Sundarban-Cultures and Rituals
Sundarbans charms and bewilders the tourists in many ways. Not only it amazes the tourists because of its diverse flora and fauna, but the essential proximity of the human race and the wild never stop short of fascinating us. Just as the diversified range of flora and fauna, the region is also known for its natives who depend on their traditional skills to survive.
The Mode of Survival
The economy of Sundarban is fully dependent on fishery, agriculture and collecting resources from the forest like wood and honey from dense forest. The rough estuarine climate makes it impossible to reap heavy benefits from agriculture and the general fishing grounds lay inside the dense forest. So, the natives, at every walk of life, needs to rub their shoulders with the wild. It is rather natural that men have to undergo extreme hardships to survive in those treacherous conditions, but to everyone’s surprise, the native women also stretch their limits to survive.
The Culture and Rituals
The Sundarbans’ forest dwellers over a period of time, have gradually embraced a culture of their own. A life that is isolated from the main stream metropolis culture gets expressed in many ways and typically suits the local forest customs and beliefs. There are certain rituals as well as religious festivals observed in this Mangrove Forest. For instance, the annual fair in the Dubla Island (Bangladesh) which takes place on Raash Purnima is observed during the month of November. The Hindu community from India and other states often visit the forest during this period and take holy dip in the waters and make offerings for a fulfillment wish. The pilgrims also pay homage to certain Deities whom they consider as their saviors. Banabibi is another Superpower who is popularly worshipped in the Sunderbans as the savior of the natives. Banabibi, who is considered as the omnipotent power who looks after the welfare of the dwellers of the forest. Banabibi is very popular among both the communities, the Hindus as well as the Muslims.
Among all the Gods and Deities are Manik Pirs, Olabibi, Manasa, Gazi Saheb, Sa Janguli etc. But among these, “Dakshin Rai” holds a special place. Worshipping Dakshin Rai is a must for the people before they enter the forest. Dakshin Rai is a legend who is worshipped by all, irrespective of their caste and creed and is considered as the God of the Tigers.
Sunderbans in Popular Culture
Sunderbans can be traced in Numerous Bengali folk songs and dances centering the folk heroes, several deities and goddesses who are specific to the Sunderbans (Bonbibi and Dakshin Rai) and to the lower Gangetic Delta (Maa Manasa and Chand Sadagar). Manasamangal, a Bengali folk epic includes couple of passages set in the Sunderbans when the heroine Behula’s quests to bring Lakhindar, her husband, back to life.
Sundarbans have etched its place in several popular novels like Emilio Salgari along with others such as Shibshankar Mitra’s “Sundarbaney Arjan Sardar”, Manik Bandopadhyay’s “Padma Nadir Majhi”. Sundarbans had a subsequent film adaptation in Kunal Basu’s short story “The Japanese Wife”. The Hungry Tide, a prize-winning novel by anthropologist Amitav Ghosh also had the majority of the plot set in Sundarbans.
Sunderbans has been the subject of multiple non-fiction books, such as The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans by Sy Montegomery. This book which was also shortlisted for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award. Emily Eden discusses her travels through the Sunderbans in her book “Up the Country”.
Apart from these, numerous documentary films have been shot with Sunderbans as the subject. 2003 IMAX production “Shining Bright” that focused on the Royal Bengal Tiger is one of those. The popular BBC TV series “Ganges” that documented the lives of Sundarbans’ villagers, honey collectors is also worth-mentioning.
A Final Note-
It is mandatory for most people who depend on the forest for their livelihood to engage in rituals that involve worshipping these deities along with many others. The struggle to overcome several natural hazards makes the natives of Sunderbans dependant on supernatural powers. Apart from the aforementioned cultural and religious practices, there is a cult of worshipping snakes, tigers, trees and other entities among the forest natives. This proves the antiquity of the region and provides evidence of the pre- Aryan cultural trait.