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Land of the Golden River cover

  • eBook Edition
    • 978-1-927453-60-5
    • epub, pdf files
  • Paperback Edition
    • 978-1-927453-59-9
    • 6.0 x 9.0 inches
    • Black & White interior
    • 432 pages
  • Hardcover Edition
    • 978-1-927453-58-2
    • 6.0 x 9.0 inches
    • Black & White interior
    • 432 pages
  • Keywords
    • Oral epic,
    • Ponnivala Nadu,
    • Tamil,
    • Anthropology,
    • South India,
    • Folk tale,
    • Legend

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Land of the Golden River
The Medieval Tamil Folk Epic of Poṉṉivaḷa Nāḍu
by Brenda E. F. Beck

A Journey through Story to Poṉṉivaḷa Nāḍu: An Ancient Tamil Kingdom This remarkable epic-length legend presents a rich and well-rounded view of local South Asian folk history, masterfully interwoven with many social themes and multiple layers of religious tradition. The text provides a lively read and can be enjoyed by students of all backgrounds and levels. This richly decorated oral telling combines numerous poetic songs with direct conversations and detailed narrative passages. The descriptive segments help to advance a broader story trajectory, leading the reader towards a long-foretold, yet still surprising, conclusion. In 1965 a highly respected troubadour duo, C. Rāmacāmi of Erucaṇampāḷayam, and his nephew Paḷaṇicāmi, sang this magnificent legend in front of a live South Indian village audience. It took them eighteen nights to complete this tale! Weeks later the senior performer, Rāmacāmi, patiently dictated this same story to a local assistant who was working for the translator at the time. The text was meticulously written down by hand, phrase-by-phrase, over many days. Both bards wanted to preserve a story they knew in their hearts was truly unique and sacred. Each gave the present collector permission to share the words of this tale. They wanted the whole world to learn about a great legend they had themselves spent years learning. This story is about the potential for social renewal and those two singers believed it could better the lives of all who listened to it. Fifty-five years later, following in in the footsteps of these two men, their enthusiasm has now born fruit in a book they had both hoped for but could never have written themselves.

"Magnificent stories like this one can play a key role in teaching our children to appreciate our rich South Asian heritage. This is a unique tale presented in translation using easily readable language, now made available to people like me for the first time." —Ajanta Jain US Bank Employee First generation member of the North American South Asian Diaspora "This story text contains all the essential components of an exceptional oral folk epic. The words of the bard are beautifully presented in a colloquial style through songs, narration and dialogue. The author’s introduction explores a variety of social themes and provides us with a fresh and intriguing perspective on South Asian heritage legends more broadly. This work is both enjoyable and educational. It is suited to all who commit the time to discover its hidden gems." —Appadurai Muttulingam Well-known Sri-Lankan - Canadian Tamil author-essayist Secretary, Tamil Literary Garden of Toronto "Brenda Beck’s luminous translation brings a magnificent but little-known South Asian oral epic to the attention of a wide audience. A substantial critical and visual apparatus helps prepare our journey through an imaginative universe that can be fruitfully compared to world classics such as the Mahabharata and the Epic of Gilgamesh and also to myths and folk legends from around the globe. The Land of the Golden River’s heroes and heroines entertain us through their adventures. They also prompt us to reflect on themes of contemporary relevance, such as political power, familial relations, the value of natural resources, and even our own modern immigration challenges." —Professor Jo Ann Cavallo Chair, Italian Department Columbia University, New York City "This oral epic contains is a sweeping story of local characters’ ambitions, predicaments, choices and feats of courage. Its episodes are full of miracles and supernatural intervention. Prof. Beck (re)tells this grand legend and unbraids many of its meanings and mysteries. She praises the singers who shared the story with her, and cautions us to accept this written, and therefore ossified account as just one variant in a long procession of tellings. But one should not underestimate its importance. This account was recorded decades before the explosion of social media both in India and around the world. It is a painstaking act of preservation—and a great story to read." —Joseph C. Miller Folklorist and Rajasthani Folk Epic Scholar "Land of the Golden River is full of action and complex characters and presents an extremely powerful story. The hype around this book is unquestionable and, admittedly, I was eager to read it. I have always wondered what I could tell our future generations about our great Indian epics. Now here is a testament for first generation migrant Tamils like us that we can share with up-coming generations. I definitely recommend this book to all students, especially those who express a particular interest in Tamil folklore. Dr. Beck’s narrative retelling is ethical and sensitive. Her writing is emotionally astute, and the historical legend that she recounts is full of love and perseverance." —Shivakumar Kandaswamy, Dual resident of Scotland and of Koṅku Nāḍu Water literacy activist and trainer #RainWaterLiteracyFoundation

While studying for a doctoral degree in Anthropology, Brenda Beck lived for nearly two years in a local Indian village belonging to the Kongu region of Tamil Nadu. She spent her time there learning spoken Tamil and expanding her understanding of the people of this specific locale. She was especially interested in learning about this area’s rich cultural traditions. Dr. Beck has returned to the same area to visit friends many times since then. Following the completion of her D.Phil. degree at Oxford University, she has dedicated the ensuing fifty-two years to further studying the rich folk heritage of the diverse peoples of South India. Reading and re-reading The Land of the Golden River has helped her discover many additional insights into the folk traditions and beliefs so well described in this unique folk text. As a popular teacher, author and storyteller, Dr. Beck has taught at a number of Universities in North America and has thrice been a formal guest of the Government of India. Many groups and organizations have recognized and honored her for her work. Brenda is the author of eight books and over fifty journal articles, and she still continues to lecture and write for a wide variety of audiences. Currently Dr. Beck is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, Scarborough campus.


Brenda E. F. Beck

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