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Three haunting myths of the Sundarbans

  • Published at 02:08 pm January 20th, 2019
ST - Jan 16, 2019
Photo: Rashad Imam Tanmoy

The largest mangrove forest in the world, with a startling biodiversity that includes none other than the Royal Bengal Tiger... you already know I’m talking about the Sundarbans. But how much do you know about the fantastical stories hidden within the forest itself? With its scores of dense mangrove trees, hidden pathways and winding waterways, it’s only natural that the Sundarbans should be shrouded in mystery. Here are three bone-chilling myths about the Sundarbans.

Dakshin Rai

Widely recognized as the chief deity in association to the Sundarbans, Dakshin Rai is said to be the shape-shifting god who rules over the demons and beasts that prowl the heavily forested wetlands. Various rituals are performed for Dakshin Rai every new moon, during which animals are sacrificed and music played all night long to appease him. If not, he might change into a tiger and come out every night to devour whoever dares to enter the forest. Accordingly, it is customary to first revere Dakshin Rai before entering the forest, so that he doesn’t send any tigers your way. In some tribes, before entering the forest, men don a mask with Dakshin Rai’s face on it to ward off any potential tiger attacks. 

Bon Bibi

With the help of her brother Shah Jongli, Bon Bibi lives in the Sundarban forests and protects her people from the fearful Dakshin Rai, with whom she is eternally at war. It is believed that Bon Bibi and Dakshin Rai will be arch-enemies until the end of time. Wood-cutters and honey-collectors recall her before entering the forest so that they may receive protection from Dakshin Rai’s savage tigers and ghoulish demons. Interestingly, Bon Bibi figures in the religious rituals of both Muslims and Hindus. She appears in Ma Durga-like clothing for her Hindu followers and as a female monk (pirani) for her Muslim followers. 

Begho Bhoot

Recently, the dwindling numbers of the Royal Bengal Tiger is slowly becoming common knowledge. Sadly, you may complete a whole trip through the meandering rivers of the forest without ever encountering one. And yet, you may just hear one growl, perhaps right above your ear…be careful not to turn around, because it’s probably a Begho Bhoot. Deriving from the word baagh (Bengali for “tiger”), the existence of Begho Bhoots is widely accepted by the locals. They are said to be the restless spirits of those who ventured into the forest in search of wood and honey and met their untimely deaths in the jaws of the ferocious Royal Bengal Tiger. They wander the forests in search for more unfortunate humans who they desire to meet the same end as them, and they are equipped with the capability to replicate terrifying tiger sounds.

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