Baijal and the Bonga

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

Once upon a time there was a young man named Baijal and he was very skilful at playing on the bamboo flute. He played so sweetly that a bonga girl who heard him fell deeply in love with him and one day when Baijal was alone in the jungle she took the form of a pretty girl and pretended that she had come to the jungle to gather leaves. The two met and acquaintance soon became love and the two used to meet each other every day in the jungle. One day the bonga girl asked Baijal to come home with her; so they went to a pool of water and waded into it but when the water had risen to the calf of his leg Baijal suddenly found himself on a broad dry road which led to his mistress’s house. When they reached it the bonga girl introduced Baijal to her father and brothers as her husband and told him not to be afraid of anything he saw; but he could not help feeling frightened, for the stools on which they sat were coiled-up snakes and the house dogs were tigers and leopards.

After he had been there three of four day his brothers-in-law one morning asked him to come out hunting pea fowl. He readily agreed and they all set out together. The Bongas asked Baijal to lead the dog but as the dog was a tiger he begged to be excused until they reached the jungle. So they hunted through the hills and valleys until they came to a clearing in which there was a man chopping up a tree. Then the bongas called to Baijal “There is a peacock feeding; take the dog; throw a stick and knock the bird over and then loose the dog at it.” Baijal pretended not to understand and said that he could see no peacock; then they told him plainly that the man chopping the log was their game. Then he saw that he was meant to kill the man and not only so, but that he would have to eat the flesh afterwards. However he was afraid to refuse, so he took the tiger in the leash and went towards the clearing but instead of first throwing his stick at the man he merely let the tiger loose and cheered it on. The wood cutter heard the shout and looking round saw the tiger; grasping his axe he ran to meet it and as the animal sprang on him he smote it on the head and killed it. Then Baijal went back and told his brothers-in-law that the peacock had pecked their hound to death. They were very angry with him for not throwing his stick first but he explained that he thought that such a big dog as theirs would not need any help.

Two or three days later Baijal told his bonga wife to come home with him, so they set off with a bundle of provisions for the journey. When they had passed out through the pool Baijal opened the bundle to have something to eat but found that the bread had turned into cowdung fuel cakes; and the parched rice into meral leaves; so he threw them all away. However he would not give up the bonga girl and they used to meet daily and in the course of time two children were born to them. Whenever there was a dance in the village the bonga girl used to come to it. She would leave the two children on Baijal’s bed and spend the whole night dancing with the other women of the village.

The time came when Baijal’s parents arranged for his marriage, for they knew nothing of his bonga wife; and before the marriage the bonga made him promise that if he had a daughter he would name the child after her. Even when he was married he did not give up his bonga wife and used to meet her as before. One night she came with her children to a dance and after dancing some time said that she was tired and would go away; Baijal urged her not to go but to come with her children and live in his house along with his other wife. She would not agree and he tried to force her and shut the door of the house; but she and her children rose to the roof in a flash of light and disappeared over the top of the house wall and passed away from the village in a flame of fire. At this Baijal was so frightened that from that time he gave her up and never went near her again.

By and bye his wife bore him a daughter but they did not name the child after the bonga and the consequence was that it soon pined away and died. Two or three more were born but they also all died young because he had not named them after the bonga. At last he did give a daughter the right name and from that time his children lived.

(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.)