Possible Essay Questions Relating To Any One Episode (Easier to answer)

Who is the key hero or heroine in this episode?  Why?   

Defend the answer if there could be more than one.  Who is more important, the hero or the heroine (if both are involved).  Why?

Who is the key opponent in this episode? Why? 

Defend the answer if there could be more than one. Why is this person attacking or causing a problem?  Is there a reasonable argument that would support their point of view?

Do any gods or goddesses  (Celatta, Vishnu, Shiva, or Kali) take sides in this episode?

If so, why is this?  What is the larger, cosmic perspective those gods might have on what is happening?

Can you describe the local geography that is a part of this episode?

Why could this geography be important?  What can you link it to that is part of your own experience?

What are the key locations  where the actions in this episode take place?

What are the reasons why the place where something happens might be important?

What specific family values are highlighted in this episode?

In a few episodes important family bonds between the various gods in the story are mentioned too!

What social or community values are highlighted in this episode? 

What does this have to do with our overall understanding of the tale being told?  What does it have to do with the story’s relevance today?

What ecological values (like pride in the land) do you find expressed in this episode?  

How are ideas about abundance and the fertility of the land given importance  in this tale?

What does this episode tell you about local political traditions?

(This question is relevant to only some of the episodes).

Is there any economic information supplied in this episode?

What did you find surprising in this episode? 

(Discuss the dress, character behaviours, geography, food any other things views might have noticed. Are these details relevant? Why?

Was there anything magical in this episode?

Why do you think those events/surprises were there?

Do you know any other stories that seem to be similar (in some way) to the actions or events described in this episode?

Were there events in this episode that can best be explained by something that happened earlier?

Was a curse laid on someone, or anger expressed because of something that happened previously?

Might any of the key actions characters choose in this episode impact on what will happen later in the story? 

What do you predict will happen down the road? Why?

Is there something you did not understand in this episode?  Did anything trouble you?  Why? 

What was the reason this happened?  What was the underlying problem?

TALKING ANIMALS?Were there any talking animals in this episode or animals with other supernatural traits? 

What significance might that animal have? Why is it there?  Could it be a stand-in for a certain type of human person, or for some larger idea?

Essay Questions that can be asked about the Ponnivala Story In Its Entirety (Harder to answer)

  1. What is the structure of the story in terms of sequential generations in the heroes' family?
  2. What is the structure of the story in terms of the social categories the "enemies" belong to?
  3. What is the role of Lord Siva in the story and (roughly) how many times does he appear or get mentioned?
  4. What is the role of Vishnu (and his avatars) in the story and roughly how many times does he get mentioned? Can these appearances be broken into categories like “teaser,” “boon giver,” “soothsayer,” “fate facilitator” etc?  Does he interact with a goddess?  Does he interact with Siva?
  5. What is the role of a local goddess in the story and roughly how many times does she appear? Also include the role of Siva's wife, if it is relevant.
  6. Is there a "main shrine" dedicated to the heroes? Is it where a great battle took place?  Are Siva and/or Vishnu given recognition in some form at this sacred site?
  7. How, specifically, do the main heroes (and heroines) die?
  8. If there are two brothers, are they described as "elder" and "younger?" How do they differ in personality?  Are their names symbolic in any way?  Are they "incarnations" of Siva or of Vishnu (or one of each?)  Are they associated with specific weapons, dress codes, skin colors or behaviors?  Do these men have a sister?  Are the two men "twins" in the sense of having been born very, very close to one another in time after having shared one womb?
  9. Which main characters are "born of a god's boon." Which god gave the boon and what happened next?  Were the characters born inside or outside a woman's womb?  Describe each birth separately.  Is there a midwife in the story and what are her characteristics?  Does one of the gods also serve as a magical midwife?
  10. Which characters perform tapas? Where do they do this and for what reasons? How long do they do tapas for?
  11. What specific things do heroines in the story do that are related to their devotion to the gods? Tapas? Gift giving to beggars or others?  Self sacrifice?  Great public works?  Long journeys?  Do they converse directly with any deities?  Does any deity "tease" a heroine (as in a kind of "lila")?
  12. What is the role of chastity in the story for heroes? For heroines?
  13. Do any of the key women have "magical" qualities? Do they control fire?  Do they control rain?  Do they fly or ride a magical bird?
  14. How many times does one or more of the heroes play dice? What happens just before or just after these games?  Where is the dicing done (in an official room or in some more hidden place)?  Is there any information about whether their playing pieces move clockwise or counter clockwise?  Do women in the story ever play dice?  When and where?
  15. Where is the region the story is associated with located? Is it an upland or marginal area in some way?  Is there an important river in the area?  Do the heroes interact with a king or major ruling family that is not directly a part of their family circle?  Do the heroes collaborate with and/or work for this/these king(s)?  Do they ever rebel again these kings?  Is there any “kinship” link between the heroes and the king?  Do the kings demand tribute?  What causes them to "rebel"?  Are they married into the king's family in some way?  Do they eventually kill the king(s)?
  16. What century or centuries in Indian history does the story seem to describe?
  17. Is there any type of Kailas or celestial abode mentioned in the story? Is there any "underground" abode mentioned in the story?
  18. Is there a boar in the story? Is there a boar hunt?  Is there a cock fight?  Are their cobras or other snakes?  Are there tigers?  Are there important dogs?  Are there special birds and, in particular, parrots?  Do these animals have distinct names and/or personalities?  Do they speak using human words?
  19. Do the heroes (or a heroine) go on a long trip? Is there an important geography associated with this trip?
  20. What are the key castes or communities mentioned in the story? What is their traditional "role" (farmer, shepherd, artisan etc.)
  21. Is there an important role given to a heroes' assistant, someone of lower caste who is a constant alley? Who is this person and what does he do for the heroes?  How much respect is he given?
  22. Are there any references to any specific religious "communities" in the story (Muslims, Jains, Shaivites versus Vaisnavites etc)? Does the story basically "bridge" these communities and tell the story in a way that points at collaboration, or does it feature communal rivalries?
  23. Is there any reference to the concept of the Kali Yuga and to the end of that Yuga (e.g. fires, floods and the end of life as we know it more generally)?
  24. Is there any sub story that speaks about the heroes' exile? About the hero being orphaned?  Are their any significant famines or droughts?
  25. Are there rivalries generated by land rights? Are there rivalries between clan brothers over land issues?
  26. Is there any thing in the story that could be described as a depiction of the Hindu version of heaven and hell?
  27. Which community does the story feature? Is this the dominant community in the area where the story is told?  Are these people farmers or warriors by general reputation?  Which group provides the most enthusiastic devotees at festivals held at the heroes’ shrines?  Are most devotees drawn from the dominant caste or from other groups?
  28. Which communities generally embrace and celebrate the story most visibly during local festivals? Which communities are most generally associated with telling, singing or performing the story?
  29. What are the basic ages and personalities of the key women in the story? Are their certain key roles or functions that particular women are associated with?
  30. Is there a formal description of a palace layout in the story? Is there any description of a dicing room?  Is that room mentioned in any formal description of the architecture of the palace?
  31. Are there any key story rivalries of a nuclear family type? Are there important differences that lead to friction between brother and brother, brother and sister, or father and son?
  32. How many weddings are described in the story? Where do they take place?  Is there any involvement of the gods in consecrating or blessing these weddings?  Is there a wedding where key relatives or gods are absent?  Is there a sequence in this such that later weddings are missing key wedding guests (guest categories) or certain key gods…. characters that attended previous weddings?
  33. Does the epic story naturally break into two large halves? What are the key differences between these two halves?
  34. Is an "origin myth" provided for any of the key communities described in the story?
  35. Are any of the key characters "cursed" with barrenness? Is there a story that explains why they suffer from this curse?  How and why is that curse eventually lifted?
  36. What are the key instruments associated with the telling of/performance of the story? Are there stringed instruments used?  Drums?  Flutes or other woodwinds?  What is the most common combination of instruments used for this purpose?