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Legend of Bon Bibi of Sundarbans

Date: 06 July 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

 A centuries-old folk theatre form and the worship of a forest goddess helped the islanders of Sundarbans understand the power of nature.

 

Background

The Sundarbans is one of the most ecologically vulnerable terrains in the world. Spread between India and Bangladesh, the cluster of islands is highly vulnerable to changing climate.

 

Details

  • Shrines to Bon Bibi and her twin brother Shah Jongoli dot the landscape of the Sundarbans. The followers of Bon Bibi are fishermen, crab-collectors and honey-gatherers — a large chunk of the population of the islands,

  • Many of them go into the wild mangroves, teeming with wild animals such as tigers and crocodiles, to earn a livelihood. They believe that only Bon Bibi protects them when they enter the forest.

  • One of the important ways in which people express their belief in Bon Bibi is through Bon Bibi's Palagaan, a dramatic storytelling form that is enacted throughout the island.

  • Traditionally, the performances are held near Bon Bibi temples or villages bordering the forests in the light of solar lamps or bulbs powered by generators.

  • The Bon Bibi faith is a check on human greed and acquisition. An unwritten code prohibits islanders from carrying guns or weapons into the forest.

  • They must enter the forest only if they absolutely need to earn a livelihood and not take more — honey or crabs, fish, or prawns — than they need.

  • They must not desecrate the forest in any way, by smoking, defecating or washing utensils. According to local lore, poachers, pirates, and those who disobey Bon Bibi are attacked by tigers as punishment.

  • Hindus and Muslims worship Bon Bibi equally. Legend has it that Bon Bibi came to the Sundarbans with her twin, Shah Jongoli, from Saudi Arabia.

  • The Bon Bibi's Johuranama (Chronicles of Bon Bibi’s Greatness), a 19th-century text, is written in Bengali script, but with the book opening to the right, in Arabic style.

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