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Speaking the Same Language: The Bengali Muslims and Hindus Who Venerate Bonbibi of the Sundarbans
March 4, 2010 @ 4:30 pm - 6:00 pm
Lecture by Professor Sufia M. Uddin, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Connecticut College.
Muslims and Hindus who live in West Bengal and Bangladesh, on the edge of the Sundarbans, rely upon the bounty of this forest for their livelihood. Men venture into the forest to fish, collect wood, honey, and wax. With each trip into the forest, the men and women wonder if the men will return. The Bengal tiger, also residing in the forest, is the most aggressive hunter of humans in the world and so it is to Bonbibi that these men and women pray in hopes that Bonbibi will bring the men home safely. Venerators of Bonbibi say she was the daughter of a Meccan man named Ibrahim. She was born in the forest and after visiting the grave of the Prophet Muhammad was commanded by Allah to return to the forest to provide protection to the people. Before venturing into the forest, men and women pray seeking protection from Bonbibi. This paper will explore the spaces of convergence of religious life in the mangrove forest. Each community attempts to create meaning and function that is in line with their own worldview (Hindu and Islamic) and their common natural environment of the mangrove forest. In Hindu villages there are shrines dedicated to Bonbibi. Hindus create elaborate images of Bonbibi in village shrines and both Muslims and Hindus bestow gifts on her. Muslims also visit these shrines at the annual festival. Both Muslims and Hindus ritually recite the Jaharnama, the epic poem of Bonbibi forever memorialized in print by Muhammad Khater in the 1800s. The Muslims and Hindus share ritual specialists known as fakirs and gunins who keep men safe in the forest with their Arabic mantras associated with Bonbibi. This paper challenges longstanding theories of religious difference that do not reflect the transcending nature of regional culture.
During her visit, Prof. Uddin will also be conducting a Faculty and Graduate Seminar on the subject of “Marking the Presence of the Bonbibi.” This will be held in 117 Anderson Hall at 1:45 pm on March 4.
Professor Sufia Uddin is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Connecticut College. Her research interests focus on constructions of Bengali-Muslim religious community from the colonial to the contemporary period and examines the many Bengali expressions of Islam. Her research also covers shared sacred space and religious elements common to both Bengali Hindus and Muslims. Professor Uddin’s book, Constructing Bangladesh: Religion, Ethnicity, and Language in an Islamic Nation, was published by UNC Press in 2006. In 2005-2006, Professor Uddin was a Fulbright Scholar conducting research in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India. Her current research project takes her frequently to the remote mangrove forests of Bangladesh and West Bengal, India known as the Sundarbans, where she studies Muslim and Hindu veneration of Bonbibi.
Sponsored by the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere with support from the Jerome A. Yavitz Fund, the Department of Religion, the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions (ChiTra), and the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research.
This event is free and open to the public.