Imagine you’re a woodcutter going deep into the mangrove forest of the Sundarbans. A forest that is known for its mesmerizing beauty, but there is danger in every step you take! This is the jungle of the Royal Bengal Tiger, of course!
The local people of the Sundarbans region in Bangladesh and India face this life of uncertainty regularly. Because these people need to risk their lives every day and go into the deep jungles to collect honey or wood or fish!
That’s why the rural people have turned to some mythical characters with hopes that the godly entities might save their lives in times of danger. Their traditional tales talk about these legends that are unknown to the western world.
Many stories suggest evil spirits, demons, and black magic in the Sundarbans. However, in today’s part, we will only talk about the tiger king demon Dakshin Rai and his eternal nemesis Bon Bibi.
Dakshin Rai: The Tiger King Demon
Dakshin Rai is a highly feared demon deity in the Sundarbans region of Bangladesh and India. Fairy tales suggest that he is the ruler of the mythical demons and beasts in the forest. He is known to kill human beings using his control of the tigers too!
Reading the local folklore and mythology, we understand that the legend of Dakshin Rai came out of South 24 Parganas (Dakkhin 24 Porgona in Bengali) of present-day West Bengal in India. However, his followers can be seen in Howrah, Hooghly of India and Khulna, Jessore, and Noakhali of Bangladesh.
As he is the king of tigers, local tribes worship him for protection from tigers. However, there is a historical fact about worshipping Dakshin Rai for protection against diseases. So, the demon king is well-respected in the jungles of Sundarbans.
Myths of Bengal tells us that Dakshin Rai loves animal sacrifices and tribal music. So, during the new moon, the local tribes sacrifice animals, and the musicians play tribal rhythms on their drums in a tradition called Jatal Puja. Most rituals are done in the open, in the jungle!
If you see the local honey collectors of Sundarbans going into the forest, you will see some masks behind their heads. They wear the mask of Dakshin Rai when going into the forest as a ritual that might save them from savage tigers!
Bon Bibi: The Mother of The Forest
Those who do not worship Dakkhin Rai in the Sundarbans for his savage nature worship Bon Bibi, who is regarded as the mother of the forest. According to the folk-traditional tale of Bon Bibi, she is the arch-nemesis of Dakkhin Rai.
Legend has it that Bon Bibi was born to Fakir Ibrahim’s second wife, Gulal Bibi. But, because of Fakir Ibrahim’s first wife, Ful Bibi, Gulal Bibi was exiled to the forest once she became pregnant.
That’s how Bon Bibi and her twin brother Shah Jongli were born in the Sundarbans, and they were brought up by the trees and animals of the Sundarbans! However, Fakir Ibrahim took Shah Jongli to Mekkah by himself, and Bon Bibi became alone with her doe mother.
After a while, understanding his mistakes, Fakir Ibrahim came and took Bon Bibi to Mekkah too! But, she had a divine revelation that she had to return to the Sundarbans to save her people and animals from the savagery of Dakkhin Rai.
According to folktales, Bonbibi returned to Sundarbans after that and declared war against Dakkhin Rai. Ancient historical evidence of this narrative is yet to be found, but the origin of this fairy tale fiction suggests that Bon Bibi was a revered woman in the Muslim community.
However, Bon Bibi is a respected deity both in the Muslim and Hindu cultures near the Sundarbans region. Followers of both religions pay respect to her for protection in the jungle!
The Eternal War of Bon Bibi And Dakkhin Rai
Now we have arrived at the most interesting part of the story! Although both Bon Bibi and Dakkhin Rai are respected deities in the Sundarbans, they have a continuous rivalry. According to local belief, this war will go on till the end of time.
The reason behind this war is Dakkhin Rai’s savage nature. The animals and people of Sundarbans were terrified of Dakkhin Rai. He demanded respect through animal and human sacrifices from the tribes in their dreams!
If the tribes didn’t worship Dakkhin Rai properly, he would send his tigers to kill the people of the tribe. That’s why a divine revelation came to Bon Bibi to go and save her people in the land of eighteen tides.
According to the folktale, Bon Bibi came to the Sundarbans along with her brother Shah Jongli. Upon arriving, Shah Jongli performed Adhan (Muslim call for prayer) in the jungle. Dakkhin Rai got news of this and sent his friend Sanatan Rai to enquire about the Adhan.
Sanatan Rai came to Bon Bibi, asked them about their intentions, and went back to Dakkhin Rai. Myths say that Dakkhin Rai became very angry and decided to throw the siblings out of his territory.
However, as Dakkhin Rai was preparing for battle, his mother Narayani stopped him from going and led the army of demons and goblins herself. An epic battle took place between Narayani and Bon Bibi.
In the end, Bon Bibi defeats Narayani but shows her mercy by giving half of the kingdom back to Narayani and sparing the life of Dakkhin Rai. However, Dakkhin Rai didn’t take this defeat with grace and decided to carry on a timeless war against Bon Bibi.
Although most stories tell us that Bon Bibi is the savior of the local areas of the Sundarbans, the local tribes believe that Dokkhin Rai is the ruler of the deeper jungles of Sundarbans.
This war is still going on and is still depicted in Bon Bibir Pala or the Tale of Bon Bibi. The events of this war are enacted by actors who are usually women and children and are enjoyed by the audience with respect.
According to many scholars, these stories come from different traditions and folktales of the ancient aborigine people of this region. Dakkhin Rai is considered to be one of the main deities of the local people before the Aryans introduced them to the Hindu religion.
On the other hand, Bon Bibi was probably an established aborigine goddess who was later transformed into an avatar of the Hindu goddess Durga known as Bandurga. However, during the Pathan rule, the concept of the goddess has transformed into a Muslim “Pirani.”
So, we can say that both Dakkhin Rai and Bon Bibi originate from the ancient pagan religious beliefs of the region.
Many people think myths are only stories and have no actual meaning behind them. However, this tale of the Sundarbans shows that the legends have intricate social and cultural meanings behind them.
If you have no one else to save you from your dangers, a deity that can protect you from all dangers makes total sense! Especially if you’re a honey collector risking your life to go deeper and deeper into the jungle of the tiger!
The legends of Dakkhin Rai and Bon Bibi still live on in the folklore of Bangladesh, and examples of their importance in history are undeniable.