Humanistic research is mostly invisible and does not cause headlines in the press. Its milestones are often discovered long after the research in question was completed. Occasionally, however, a project may occupy different cultural stages, involve many scholars, interest several sponsors and produce results clearly beyond one scholar’s capacity. Then an expression of thanks at the moment of making the results available may provoke ceremonies of recognition not merely in the scholarly community but also in the broader society around.

The release of the Siri epic became such a ceremony both in Finland and India. Three solid volumes of 1,667 pages (FFC 264-266) presented the 15,863-line Siri epic in the Tulu language for the first time in its entirety in print, directly based on an oral performance by Mr Gopala Naika, agriculturalist, possession priest and singer of epics from Machar, Belthangady taluk, Karnataka, India. Beside him, the Finnish-Indian project team included Professor Lauri Honko and Ms Anneli Honko, M.A., from the University of Turku, Finland, and Professors B. A. Viveka Rai and Chinnappa Gowda from the University of Mangalore, India.

The books were released in Finland at the University of Turku on February 25, 1999 at a gathering with a score of colleagues and representatives of the press present. The Rector of the University, Professor Keijo Virtanen, welcomed the guests and invited Professor John Miles Foley, Director of the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition at the University of Missouri, to introduce the Siri epic volumes. Professor Foley said that the present edition of the Siri epic “far surpasses anything that the international scholarship has so far produced”; it offers “simply the finest summary and digest of worldwide oral epic scholarship ever” and demands “a fundamental change in the way in which hundreds of oral epic scholars on six continents conduct their research”. He promised to use the books in his classes as regularly as he has used the Kalevala up to now; they allow the students “to hear the voices of non-Western epics” directly, not “only through the filter of Western assumptions”. Foley also congratulated the Finnish folklore research for its high level in general. Then the Finnish members of the Siri project were invited to speak; they deplored the fact that the Indian members could not be present and offered the audience a chance to ask questions about the project, which led to a lively discussion. – Later, academic journals and several newspapers in Turku, Helsinki and elsewhere in Finland commented on the Siri project as an interesting parallel to the Kalevala research and an example of the fact that international research cooperation can be fruitful within the humanities, too.

The release ceremony in India took place at the M.G.M. College, Udupi, Karnataka on March 28, 1999. It was of a grand format with hundreds of guests, the Finnish Ambassador to India, H.E. Mr Benjamin Bassin as the guest of honour, Dr. h.c. Sri Veerendra Heggade, the Dharmadikari of the Dharmastala Temple, as President of the ceremony, and representatives of Mangalore University, M.G.M. College Trust, the Manipal Academy of General Education, the Karnataka Regional Resources Centre for Folk Performing Arts and other institutions honouring the five-member Siri project team and its helpers in the field and archives now completing their eight-year endeavour. 75 folklorists from several universities in India had arrived as well as performers of southern yakshagana folk theatre, a local Kangulu dance troupe and north-Indian (Rajasthani) folk singers and musicians. Their performances in the evening added to the celebration of folk art which was part of the Golden Jubilee of the host institution, M.G.M. College.

The release ceremony began with a procession with all the guests marching from the college main building to the festivity hall headed by a decorated elephant, a band and a palanquin in which the Siri volumes to be donated to the singer, Mr Gopala Naika, were carried. His voice introduced the programme with invocations to gods and later he performed a passage from the Siri epic. Sri K. K. Pai, Registrar of the Manipal Academy of General Education, welcomed the guests and reminded the audience that in 1985 the 150th anniversary of the Kalevala was already celebrated by a Tulunaadu-Finland seminar on oral epics at the M.G.M. College. This was the start of the cooperation which led to the Siri project.

In his inaugural address, H.E. Mr Benjamin Bassin congratulated the project members on their “extraordinary feat” and the Finnish sponsors on their farsightedness in supporting a novel field approach to the oral singer’s work in epic composition. Today, he continued, “oral epics are for us more poetry than politics” but in earlier days “to create national identities, stories larger than life were needed”, Finland being a good example. Mr Bassin saw India and Karnataka as an “endless source of poetry and accumulated folk wisdom”, a place where “the combination of Finnish and Indian talent in this field might give new masterpieces of literature for an admiring world”. Then the speaker presented the Siri volumes to the audience and handed them over to their proper owner, Mr Gopala Naika. The other project members, of which Professors Lauri Honko and Viveka Rai described the project’s goals and progress, received garlands and presents alongside the other dignitaries on the podium.

The President, Sri Veerendra Heggade, who was one of the two guests who had perused the book before the function, praised the transcription and translation of the Siri epic and said that he had started sharing what “our common men and women in this part of the country have: great respect for the power of Siri… It is not a surprise if an ordinary person in our villages hears the singing of Naik and gets into a trance… Even I started slowly shaking my head…” This was a heritage belonging to a class with which his class could not mix, so he and many others “were never exposed to these stories”. And he concluded: “Let this book be a message to change our society and to give us a new outlook. Let me pray for the success of the team in its future work too. I think there is much left again for Prof. Honko and his team to do. Completing this publication is not the end. As a citizen of Belthangady I must say that we are happy that we have now been projected in the world, having this treasure in Mr. Naik. May god bless you.”

In his vote of thanks to the numerous speakers and performers, Professor K. S. Haridasa Bhat, Director of the Regional Resources Centre for Folk Performing Arts, a bridge-builder to Finland and an instigator of the Siri project, said that this endeavour was “a unique lesson in international collaboration over a long period of nearly 10 years. What began as a small fieldwork documentation project at Udupi and Dharmastala blossomed into a colossal research introducing new ideas, theories and methodologies and even fresh terminologies.”

A seminar for visiting folklorists was held next morning with about 200 people present. Many questions about the Siri textualisation process were answered by Lauri Honko and Viveka Rai, and many a visiting scholar presented his/her own fieldwork experiences and methodologies. – Several newspapers around South India and New Delhi carried articles on the Siri project. Later the speeches and articles were assembled in a booklet “Siri Sampada 3, A Souvenir in Commemoration of the Siri Epic Release Festival in March 1999”, an issue of a journal published by the Regional Resources Centre in Udupi.

(FFN 18, November 1999: 25-26)

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