Monday, February 18, 2013

Peoples of Sundarban....

       Sundarban, the largest mangrove forest in the world is situated on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of BengalThe Sundarban become famous around the world as the habitat of majestic Royal Bengal Tigers. The name Sundarban  literally translated as "Beautiful forest" in Bengali derive its name from the Sundari trees (Heritiera littoralis) that are found in a large scale in the Sunderbans. The beauty, majesty, and timelessness of Sundarban are indescribable. Its swampy habitat of varying salinity, mangrove composition, large predators on land and in water and hundreds of other flora and fauna and disparate vegetation have made this diversity rare in the world. 

     The total area of the Sundarbans reserved forest including the West Bengal portion, comprises of 10,000 sq. km, of which Bangladesh portion is approximately 6000  Interposed between the sea and the plains of innumerable rivers, canals and creeks, Sundarban is inundated twice a day by sea water. The only means of communication between the islands of Sundarban is through the waterways. Besides the spectacular Royal Bengal Tiger, the other notable mammalian faunas are Spotted deer, Barking deer, Rhesus macaque, Jungle cat, Leopard cat, the Indian porcupine, Otter, wild boar and crocodile. The forest treasures 330 plant species, 35 species of reptiles, 400 types of fishes, 270 species of birds and 42 species of mammals. 

Sundarban plays an important role in the national economy of Bangladesh. It is the single largest source of forest produce in the country that produce timber, fuel wood, pulpwood along with large scale harvest of thatching materials,wooden articles, medicinal plants and other aquatic resources. The forest is also a major source of honey and bee wax.The forest also provides natural protection to life and properties of the coastal population in cyclone prone Bangladesh. 

There are more than three million peoples are directly or indirectly dependable on the forest for their livelihood. Though not a very good place to live in, only a few people live permanently in or around the Sundarbans. Their dwellings are usually at the edge of the forest and the houses are built on platforms supported on 3-5 meters high poles of wood or bamboo. Gathering wild honey in the wildness of the Sundarbans is the oldest professions practiced by the dwellers of the area for three to four months during the flowering season and still practiced in the traditional ways. These professional Honey hunters are locally called Mouals. There are also other community of peoples there, such as the 'Baolis' (timber, fuelwood, and thatching materials collectors), the 'Jalias' ( fishermen), and 'Jongrakhuta' ( gastropod collectors). Some people who lives in villages adjoining forests are also dependable on agriculture.

The dwellers of Sundarban gradually developed a culture of their own, having an isolated life from the main stream. They are deprived of almost every facilities of modern civilization. For survival these people have to fight with the man eating tigers and natural calamities day in and day out. To fight and overcome the natural hazards these people are very dependent on the strength of religious beliefs and supernatural powers. Hindus and Muslims worship the same gods irrespective of their religious beliefs .The cult of worshiping trees, snakes, tigers and other animals proves their antiquity and pre- Aryan cultural trait .The overall Goddess of the forest is 'Bonobibi' who is worshipped in almost every village as the protector of the inhabitants of the forests. The other major god is ‘Dakshin Rai' who is worshiped as the God of tiger and all those who enter the forests for subsistence. The other major god and goddess of Sunderban are Manasa, Olabibi, Manik Pir, Gazi Saheb and Sa Janguli.

  There are a number of references to the Sundarbans in Ramayana, Mahabhatrata and Puranas. In Medival texts repeatedly called the place low tidal lands or Bhatti. There were a lot of settlements around the Bhatti area during the medival era and many presently uninhabited parts of the forest were actually cultivated at Middle ages.   The Chinese traveler Hiuen- Tsang also wrote about the Sundarban who visited India in seventh century AD. It appears that at some point in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries many areas of the land were left abandoned and overrun with forest and jungle owing to some natural disorders, such as insufficient fresh water inflow and an increase of salt water, making the land unsuitable for cultivation. Moreover the Incursions by Portuguese and Burmese pirates played a significant role in depopulation of the region. The Sundarban remained enmeshed in disorder for the next three hundred years until nineteenth century. It is only in 1987 when it has been proclaimed as a world heritage site by the UNESCO. 

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