and joy. Dancing and shouts of hallelujah filled the streets.

Every culture and religion has an identity in folklore. In South India religious beliefs are a huge part of folklore that is often appreciated by those of all faiths.

Writing Prompts:

1. Study your region for folklore
2. Is it rooted in religious beliefs? How?
3. Identify the message being taught in the folklore.
4. Consider a message or a moral you’d like to convey.
5. Write your own folktale, adding your own twist and message and imagine it being acted out like a play.

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They Say The People Could Fly : African American Folktales

The young woman lifted one foot in the air. Then the other. She flew
clumsily at first, with the child now held tightly in her arms.
Then she felt the magic…
No one dared speak about it. Couldn’t believe it.
But it was, because they that was there saw that it was

                                                                        ~The People Could Fly
                                                                         told by Virginia Hamilton

IMG_0272-003As many here at Writing Prompts have discussed several aspects of mythology and folklore, I have to say my favorite aspect is the way we can learn from the past. Mythology and Folklore make us wonder. Did this really happen? Did these people actually exist? Some of these stories cause us to feel uncomfortable. In a memorizing way, these stories showcase humanity and divinity, and both through the scope of vulnerability.

I was an avid Reading Rainbow fan as a kid. I envisioned myself being one of the children on the show and often rigged my parents camcorder to film myself introducing my favorite books. I remember one episode stood out to mephoto. It was startling and equally intriguing. It was the broadcast on Black History. Stories like Follow the Drinking Gourd, explored African American History and introduced difficult subjects like slavery, through beautiful art and song.

The story called Follow the Drinking Gourd, is actually a map in song form; a coded way for fugitive slaves to follow the Underground Railroad to freedom. I was mystified by The People Could Fly, a tale of slaves that took to the skies, magically leaving their chains behind to fly all the way home to Africa.

Stories like these help us remember where those before us have been and what they felt. A glimpse into their hopes and fears. Observing folklore is like embracing our histories. It can give a sense of where we are in space and time. Through the knowledge passed down through folk stories, we can come to view the world with brand new eyes. Like old souls.

Everyone of us is given the power to transcend the hardships of our present, and transform our future, instead of allowing history to go on repeating it’s mountainous sorrows. I sincerely believe that wherever one finds himself in life, a kosher perspective on where you’ve come from, only paints a brighter picture of hope for the future. ❤ Read my poem Blended Respect


Welcome New Crew Member, Holly Michael

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Today we introduce new crew member, Holly Michael!


(1)  Welcome to the Writing Prompts Crew. Tell us a little about yourself.

Holly: I’m the wife of an Anglican Bishop and mom to three great kids: Jake (a type one diabetic NFL player) Betsy, (a sweetie-pie in grad school), and Nick (a college football player for the Ragin Cajuns.). I’m a total hybrid as a writer. (I also drive a hybrid car!) I write fiction and nonfiction, and am traditionally published as well as indie published. My first novel, Crooked Lines, was released in July 2014. I plan to have five more books released by next year, some with traditional publishers and others indie-published.

 (2)  How did you become interested in being a writer?

Holly: I officially became a writer on the day I quit writing. Nearly fifteen years ago, after receiving yet another rejection letter, I shut off my computer and went for a walk. I explained to God that I wasn’t wasting any more time writing unless He gave me a clear sign to continue. Coming home, I found a blinking answering machine. At the beep, an editor for Guideposts for Teens magazine said she wanted to publish my essay. That day, I dedicated my writing to God. The next day, I got a check in the mail from a parenting magazine and a copy of my first published essay. Doors to the published world began to open and I’ve been amazed at the writing opportunities that have come my way since.

(3)  Can you tell us three unique things about you that we may not know?
Holly: 1. I have a phone phobia. Absolutely shudder at the thought of talking on the phone, but in person, I can talk your head off.
2. I  was born and raised on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, #7 out of 10 children. My husband was born and raised in India, #7 out of 8 children.
3. I’ve traveled to most of all of the United States, except for Oregon, Idaho, Nevada and Utah. Oh, and Hawaii and Alaska.


Crooked3 (1)On the shores of Lake Michigan, Rebecca Meyer seeks escape. Guilt-ridden over her little sister’s death, she sets her heart on India, a symbol of peace.

Across the ocean in South India, Sagai Raj leaves his tranquil hill station home and impoverished family to answer a higher calling. Pushing through diverse cultural and religious milieus, he labors toward his goals, while wrong turns and bad choices block Rebecca from hers.

Traveling similar paths and bridged across oceans through a priest, the two desire peace and their divine destiny. But vows and blind obedience at all costs must be weighed…and buried memories, unearthed.

Crooked Lines, a beautifully crafted debut novel, threads the lives of two determined souls from different continents and cultures. Compelling characters struggle with spirituality through despair and deceptions in search of truth.

Caroline McKeon

Caroline 2012

Today we welcome Caroline McKeon, author and business consultant, to 3 Questions Wednesday.

(1) What is your favorite book? [Bible excluded]

Caroline: Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson (1976)

(2) If you could walk into any book, what literary character would you want to be?

Caroline: Zorro or Robin Hood … no lie! I always liked the idea of righting wrongs and helping those in need.

(3) If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Caroline: Peru to see Machu Picchu.

Thank you, Caroline, for joining us on 3 Questions Wednesday! Readers–Leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of The Rockstar and the Fan.

frontpageThe Rockstar and the Fan

Katie is a young girl with a secret. From the age of nine she has been severely abused by a vicious stepfather. To survive the brutality she develops a rich and intense fantasy life in which she spends a great deal of her time. At the age of twelve she sees rockstar Zackery Kaine on American Bandstand and sets into motion a plan to meet him to see if he can help end her hellish home life. ~ Inside her invented world she meets Blake Elliott, the clone of Zak, her rockstar. He takes on the role of protector until the night Katie meets her flesh-and-blood rockstar who steps up to champion her cause and end her abuse. ~ The psychological struggle between real life and her fantasy world exacts a toll on Katie. With her sanity at stake, she forges ahead and goes after what she believes will give her a life she can finally accept.

Hailing from Punta Gorda, Florida (made famous by Category 4 Hurricane Charley on Friday the 13th, in August of 2004), Caroline McKeon came to Tampa when she graduated from high school in 1968 to seek her fortune. She’s still seeking.
With a PhD in Business Management, Caroline is a self-employed business consultant specializing in small businesses. Along with the consulting end of things, she is a motivational speaker, web designer, professional writer, an accountant, tax return preparer, and the author of two business books: Own Your Business…Own Your Life!!! and Managing Your Time…Managing Your Staff…Managing Yourself.
Caroline lives in Tampa with her 13-year old Shi Tzu, Pickles HoneyHeart. Her breakout novel, The Rockstar and the Fan came out September 1, 2013. She is working on her second book, Sweet Slaughter … With Relish.