As part of this project we hope to raise awareness of South Asian religious narrative amongst the wider public through publications and events. In particular we are working with storytellers in an attempt to engage audiences with the stories and create a better understanding of their role in South Asian life past and present. I had my first real taste of this on Saturday, when I hosted an evening of Jataka tales at the Scottish Storytelling Centre here in Edinburgh. The event was sponsored by a Knowledge Exchange grant from the University of Edinburgh.
The format of the evening was simple: After a short introduction from myself, two storytellers – Steve Killick and Mark Rivett – told five stories selected from the Pali Jataka collection, and there was then a short Q&A. Members of the audience were also given a programme with some images of the stories in Buddhist art and some further information about the Jataka genre and the individual stories chosen.
The stories included three fairly short and simple tales to illustrate the diversity of styles and themes (Talkative Tortoise, Banyan Deer and Gentleheart) followed by two from the final ten stories, which are much longer and more closely tied to the perfections (Mahosadha and Vessantara).
The evening was a great success – rated ‘excellent’ by the vast majority of those who returned feedback forms. Several audience members commented that they had learnt a lot and been inspired to find out more about the stories.
Not every city is lucky enough to have a Storytelling Centre complete with theatre space, cafe and full-time events staff. Nonetheless we hope that the Jataka show may find a repeat elsewhere, and that other shows that directly stem from our current research will come to life in the future.