ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Behula Never Can Be a Widow

The legend of Behula relates the pre-partition migration of people and their cultural cohesion through West Bengal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.

Behula, a character from the Manasamangal Kāvya of medieval Bengali literature, challenged the conflict of egos between her father-in-law Chandsadagar and goddess Manasa, which resulted in the killing of her husband on their first night together. Manasa, the snake-goddess, teaches Chandsadagar, a wealthy trader and a follower of Shiva, a lesson for refusing to worship her. In order to prove that her husband was killed as a result of a conflict between the goddess Manasa’s ego and the merchant Chandsadagar, she went all the way to the court of Indra in heaven.

Behula is a popular legend among Muslims in Bangladesh and other regions of West Bengal, as well as in oral and performance storytelling. When I visited Birbhum district in West Bengal to archive tales from Dalit communities there, I came across a family performing Behula tales under the name Laila–Majnu, a popular romantic legend among Bengali Muslims. The family had learnt the tales from a Muslim performer who was selling tiny books with such songs at a village fair—a result, no doubt, of the syncretic Hindu–Muslim tradition across South Asia.

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