Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales known as rupkatha in Bangla, are imaginative stories for educating children through entertainment. Unlike European and Middle-Eastern fairy tales, Bangla rupkatha usually do not have fairies. Many fairy tales belong to folk literature and are passed on orally. As they tend to get changed in the process of retelling, some of these tales are often found in different versions. There is also a similarity between fairy tales across cultures, though cultural differences affect the narrative. For instance, in many Bangla tales the wicked stepmother of European fairy tales is replaced by the jealous co-wife.

Perhaps the first collector of Bangla fairy tales was lalbehari dey (1824-1894), who published his English translations of these tales as Folk-Tales of Bengal (1875). Dey was followed by dakshinaranjan mitra majumder (1877-1957), whose Thakurmar Jhuli (Grandmother's bag, 1907) and Thakurdadar Jhuli (Grandfather's bag, 1909) have formed the staple for Bengali children for almost a century. Other fairy tales are literary. The first creator of literary fairy tales in Bangla was upendra kishore roychowdhury (1863-1915). Later writers of fairy tales include Ashraf Siddiqui (b 1927). These fairy tales too narrate accounts of fantastic deeds that take place in an imaginary world.

Many Bangla fairy tales originate in the Pavchatantra or the jataka. Many have also been derived from Arabian and Persian tales. However, in Bangla fairy tales, the fairies of Middle-Eastern tales are replaced by gods and goddesses. Common characters of Bangla fairy tales include demons and ogres, ascetics and witches, kings and queens, princes and princesses, sons of ministers and constables. Miracles and magic abound: the seven childless wives of a king give birth simultaneously after eating a magic root given by an ascetic, animals foretell the future or produce gold coins, princes disguise themselves as birds or animals to perform heroic deeds, etc. In 'Kajal Rekha', the closed door of a temple opens at the touch of Kajal Rekha's hand; in 'Buddhu Bhutum', queens give birth to an owl and a monkey.

Despite the unbelievable and impossible events that take place in fairy tales, their underlying theme of virtue rewarded and evil punished gives them a universal appeal. [Shahida Khatun]

Bibliography M Stokes, Indian Fairy Tales, Calcutta, 1879; Ashraf Siddiqui, Tales from Bangladesh: Collected by a Britisher, Dhaka, 1976; F Bradley-Birt, Bengal Fairy Tales, London, 1920.

See also folk tales.