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Finding Bangladesh Location # 12

The Goddess of Sundarban

By Anika Ali & Adnan M. S. Fakir
Photos courtesy of Finding Bangladesh

What does Bangladesh have for us to be proud of? We have brilliant songs, soulful literature, great leaders, mysterious folklore and perhaps most importantly, hilarious political figures. But anyway, let's just think about the folklore.

Every year in April, before wood cutters and honey hunters step into the Sundarbans for their job, they have this huge gathering whether they perform rituals and pray to “The Lady of the Forest.” What is interesting though is that Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims alike all pray to this deity, regardless of religion or caste. They pray for protection from the perils of the forest and believe this “Lady of the Forest” will provide it. Who says we are not a feminist bunch?

The Lady of the Forest is Bon Bibi. Lore has it that Bon Bibi was chosen by divine powers to protect and help the people who sought her aid. She was originally born in Medina and the location of her mission, brought forth by none other than Archangel Gabriel, was the mighty mangrove forest, the land of the 18 tides, aka the Sundarbans! This is her story.

When Bon Bibi arrived at the Sundarbans along with her brother, Shah Jungalee, it was being ruled by Dakhin Ray, a self-proclaimed tiger-demon lord who apparently loved to eat human flesh. In an epic battle, Bon Bibi had overthrown Dakhin Ray and out of sheer goodness, she refrained from banishing the demon entirely. Dakhin Ray was allowed to rule a small island called Kedokhali in the Sundarbans on the condition that he would not to hurt anyone. Sadly, old habits die hard.

Two mowalis or honey collectors by the name of Dhona and Dukhe were searching desperately for honey but could find none. They eventually ventured into Kedokhali. Dakhin Ray saw them and made a proposition to Dhona in his dream. He proposed that if Dhona would be willing to sacrifice Dukhe, then Dakhin Ray would fill all of their empty boats with honey. Overwhelmed with greed, Dhona accepted.

Dukhe was about to be devoured by Dakhin Ray and prayed to Bon Bibi for protection. Bon Bibi became furious and was prepared to unleash her deific wrath upon Dakhin Ray when he exclaimed that if humans like these greedy honey-collectors, are granted the liberty to enter the forests without any rules or regulations then they would destroy the land. The flesh eating, tiger-demon tyrant had made a good point. Shame on us.

Bon Bibi heeded Dakhin Ray's concerns and to protect the forest, she imposed a law. It stated that every human entering the Sundarbans must come unarmed, so that they destroy nothing, and they must come with a pure heart with no intention to steal or deprive. Bon Bibi's rules and regulations were observed with sincere obedience and the forest and its people thrived in their harmony. Kinda like the folks in Avatar. But our story doesn't end in happily ever after.

Today there are numerous idols of Bon Bibi scattered throughout the forest. People who depend on the Sundarbans for their livelihood still worship her for their own protection and survival. But her lessons have been forgotten by many, especially the non-inhabitants who go to the Sundarbans for various other purposes. Our mangrove forest is slowly dying, and unless we can truly embrace Bon Bibi's rules and develop a genuine and well-informed compassion for our Sundarbans, this mighty mangrove forest will disappear in a puff of ignorance and negligence.

For more information, photos and updates, visit us at www.facebook.com/findingbangladesh

RS disclaimer: We won't accept responsibility for anyone going into Sundarbans unarmed and being tag-teamed by the Tiger-Croc Brotherhood. Heed the article at your own risk.


When the random becomes meaningful

By Sarah Nafisa Shahid

The young boy looked up at the summer sky and saw the T-Rex eat a mermaid in the clouds. These were not just cloud patterns; these were stories from a far away world. And the far away world has been telling stories to us earthlings every minute; be it random numbers on a scribbled paper which was clearly written by a bored student or Jesus' face on a piece of toast, the 'signs' are everywhere they say.

Well, thanks to the magic of English language with a dash of neurology, we even have a name for this phenomenon: Apophenia. Yeah, note that down as a cool word to use the next time your friend starts telling you about how all the recurrent coincidences are leading her to her soul mate.

But come to think of it, in a world where coincidences don't really exist, it could be more than Apophenia itself. It might mean that you have a psychological disorder. Sadly, this disorder exists in almost everyone so you can't pass off as someone with a serous issue and gain sympathy. Blame it on our brains being easy-to-fool three pounders that love to make connections whether they exist or not.

For example, did you notice that you are “coincidentally” reading this article right around the time when you are wondering if you are seeing signs of warning and bad omens everywhere? Understandable, since this is the time before the results come out. You probably check the time quite often, but it only strikes you when you look at it at 11:11 because your mind is drawn to it. Voila, Apophenia.

On the bright side, the fact that your brain loves to see meaningful patterns and connections in rather mundane stuff gives us writers quite a bit of room to boggle your mind. Remember that song lyric that struck a cord? That character that seemed just like you? The palmist who knew everything about you? That's our brains relating to the general to make it seem special. The palmist is just guessing and throwing generic comments at you. Everyone has had a big accident when they were kids.

That doesn't mean that you should discard the Universe's signs though. The Universe is real. You live in it. Its signs are actually talking to you. Or so says Paulo Coelho. Take the picture as a sign to whatever you were wishing a sign for. But when a conspiracy theorist makes you hear devil worshipping chants in the middle of a simple love song, maybe you should give Apophenia some credit. It's as good as finding butterfly patterns in an ink spatter or Jesus inside a potato. As Sigmund Freud puts it, “Sometimes a cigar is really just a cigar”.

Weekly Ramadan Munchies

The End Is Nigh

By Halcyon

And so it is. As the month of fasting draws to a close, even the sky seems to be going through the Ramadan mood swings. One second it's glaring down at us and the next second it's weeping. And through it all, the shoppers flock the markets. Wind, rain, hail or blistering sun, we need those new clothes.

You'd think it would be easy. Punjabi for dad, saree for mom, salwar kameez for sister and another Punjabi for the brother. Maybe a little something for grandma. But it isn't that simple. See, the parents have brothers and sisters too. And those brothers and sisters have given birth to litters of hell-children that you have to call cousins. Sure, there are a few angels hidden among them, like there are innocent people in our jails. But you can't buy gifts or clothes just for them. Oh no. It has to be for everyone. And that's where reality seems to come apart at the seams. What could've been done in four shops ends with the Powers That Be [mom] scouring the entire market, with you parched, starving and trailing behind. Yes, that's what society has done for us. Don't forget to say thank you.

But why are we so obsessed with new clothes on Eid? Why do we have to get new clothes for this holiday, when all the shopkeepers are anticipating it and raising prices? Why do we fight the fast and the heat and the crowd? We asked around and among the numerous answers of, “It's tradition”, we stumbled upon a few, “It's about pride.” You see, peer pressure doesn't just work on us; it works on our parents too. They need the clothes to let the world know that they are doing alright. And it's not just them - their brothers and sisters and friends are doing the same thing. And it's coated under the shadow of tradition. In 10 years, you and I will probably do it, too.

There is another segment that wait for the end of the Eid rush to buy clothes afterwards, with the prices going down. If everyone did that, we wouldn't have the jams that we do.

But that can't be the answer either. The point of many festivals, and particularly Eid, is to look your best. People get haircuts, trim their beards and pluck their eyebrows. It's the day when everyone meets, smiles, says hello and checks out everyone else. And like it or not, you are not living in some lone cottage deep in the forest. In the end, you need new clothes. Society apparently doesn't appreciate flippancy.

After a shopping spree, my advice: head for that damned cottage!


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