Sunday, April 8, 2012

The legend of Bon Bibi, Sunderbans, West Bengal, India

I first came to know about Bon Bibi while reading Amitava Ghosh's Hungry Tide. In fact, Sunderbans unfolded before me because I read that book. Strange though, I was living in Kolkata for so many yaers but before that I had never had an urge to travel to Sunderbans! And I call myself a travel enthusiast! But seriously, my curiosity about Sunderbans happened only after that. "Hungry Tide" is a great book. I am a huge fan of Amitava Ghosh's books.

Since I read that book, I have visited Sunderbans twice and I plan to go there again this winter. The legend of Bon Bibi fascinated me. In Sunderbans, Bon Bibi is the deity everyone prays to before going about their everyday business. She is the protector of the people; she protects the people from tigers. Hindus and Muslims alike, pray to the Goddess.
According to the legend, there was a Sufi fakir, Ibrahim who lived in Medina. He was childless. Archangel Gabriel gave him a boon. He had two children, a daughter (Bon Bibi) and a son (Shah Jongoli). When they grew up, Achangel Gabriel, asked them to go on a divine mission to Sunderbans, in India. There they came across a demon, Raja Dokkhin Rai, who had this fondness for human flesh. They managed to overpower him and made him promise not to kill humans. According to the legend, Bon Bibi and her brother did not kill Dokkhin Rai, but they made him promise not to kill humans. Bon Bibi and her brother  divided the forest into areas where people can live and where the Demon would live.
Another legend talks about how she saves a young, innocent boy, Dukhe from the clutches of Dokkhin Rai in the form of a tiger.
It is only when people go into Dokkhin Rai's territory, they get harmed, but the poor farmers of Sunderbans still go into areas where they should not be going because they can be attacked by tigers anytime, but what can they do, they have to earn their living.

So life goes on in Sunderbans, amidst fears of being attacked by a tiger and earning a living. The mid path can so eaily exisit, as per the legend , Bon Bibi divided the forest into areas where people will live and where the tiger would live. I guess, awareness is gradually seeping in and more and more people of Sunderbans are relaizing that it makes sense not to kill a tiger; Tigers need their space too, if they are given the space they need, why would they encroach into human territory?

After all we all co exist together, we need each other for our exisitence. The sooner we relaize that the better for all. Live and let live. How well the legend of Bon Bibi says it.


Umesh K. Dubey said...

Nicely put.. Read the book way back in 2008 but could visit the Sunderbans only in 2016 Jan. The book is absolutely amazing and has opened the mind of so many of us ,, living in Calcutta to the forests . Liked this very much

Ranjana Jha said...

Thanks so much Umesh. Yes absolutely...
Sunderbans is quite unique in its own way....