The Sundarbans turn out to be a region of immense possibilities. It is true that all forests share a kind of mystery that even human curiosity sometimes feels best left alone. The difference with the Sundarbans is that it leaves no choice for human beings. Dark and bright at the same time, this mangrove forest stretches across the delta of the mighty Ganges in West Bengal, India and Bangladesh. Being the land of the tides, this region is rich in agricultural prospects but ironically difficult for human habitation. But nevertheless, the survival instinct of difficulties is so strong that here there has been a fusion of borders.
The Royal Bengal Tigers from this region are believed to be the fiercest and most intelligent among the siblings, though they are comparatively smaller in size. Adapting over the centuries to the climatic challenges of the Sundarbans, they have mastered all the arts of the trade. Shredding all euphemisms, the simple fact is that Sundarban tigers are man-eaters out of necessity. And it is again the need that drives people to invade the wild territory.
The legend Bon Bibi (lady of the forest) uses the power of folklore to establish a connection between humans and the world of nature and is also a relevant commentary on the need to curb greed. The story serves as a melting pot of different cultures, but it is not widely known outside of the Sundarbans. Local theater troupes, or ‘jatra-dol’-s, as they are called in Bengali, travel from village to village enacting the story throughout the year and especially during Bon Bibi worship.
Although all the worship rituals are Hindu in form, they always begin with the Muslim invocation ‘Bismillah’. Furthermore, Bon Bibi and his brother Shah Jongoli (Jongol means ‘forest’ in Bengali) have no origins in Bengal, not even in Hindu mythology. They are born to the Sufi faqir Ibrahim in the Arab city of Medina, the holiest of cities in Islam. Archangel Gabriel put them on a divine mission to make the tidal land fit for human habitation. Bon Bibi, however, is always found dressed as a typical rural Bengal housewife. This small discrepancy is perhaps due to the fact that a large population in this area are Dalit Muslims. Then a connection is immediately established that transcends the cult of Bon Bibi over religious barriers to a traditional plane.
Until the arrival of the Goddess, the jungles are ruled by the demon king Dokhin Rai, who is always hungry for human flesh. Bon Bibi gets the better of him and a truce is finally reached as the boundaries are strictly defined within the jungle. The human settlement became the territory of Bon Bibi and Dokhin Rai, who in most cases appeared in the guise of a tiger, withdrew to rule the desert. This balance is disrupted when a greedy fleet owner named Dhona crosses into Dokhin Rai’s territory in search of forest treasures. The demon manages to trap the human troop in the forest. In order to be released, Dhona agrees to hand over a poor boy named Dukhey, who was the last to join his troop, as a ransom for the demon king.
Therefore, Dhona departs with his fleet managing to outrun Dukhey to be devoured by Dokhin Rai. Just as the Devil was about to pounce on the poor boy in tiger costume, Dukhey remembers his mother’s advice to call on Bon Bibi in times of need and appeals to the deity to deliver him from his ordeal. . Bon Bibi appears like in an instant and leads the demon into the forest after giving it a lesson to remember. Later, he restored Dukhey to health and sent him back to his mother.
The legend, therefore, returns Nature to its normal course, restoring order and balance. On another level, it’s a faith-restoring story. In the Sundarbans, to date, no native will venture into the jungle without seeking the blessings of Bon Bibi. The presence of the tiger, also known as Dokhin Rai, is so palpable that the word “tiger” itself is taboo among the forest people. The fear is such that should a man be killed by the tiger, it is generally accepted, without doubt, that he himself was to blame for his greed taking over his better senses.