The Sarsagun Maiden

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

There was once a Sarsagun girl who was going to be married; and a large party of her girl friends went to the jungle to pick leaves for the wedding. The Sarsagun girl persisted in going with them as usual though they begged her not to do so. As they picked the leaves they sang songs and choruses; so they worked and sang till they came to a tree covered with beautiful flowers; they all longed to adorn their hair with the flowers but the difficulty was that they had no comb or looking glass; at last one girl said that a bonga Kora lived close by who could supply them; thereupon there was a great dispute as to who should go to the bonga Kora and ask for a mirror and comb; each wanted the other to go; and in the end they made the Sarsagun girl go. She went to the bonga Kora and called “Bonga Kora give a me mirror and comb that we may adorn our hair with Mirjin flowers.” The Bonga Kora pointed them out to her lying on a shelf and she took them away.

Then they had a gay time adorning their hair; but when they had finished not one of the girls would consent to take back the mirror and comb. The Sarsagun maiden urged that as she had brought them it was only fair that someone else should take them back; but they would not listen, so in the end she had to take them. The Bonga Kora pointed to a shelf for her to place them on but when she went to do so and was well inside his house he closed the door and shut her in. Her companions waited for her return till they were tired and then went home and told her mother what had happened. Then her father and brother went in search of her and coming to the Bonga Kora’s home they sang:

“Daughter, you combed yourself with a one row comb

Daughter, you put mirjin flowers in your hair

Daughter, come hither to us.”

But she only answered from within—

“He has shut me in with a stone, father

He has closed the door upon me, father

Do you and my mother go home again.”

Then her eldest brother came and sang the same song and received the same answer; her mothers’s brother and father’s sister then came and sang, also in vain; so they all went home.

Just then the intended bridegroom with his party arrived at the village and were welcomed with refreshments and invited to camp under a tree; but while the bridegroom’s party were taking their ease, the bride’s relations were in a great to-do because the bride was missing; and when the matchmaker came and asked them to get the marriage ceremony over at once that the bridegroom might return, they had to take him into the house and tell him what had happened. The matchmaker went and told the bridegroom, who at once called his men to him and mounted his horse and rode off in a rage. Now it happened that the drummers attached to the procession had stopped just in front of the home of the Bonga Kora and were drumming away there; so when the bridegroom rode up to them his horse passed over the door of the Bonga Kora’s home and stamped on it so hard that it flew open; standing just inside was the Sarsagun girl; at once the bridegroom pulled her out, placed her on his horse and rode off with her to his home.

(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.)