Marriage with Bongas

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

There have been many cases of Santals marrying bonga girls. Not of course with formal marriage ceremonies but the marriage which results from merely living together.

In Darbar village near Silingi there are two men who married bonga. One of them was very fond of playing on the flute and his playing attracted a bonga girl who came to him looking like a human girl, while he was tending buffaloes. After the intimacy had lasted some time she invited him to visit her parents, so he went with her and she presented him to her father and mother as her husband. But he was very frightened at what he saw; for the seats in the house were great coiled up snakes and on one side a number of tigers and leopards were crouching. Directly he could get a word alone with his wife he begged her to come away but she insisted on his staying to dinner; so they had a meal of dried rice and curds and gur and afterwards he smoked a pipe with his bonga father-in-law and then he set off home with his bonga wife. They were given a quantity of dried rice and cakes to take with them when they left.

After seeing him home his wife left him; so he thought that he would share the provisions which he had brought with a friend of his; he fetched his friend but when they came to open the bundle in which the rice and cakes had been tied, they found nothing but meral leaves and cow dung cakes such as are used for fuel. This friend saw that the food must have been given by bongas and it was through the friend that the story became known.

In spite of this the young man never gave up his bonga wife until his family married him properly. She used to visit his house secretly, but would never eat food there; and during his connection with her all his affairs prospered, his flocks and herds increased and he became rich, but after he married he saw the bonga girl no more.

The adventures of the other young man of the same village were much the same. He made the acquaintance of a bonga girl thinking that she was some girl of the village, but she really inhabited a spring, on the margin of which grew many ahar flowers. One day she asked him to pick her some of the ahar flowers and while he was doing so she cast some sort of spell upon him and spirited him away into the pool. Under the water he found dry land and many habitations; they went on till they came to the bonga girl’s house and there he too saw the snake seats and tigers and leopards.

He was hospitably entertained and stayed there about six months; one of his wife’s brothers was assigned to him as his particular companion and they used to go out hunting together. They used tigers for hunting-dogs and their prey was men and women, whom the tigers killed, while the bonga took their flesh home and cooked it. One day when they were hunting the bonga pointed out to the young man a wood cutter in the jungle and told him to set the tiger on to “yonder peacock”; but he could not bring himself to commit murder; so he first shouted to attract the wood cutter’s attention and then let the tiger loose; the wood cutter saw the animal coming and killed it with his axe as it sprang upon him.

His bonga father-in-law was so angry with him for having caused the death of the tiger, that he made his daughter take her husband back to the upper world again.

In spite of all he had seen the young man did not give up his bonga wife and every two or three months she used to spirit him away under the water: and now that man is a jān guru.

(Bongas, i.e. the spirits which the Santals believe to exist everywhere, and to take an active part in human affairs. Bongas frequently assume the form of young men and women and form connections with human beings of the opposite sex.)