Monday, December 14, 2020

Tales like shining jewels (Following folktales around the world 181. - Bangladesh)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Folk tales of Bangladesh
Roy Choudhury & Pranab Chandra
Sterling, 1982.

The book contains 16 folktales. The short introduction talks about the history, culture, and storytelling traditions of Bangladesh; there is also some advance information about the individual stories. The tales are accompanied by black-and-white illustrations, and in some cases short introductions about the traditional storytelling performances, and their connections to Bangladeshi cultural history. 


According to the translator, the story of Malanchamala is the crown jewel of Bangladeshi folktales, and I am inclined to agree. It is a rich and beautiful story about a brave girl who takes care of a husband who was married to her at the age of 7 days, to circumvent a curse. She is helped through hardships by a tiger family (who don't care for human social norms at all) and a flying horse that sometimes eats people. It is a fascinating tale, collected from a woman who was more than 100 years old at the time. 
I also enjoyed the story of Behula, another faithful young woman - especially because of the involvement of the gods. A minor snake deity, Mansa Devi, wanted to enter the pantheon of the gods, but she could only do so if a rich merchant worshiped her. When he refused, she killed his son with a snake bite in revenge. The son's wife boarded the funeral ship of her husband, and went through a long series of adventures, until the gods began to worry that she would become a greater goddess whens he died. Instead, they asked Mansa Devi to revive the husband - and they accepted her into the pantheon in exchange. Win-win. 
The story of Chandravati was a spiritual love ballad about a girl who fell in love with a man - only for it to turn out on their wedding day that he was already married outside his caste. After that, since she could not be engaged a second time, she turned to devotion to Shiva, and started working on writing a Bengali Ramayana. She worked diligently on her poetry, even with her former lover crying under her window. I looked it up: Chandravati's 16th century "woman's Ramayana" does exist, and it tells the story from Sita's point of view. 
In the legend of Ferozkhan and Sakina a prince and princess from two enemy kingdoms eloped together. When the wife's father started a war over this, they defended their kingdom, and when the husband was captured, the wife took up arms and fought until she was killed by trickery.  
I really appreciated the story of The king and the sparrow, where a vain king could not handle the harmless jokes of a tiny bird, and he resorted to increasingly drastic measures to shut the sparrow up - every time embarrassing himself even more. 


Because of their shared history, I once again encountered Mahua's tragic love story, after having read it from Pakistan. There were also some classic Panchatantra stories, such as "who is stronger" where a hermit marries his (mouse) daughter to a mouse, or the hermit's dog that he turns into increasingly stronger animals until it tries to eat him. 
There was once again a "top of the crop, bottom of the crop" trickster tale, with a clever and a naive old lady (the latter eventually got help for righting things) - as well as a whole chapter of well-known dilemma tales, such as the wooden doll, ferrying goat and cabbage across a river, or the four legs-two legs-three legs riddle known from Greek mythology.

Where to next?

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