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A Toronto-Based Folk Drama Troupe Speaks Out For Hope, Equity and Social Justice By Retelling A Medieval Tamil Legend

Sun, June 26, 10:30am to 12:20pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: BF, 002


This paper explores how a Hindu oral story is being re-purposed by South Asian immigrants in Toronto, Canada to express hope for the future and the desire for social change. Known as “The Legend of Ponnivala” in English, this narrative was first collected in South India in 1965 by the this panelist. Since then, the story has been published in many forms, including as a full English translation of a village bard’s original folk-style recitation, as a set of graphic novels, and as a thirteen hour folk animation. This paper focuses on ways that a Hindu immigrant folk drama troupe from Sri Lanka living in Canada has adapted this ancient tale for contemporary use. Like the original Indian storyteller, all of the troupe’s current members identify with the margins of traditional power in Hindu Indian society, which makes them well-positioned to provide listeners with a critical perspective on social problems. But since all members of the group now reside in Canada, they feel relatively free to innovate, both in terms of how they tell the story and how they define the kinds of issues they want to highlight for discussion after each performance. The troupe’s retellings are currently focused on three key social issues that they view as key to positive social transformation: compassion, equality, and justice. Like court clowns of old, these modern actors “break the rules” in their poetic and metaphorical quest to provide fresh insights into contemporary social problems and creative and hopeful solutions for the future.