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Folkloristan – Preserving Heritage through Storytelling, Komal Salman

Folkloristan is a digital platform dedicated to an enthralling series of magical adventures and epic romances with legendary royals, folk heroes, and ghost hunters, accompanying jinns and fairies across the veil into the otherworld.

Founded by Komal Salman, this collection of Pakistani folklore has been curated with utmost care, transcribed and translated with great detail to attention, and illustrated with love before it reaches our screens. Pakistan's first, and only multi-lingual storytelling blog, Komal is on a mission to preserve Pakistan's cultural heritage; one story at a time.

We talk to Komal about preserving heritage through storytelling, the connect on between Pakistani folk stories and Muslim culture and how stories can help us to develop the future Islamic art.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I’m 23, a Pakistani, and I’ve just finished my undergrad in Mass Communications recently as a media production major. However, history happens to be the love of my life, so sometimes I do feel like I should have been a historian instead of a creative professional? Besides being the founder of Folkloristan, one other thing I have and continue to do is maintain my blog on Medium; these are two things I am immensely proud of. I also happen to be an indie author and an NFT artist.

Why did you create Folkloristan?

To preserve and digitise Pakistani heritage, one story at a time!

As for how I founded Folkloristan, it is a rather interesting story. I was working on a research paper on folklore for one of my courses during my degree when we were under lockdown. During my research I came across a name, Yanagita Kunio. He is the man accredited for starting the movement to collect folk tales in Japan and leading the effort for over five decades. His methods inspired me to take to Twitter and collect Pakistani folktales. I wanted to make use of the excessive free time I had on my hands. I collected just over a 100 tales. Unfortunately, the publishing scene in Pakistan is pretty bad, and most foreign publishers and literary agents weren’t interested in my work. The manuscript stayed with me for a couple of months until I joined the Digital Media Wing, now defunct, a project inaugurated by the former government as an intern for their 2021 cohort. In the spur of a moment, I thought maybe a website would be a better idea than a book. I pitched the idea to them, and my mentors, particularly Miss Maria Taimur and Sir Imran Ghazali, as well as team mates, helped me bring Folkloristan to life with all the support I needed. I also owe a special mention to my uncle, who offered to pay for the website!

How can storytelling preserve heritage?

I believe storytelling is more than just tradition itself. The stories we tell include the people we look up too, the values we wish to inculcate in our children, and the socio-cultural norms we wish to endorse or shun. It keeps our heroes alive, it knits together the scent of our grandma’s, the places we associate as home, and a world of imagination all together. On the face of it, storytelling does not look like much. But oral literature is so much more, it includes proverbs, lessons, poetry, vernacular, musical instruments, knowledge, traditions, customs and culture alive.

Are Pakistani folk stories connected to Muslim culture?

Yes! Pakistani folklore is overwhelmingly full of overt and covert references to Islam. Many norms, like hospitality, are both an essential part of Pakistani culture as well as Islam, are focused on in lore. Kindness to children, obedience to adults, speaking the truth, being careful of what has been entrusted to you are some lessons Pakistani folklore often mentions. There is a tale I collected and transcribed for Folkloristan recently, it’s called “Your Kingdom for my Chaddar” – it is about a tribe which loses its newly won kingdom over a boy pulling a chaddar (veil) off a girl’s head. I penned a blog a while ago on Islamic influences on one of Pakistan’s seven most iconic romances, about a Sindhi princess and a Baloch Prince, Sassi Punnhun. Yusuf Zuleikha is a tale every Pakistani child has heard atleast once in their lives. Hazrat Suleman (A) features in several stories. Besides this, we have many supernatural creatures in Pakistani lore, which are also a part of Islamic beliefs, like the Shaitaan, the Farishtey, and the Jinns. We also have other supernatural creatures we believe in, who have their origins in culture, but have been linked to these creatures – e.g. Al, a female demon in Baloch and Brahui lore is believed to be the daughter of Shaitaan; she preys on women in labour and on new mothers.

As Pakistan is a relatively new country, how do you address this in terms of preserving heritage in relation to identity forming?

I believe one can either embrace diversity, or brush it under the rug. The latter, is facism and tyranny. Thus, I believe it is absolutely quintessential for a country like Pakistan to preserve its cultural heritage. The beauty of Pakistan lies in the very fact that it brought together so many people, from so many backgrounds, together, under one banner, Islam, for one cause, safety and a land they can call home. Thus, in my opinion, from the very day the foundations for this new nation were laid, a sense of unity whilst embracing diversity is at the core of Pakistani identity.