Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Bonbibi - Part 1

As myths go, Bonbibi is a recent myth, born out of the culture, beliefs, topography, flora and fauna of the Sunderbans. Bonbibi is literally the wife of the forest, and she rules that part of the forest which is inhabited or accessible to humans. The rest of the forest, deep and inaccessible, remains the preserve of her arch-enemy Dakkhin Rai. What they represent is easy to guess - the familiar narrative of good versus evil, recounted through  the ages in Greek mythology, Norse mythology or even in popular Hollywood movies such as George Lucas' Star Wars or the Harry Potter series.

But while some of these accounts of fairy tales seem intangible and inaccessible, the narrative of Bonbibi feels as palpable as a girl born only yesterday in the forests of Sunderbans. Bonbibi is the daughter of Berahim (vernacular for Ibrahim) a faqir from Mecca and his second wife Golalbibi. But for her to become a deity, this is not nearly enough. The myth therefore asserts that Allah sent Bonbibi and her brother Shah Jangali (literally king of the jungle) to earth to fulfill a divine purpose - and thus they were born to Golalbibi. They were born deep in the forests of Sunderbans, where Golalbibi lay forsaken by her husband. There is a certain drama to this story of her birth, a familiarity with the story of Jesus Christ, except that Berahim had left his second wife to be with his first wife Phoolbibi unlike Joseph who remained by Mary's side. The plight and helplessness of Golalbibi must make her seem so real to local forest dwellers. And so to reinforce her divinity the myth reassures the native listener that Allah sent forth four maids to help Golalbibi deliver her twin babies.

The names, customs are common to any Muslim household of that area. But the apotheosis of the female child is perhaps inspired by Hindu goddesses such as Durga or Kali. Some sources also indicate that Gibril (Archangel Gabriel) helped bring Bonbibi and Shah Jangali to the land of the eighteen tides, but then again Gibril is as much a part of Islam as he is of Christianity.

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