Essay on the meaning, kinds, evolution and importance of legends



Meaning of Legend

The term that is used to denote them tends to give the impression that legends are some kind of religious tales and1 there is no doubt that most of the legends do have a pronounced religious flavour but much of their importance attaches to their social and psychological aspect rather than the religious implication that they may have.

They, too, are an important organ of the cultural heritage. Despite their containing little in the way of any genuine information of truth they profoundly influence the cultural behaviour of the people.

Defining legend Kimball Young has called it "a form of social myth based, in part on historical fact, dealing chiefly with heroes and events related to the successes and failures of a group of society." In this way, legends are connected with events and heroes. And these heroes, in the majority of cases, are religious or at least, believed to be so. And these events which deserve to have legends said about them are usually of a divine supra- social or extraspcial nature.

As in the case of myths, the legends are also of an imaginary nature and in their transition from one generation to the following they are apt to be modified considerably. Besides being of a religious nature they are related to historical events and heroes.

These heroes to whom legends are attached command great respect and influence in society even if they are only imaginary figures. Often the mass of humanity attempts to mould its life along the lines of the lives led by legendary heroes. For example, there are so many legends attached to the life of Shri Krishna in India that he is now considered God with the result that there are few if any cultural or social spheres of Indian life that are immune to his influence. Folk tales and folk-songs arise out of these legends.

The common sense folk philosophy is based on these legends. These legends also communicate many superstitions in society of which most are of a religious nature.

Kinds of Legends

Generally legends may be divided into the following classes:

1. Religious legends

2. Political legends

3. Economic legends

4. Social legends

Evolution of legends

Kimball Young has enumerated the following points in the evolution of legends:

1. The development of legends takes place in the affective or emotional state of the people.

2. The sequence of legendary stories is apt to be marred by defects through imprecise narration in communication.

3. The retelling of legends further modifies and changes them.

4. In these legends, certain preconceptions about the subject of the legend are also formed.

5. In legends, the individual relating to them may misrepresent them.

6. In legends there is a tendency to simplify the objective situation.

7. In legends imagination is expressed in the form of stories and tales.

8. In legends, there is an effort or desire to influence the audience.

9. Legends are purposely and intentionally composed artificially.

10. They are also influenced by the time period that passes between their actual creation and their being retold.

In this way, then, the form of legend changes continually as it passes through its various stages of evolution and development, and yet, inspite of this, most of the people place such implicit faith in it that they are never tempted to think about its propriety or veracity and they accept it unquestioningly.

Legends differ from religious stories. Religious tales are usually of a traditional nature and are limited by customs. The mind is the recipient of peace after one related some or the other legend as apparent from the telling of or reading of the Bhagvad Gita, the Ramayana and the Satya Narayana.

In connection with the origin of legends, Kimball Young has written, "The more common situations in which myths and legends have arisen and still arise involve religion and supernaturalism, economic matters and political problems."

Importance of Legends

The preceding description of legends is sufficient to illustrate the social function of legends. They help the man to understand the events of nature and to elucidate them, besides helping him in his adjustment with Nature.

They represent the ideals and values of society. In this way, they also provide the opportunity of acquainting one self with the culture of the society that existed. The profundity of their influence is amply reflected in the fact that because of them it is possible to predict the behaviour of the individuals of a particular society.

To them are attached the emotions, feelings and assumptions of the individuals of a particular society. Customs and traditions evolved on the basis of legends. Correctly gauging their importance, Kimball Young has written, "We must remind ourselves that man does not live alone in a colourless universe of passive objectivity but in a subjective, emotionally toned world of attitudes and images, and that myth, ideology, and legend determine his conduct more than does the purely physical universe."