Thakurmar Jhuli: Banglar Rupkatha
[Grandmother's Bag: The Fairy Tales of Bengal]
Thakurmar Jhuli

Title: Thakurmar Jhuli: Banglar Rupkatha [Grandmother’s Bag: The Fairy Tales of Bengal]

Author: Compiled by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar

Publisher: Gajendra Mitra,Mitra and Ghosh, 10, Shyamacharan Dey Street, Calcutta. [First edition published by Bhattacharya and Sons, 65, College Street, Calcutta.]

Printer: Printed by Shashadhar Chakraborty, Kalika Press Ltd., 25, D.L.Ray Street, Calcutta. [First edition printed by Bipin Vihari Nath, 27-29, Pataldanga Street, Calcutta.]

Date & edition: First published 1907. Featured pages are from the sixteenth edition marking the golden jubilee of the publication in 1952.

Price: Re 4 [Second edition, 1909, price: Re 1 by the Bengal Library Catalogue]

About the book:
Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar – the compiler of Matrigranthabali - a series of four volumes published as authentic folklore collections (Thakurmar Jhuli, Thakurdadar Jhuli, Thandidir Thale, Dadadmashaier Thale) did his folkloric fieldwork in and around Mymensingh for twelve long years during which he amassed a colossal collection of oral narratives from peasants, boatmen, itinerant travellers and elderly village folk. The sustained nature of his work, his patient categorization of the various forms of oral folk culture into rupkatha, geetkatha, raskatha and bratakatha, as well as his use of a certain model of the phonograph to record the rustic dialects verbatim, speak of his serious and studied interest in the matter. Dineshchandra Sen, the zealous folklorist was significantly operative in publishing Thakurmar Jhuli, not only for his ardent enthusiasm regarding the collection, but also as he introduced the young Dakshinaranjan to Bhattacharya and Sons – publishers of considerable repute in the contemporary book market.

Digging out the ‘lost’ treasures of the past and by carefully replicating them verbatim in print, Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar’s Thakurmar Jhuli claimed to bring back the authentic folk tales for modern Bengali children as well as for their mothers. The book is arranged in four sections – “Dudher Sagar”, “Rup-Tarashi” “Chyang Byang” and “Aam-Sandesh” which contain in all fourteen tales and a lullaby, these again are prefaced with one and  followed by two rhymes. Though mainly prose narratives, the tales are interspersed with rhymed couplets, colloquial verses and snippets of folk songs. At the beginning, a chhara [rhymed verse, usually of oral origin] introduces the wonder-world of marchens that the volume promises to unravel:  magical stories of prince and princesses in enchanted spells, terrifying monsters who can smell human blood from afar, the newly-wed bride, the cooking pot, the drum and howls of the wise fox, and queens who have sinned “to bear thorns in their feet and thorns on their heads” have all returned across a sea of oblivion in this delightful bag of tales called Thakurmar Jhuli. Following the age-old story telling practice for ending a tale, the book marks its closure with the customary rhyme: Thus my story endeth/The Natiya-thorn withereth. As Lal Behari Day had noted earlier (in 1883) in his introduction to The Folk Tales of Bengal, every orthodox Bengali story teller would end a story by reciting this nonsensical rhyme. In this and in the many dialectic inflections of its language, syntax and vocabulary, the anthology registers an anxiety to preserve the ‘colloquial voice’ of the oral story-tellers in print.

Undoubtedly the most acclaimed among all anthologies of Bengali fairy tales, Rabindranath Tagore’s prefatory essay (written 20th of Bhadra BS 1314) had succinctly summed up its significance. His elaborate introduction projected the volume not simply as an archive of national treasures that were fast fading into oblivion but most importantly, as a cardinal architect of a an indigenous cultural identity crucial for overwriting the English influence: “In our country, could there indeed be anything quite as swadeshi as this Thakurmar Jhuli? But alas! Nowadays even this wonderful bag was being sent to us manufactured from the factories in Manchester. These days, the English ‘Fairy Tales’ are increasingly taking over as the only refuge of our children. Our very own indigenous Grandmother & Co. is rendered utterly bankrupt”.
Around the time of the book’s publication, the term ‘swadeshi’ was the watchword in Indian nationalist politics and in Bengal it was especially charged with a nascent and fiery patriotism following the popular anti-partition agitations of 1905.Thakurmar Jhuli was variously proclaimed as marking “an epoch in Bengali literature”, as “the public book”, as “Bengal’s eternal flute”, as “a people’s identity” and as “a Nation’s attractions” by eminent nationalists and esteemed intellectuals like Surendranath Banerjee, Aurobindo Ghosh, Chittaranjan Das, Rabindranath Tagore and Rameshchandra Dutt to name a few. Apart form such magnificent endorsements, in the coming decades the fairy-tale anthology was widely advertised as “our nation’s wealth”, as “the golden book of golden Bengal”, and as “the dream-castle of Bengali literature”. Mitra Majumdar was exalted as ‘the Grimm of Bengal’ and “his wonderful volumes” were seen as “the Bengalees’ Books” and hailed with the fervent nationalist slogan “the Bande Mataram”.

Illustrations: Besides its native fairy tales, the ‘swadeshiness’ of Thakurmar Jhuli, was also reflected in and complimented by the unmatched illustrations of the book. Done by Mitra Majumdar himself, the drawings were transferred to wood blocks by skilled engravers like Priyogopal Das, Aurobinda Das, Kunjabehari Pal and Hemchandra Bandyopadhyay. The accompanying visuals to “Neelkamal ar Lalkamal”, “Sonar Kati Rupar Kati”, “Chyang Byang” or the coloured frontispiece flaunt an inimitable Bengaliness and have become, like the tales, part of an immortal heritage.

The entire volume was elaborately decked with a profusion of floral motifs like lotus petals or conch shells and used intricate lunettes of mayurpankhi [the peacock-headed boat] or elephants as headpieces. These were drawn from and strongly reminiscent of traditional alipana patterns: an art profoundly and fundamentally Bengali. At a time when book illustration and design was a predominantly West-influenced domain, Thakurmar Jhuli exuded an indigenous quality in its very appearance and captured the essence of a Bengali domesticity in its diction as well as in its design.

Note: A copy of the first edition of the book is preserved at the British Library. One of the rare Bengali books to have largely retained its original appearance, illustration and designs through successive editions, the book is now well beyond its diamond jubilee year.

Pages: 276 + 1 [Second edition, 1909, pages: 264]

Genre: Fairy and Folk Tale.

Source: The National Library, Kolkata

Shelfmark: 182.Oc.952.42

Pages featured:
1. Title Page
2. Introduction by Rabindranath Tagore
3. Frontispiece
4. Concluding verse, page 274

References consulted for this entry
Bengal Library Catalogue (published in the Calcutta Gazette July-December1909)

Introduction, Dakshinaranjan Rachanasamagra.
Day, Lal Behari. Preface, Folk Tales of Bengal.
Majumdar, Kamalkumar. “Bangla Granthachitran”, Ekshan.

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