oral transmission: motivation and memorization

S Krishna mahadevasiva at hotmail.com
Wed Jun 11 22:56:15 UTC 1997

I agree with the gentleman who suggests that oral transmission and
motivation and religion are linked to each other. This seems to be
true of practically all cultures.

As an example, we have Vedic recitation and the related "Akshara
Slokam" competitions. I myself had classmates who could recite whole 
chapters of textbooks. Upon being asked as how they managed this, they 
would insist that this was a result of learning to recite
the  Bhagavadgeeta forwards and backwards when they were children.
In South India, Carnatic music was( and is) still taught as an oral
tradition.This style of music emphasizes Bhakti and it is not uncommon 
to meet people who can remember the lyrics of 150+ Krtis.( Of late there 
has been a profusion of books and other aids, but the traditionalists 
stick to the oral tradition). I must contrast this
tradition with the other tradition of singing "film-songs" or
"love lyrics" or whatever. No musician worth his or her name will
ever sing from memory...A tattered and torn , yellowing note book
( with the lyrics) seems to be a sine qua non, irrespective of
the quality of singing.(I've seen people of the level of  
S.P.Balasubramaniam and K.S.Chitra all the way to our ex-neighbour
sing film-songs the same way;-)).
                                 In addition to Vedic recitation,
learning the Quran ( or atleast portions of it) and reciting the same
from memory is not a feat altogether unknown. I remember that the 
Guiness Book of World REcords officially listed a certain Mehmet
Agca(?) of Istanbul as holding the record for the longest piece
of recitation from memory..He recited 6000+ verses from the Quran in a 
single session. In the Moslem countries i.e. SAudi Arabia, Bahrain
and more recently, Indonesia and Brunei, there are regular competitions 
held on Quranic recitation with emphasis on pronounciation and ofcourse, 
accuracy of reproduction. The Sultan
of Brunei has started encouraging Quranic recitation as a national
passtime as a way of "Preventing corruption of the mind."( This
story was brought out in the "New Yorker" some time ago).
            Likewise, according to the book "Roots", (the story of
Kunta Kinte) we find that in Western Africa, there is a similar
tradition of having a village elder whose main job was to transmit
family history orally( The oral record is supposed to have covered 
people who lived more than 200 years ago). The person conducting the 
recital could apparently go on for hours together and keep track of 
families in different villages simultaneously. From what I remember
of the sociology of this tribe, they also indulge in an attenuated
kind of ancestral worship.
           In conclusion, there seems to be a very strong relation 
between religion and feats of memory.


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