The Sundarban forests (literally meaning ‘beautiful jungle’), cover parts of India and Bangladesh. They are situated in the area where the mighty rivers Ganges and the Brahmaputra flow into the Bay of Bengal Sea, forming the world’s largest delta. These amazing forests are home of the Royal Bengal tiger.
Fable: In the Sundarbans, a little-known goddess Bon-bibi graces its forests. The story goes that Bonbibi, the ‘lady of the jungle’, was chosen by God to protect people who worked in the Sundarbans against a greedy man-eating half sage half tiger-demon named Dokkhin Rai.
Dokkhin Rai was a sage meditating in the forest, who was constantly disturbed by the villagers entering the forest to collect wood or honey. In a fit of rage he decided to feed on them. Using his ascetic powers he took the form of a tiger. Soon, he refused to share any of the forest resources with humans. He also started legitimizing the killings by calling them a ‘tax’ – one the villagers had to pay with their lives for the products they usurped from ‘his’ jungle. He proclaimed himself the master of the Sundarbans and of all the tigers spirits, gods, and demons that inhabited it. With time, he became a demon. The trust that had existed between tigers and humans was now shattered.
On noticing this, God decided to put a stop to Dokkhin Rai’s reign of terror. He chose for this task Bonbibi, an orphan who was abandoned in the forest as a baby and was raised by the deer. Along with her twin brother Shah Jangoli, she arrived in the infamous land of the eighteen tides, the deepest part of the Sundarbans which was home to the demon tiger. But Dokkhin Rai was wily and clever, he always managed to evade them.
At the same time in a nearby village lived a poor young boy called Dukhe – The sad one. He received this strange name because he had a very loud cry. Even as a baby his cries could be heard across the river right up to the neighbouring village. One summer he was lured by his uncle Dhona to join him for collecting honey from the forest. Dukhe’s mother reluctantly allowed him to leave, with the advice that he should call out to Mother Bonbibi should any harm befall him. Once in the forest, the team was confronted by the demon Dokkhin Rai, who promised to give the evil uncle Dhona seven boats full of honey and wax if he could have Dukhe in return. The greedy Dhona decided to leave Dukhe on the banks of Kedokhali Island and sailed off in his wooden boat. Just as Dukhe was about to be devoured by Dokkhin Rai, he cried out to Bonbibi. Hearing the loud cries Bonbibi was able to locate the elusive tiger and sent her brother Shah Jangoli to beat up Dokkhin Rai.
After a battle that lasted for 7 days Dokkhin Rai was overpowered and brought to Bonbibi. Bonbibi was about to order his death when a wise man named Ghazi intervened. He pleaded to Bonbibi and argued that if Dokhin Rai was killed there would be no difference between good and evil. Instead of killing the demon, we should kill the reason that led to Dokhin Rai becoming a demon. Bonbibi understood the wisdom in this.
A defeated Dokkhin Rai complained that if the humans are given a free reign, there will be no forest left. So, to be fair and ensure that Dokkhin Rai and his retinue of tigers and spirits stop being a threat to humans, and humans stop being a threat to non-humans, Bonbibi elicits promises from Dukhe, Dokkhin Rai and the Ghazi that they are all to treat each other as brothers. She does this by forcing Dokkhin Rai and the Ghazi to part with some of their wood and gold respectively, and by making Dukhe promise that he and his kind should only enter the forest with a pure heart and empty handed.
She accepted Dokkhin Rai’s apology and accepted him as her ‘son’. Later, she ordered her pet crocodile, Seko, to drop Dukhe to his village. It is after his return to the village that Dukhe popularized the worship of Bonbibi – The lady of the Jungle.
Moral: Senseless wars can end if we understand the real reason behind them. It is important to create a balance in nature, if we wish to have a better future.
Fact: In recent times, the Sundarbans have faced serious threats due to environmental degradation. Not only has the felling of trees caused a lot of damage to the soil and the forest itself, but rampant poaching has endangered the existence of Bengal tigers in the area, and is threatening to cause serious imbalances in the ecosystem.
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