“There’s Too Many of ‘Em”: Dr. Shabbir Mian’s ‘Folktales from Bangladesh’ | April 21, 2012

Having read “Blue Lotus and Red Lotus” previous to listening to Dr. Mian’s presentation, I predicted that we would be discussing the similarities between Bengali fairytales and traditional European fairytales. For example, the story shares many archetypes on common with Grimm tales: burying the gold and iron balls underneath the bamboo tree is analogous to a sister burying her brother’s bones beneath a juniper tree in the Grimm’s Juniper Tree. Both situations use the tree as a source of rebirth, because the two young boys pop out of eggs within the stalks as two princes, as the boy becomes reborn as a phoenix. Both stories then cary on the plot so that the reborn individuals can address their initial cause of death: the evil mother figure. The lotuses kill the Rakkhashi, and the phoenix drops a stone on his stepmother. This plot twist also intimates another obvious archetype beign shared: the evil stepmother. These shared themes make me believe more in poly-genesis, where stories contain similar themes because they share the same underlying morals or lessons common to the collective unconscious of all humanity.

However, we did not really go over any of this in extravagant detail; instead, I learned about his unique concept of fairytales and how differently Bengali fairytales are formulated than traditional European fairytales. For example, many Bengali fairytales come from the Sanksrit “Panchatantra” collection of fables from ~550 AD. And these fairytales, collectively called Rupkothas, do not ever really contain “fairies.” A more tangible difference is that the common theme of Bengali fairytales is that virtue is rewarded and evil is punished; that is, an individual who starts out evil in a story will succumb to the good that other characters represent, and there is no redemption or lesson-learning from within the tales. Rather, that is up for the readers, or more appropriately listeners, to discern for themselves. There are similarities, as well, between the different cultures of fairytales. For example, Rupkothas have a large emphasis on talking animals, and that theme is also abundant in European fairytales. There are demons and monsters and witches, characters we always see in Grimm tales and the like.

So, I suppose that by understanding that these fairytales are unique in that they do have a Bengali cultural base and come specifically from old Sanskrit texts rather than being ripped from verbal tales during trade (as was the case in many European fairytales), that they can also be similar since, overall, people must share a collective unconscious (or common sense, if you will).

Look at that! Brown people!


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