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Folk-Tales of
Bengal

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This page was last updated: March 26, 2003


The contents of this section are actually from a compilation from the late nineteenth century (the book I am using is a recent reprint). It contains 22 folk-tales of Bengal -- which was, back then, present Bangladesh and West Bengal state of India joined together. The compilation is made by Rev. Lal Behari Day, a Bengali Christian preacher. He is relatively unknown for his works, firstly because he translated the tales in English, evidently for his English patrons -  a venture not really necessary for Bengali-speaking people! And furthermore, it was the age of Renaissance for Bengali literature, no one would really heed for any English work done in Bengal! Later on, prominent professor of Bengali Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sen and linguist Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah collected folk tales from all over Bengal and made several compilations. Some of the tales are still told by Bengali mothers to their children in the evening-time.

However, the purpose of choosing this particular book is to give non-Bengali-speakers the taste of Folk Tales from Bengal. It is not that there were not other English translations, but as this one was published first in 1883 gives me the feeling that it, having been collected from a completely rural environment, should be less distorted and contain more ancient elements, which might not be found today. Most of the Bengali compilations today, made mainly for children, also seem to be abridged and more distorted, more or less due to urban environment.

Although I would expect everyone to read this for pure pleasure, there are other things to note, too! Folk tales are the most ancient tales of a people, they are transmitted by oral tradition from generation to generation. As a result, we find traces of ancient elements in these. Folk tales from different nations have bases in their national history, forgotten customs, etc. So, they are indeed important from the anthropological point of view -- implying they are not 100% fictitious! For example, tales of Bengal can be connected to tales from as distant a place as Lithuania or Germany. Any Bengali-speaking person is acquainted with the phrase -- 'Hau mau khau / Manusher Gondho Paun', meaning would be something like the Shakespearean phrase 'Fi Fie Fo Fum / I smell the blood of an Englishman.' These are in fact the same expressions. These connections are not the least co-incidental! These common traits have remained in the tales from the times when the ancient human communities, of whom Indo-Europeans are an example, got separated and settled in different places. Many mythological creatures, as well as religious characters, have also been transmitted in this manner.

Okay, that's enough!! Get along and enjoy!!

In addition to the notes given in the book itself, I will add notes of my own where necessary.


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