Songs of the lake’: Understanding cultural expressions of nature through dwindling folk-songs and mythologies in Bengaluru

South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies,


Culture-specific knowledge plays an important role in shaping environmental conservation. Yet we lack a holistic and contemporary understanding of how such local cultural systems interface(d) with ecologies, especially in the fast-growing cities of the Global South which face profound environmental challenges. In this paper, we explore nature-based cultural systems embedded in folk-songs to understand situated social-ecological histories of human-inhabited peri-urban landscapes in the city of Bengaluru in South India. Drawing on empirical observations from the city, we trace local imageries of erstwhile lake-based social systems through folk-songs, mythologies and oral narratives. We demonstrate how many of these cultural narratives, largely embedded within symbolic linkages to the lake ecology, continue to manifest themselves as folk expressions in the city, despite the fact that most of the lakes have been polluted or are managed via restrictions that prohibit village residents from accessing them as they once did for agriculture, livelihoods and domestic use. The songs are also rich reminders of socialities, which, despite being divisive and hierarchical to a large extent, were symbolically and materially embedded in nature.