Story of Goddess Manasa

Representation of indigenous Goddess in folklore and rituals of West Bengal - a story of two women, a Goddess and a Commoner.

By Banglanatak

The concept of 'Shakti' (Power) was always assigned to Goddesses, especially in the pre-Aryan times which had a strong matriarchal culture. Even with the construction of male dominated society of the Aryans, worshipping Goddesses as various manifestations of 'Shakti' - be it for creation or destruction, continued. Hindu mythology contains powerful Goddess traditions in Bengal, especially in village cultures. Manasa (Goddesses of snakes or Serpentine Goddess) is regarded as one of the most powerful and revered of the non-Aryan deities.

Chouko Pat on Popular Folklore of Manasa Mangal (2018) by Swarna ChitrakarBanglanatak

Manasa is an enduring Goddess, worshipped mainly for protection against the perils of snakebite. Bengal abounding in bogs and marshes provide a natural habitat for snakes. Different village cultures have their local rituals and practices centering Manasa.

Patachitra on Manasa (2018) by Mantu ChitrakarBanglanatak

Manasa Mangal Kavya beautifully depicts the story of two women- a Goddess and a commoner, both strong and determined.   

Patachitra on Popular Folklore of Manasa Mangal (2019) by Swarna ChitrakarBanglanatak

The story of Manasamangal Kāvya in Patachitra

The story of Manasa Mangal begins with conflict between a merchant Chand Saudagar refusing to worship Goddess Manasa. The story ends with Chand Saudagar becoming an ardent devotee of Manasa. 

Patachitra on Popular Folklore of Manasa Mangal (2019) by Swarna ChitrakarBanglanatak

Chand Saudagar was a worshipper of Shiva, but Manasa wanted Chand to worship her. Chand, representing patriarchal power refused to even recognize her as a deity. Manasa took revenge upon Chand by destroying seven of his ships at sea and killing his seven sons!

Patachitra on Popular Folklore of Manasa Mangal (2019)Banglanatak

Finally, Behula, the newly-wed wife of Chand's youngest son Lakhindar, makes the goddess bow to her love for her husband, by sailing with her dead husband on a river-raft towards heaven, successfully, overcoming the long and difficult journey.

Patachitra on Popular Folklore of Manasa Mangal (2019)Banglanatak

Behula, through her strength of character, courage and deep devotion could bring her husband and six other sons of Chand back to life, promising to Manasa that Chand will become her worshipper. 

Patachitra on Popular Folklore of Manasa Mangal (2019)Banglanatak

There are several debates about Manasa and Behula as icons of woman power. Manasa however is studied as an assertive and independent Goddess who brings destruction and death. Alongside, Behula represents the ideal womanhood in a patriarchal setting. 

Patachitra on Popular Folklore of Manasa Mangal (2019) by Swarna ChitrakarBanglanatak

In spite of such underlying theories, Manasa and Behula, both are icons of feminine power and strength celebrated across Bengal. Manasa's victory over Chand is also considered as the victory of the indigenous or non-Aryan deity over the Aryan god.

Patachitra on Popular Folklore of Manasa Mangal (2019) by Swarna ChitrakarBanglanatak

Interestingly, the story of Manasa is depicted centring the river, as is shown in this frame.

Song narrating story of Manasa Mangal in Patachitra

Colourful Ritualistic Shola Product-Boa (2019) by Artists from Dakshin DinajpurBanglanatak

Manasa in other Crafts and Traditions of Bengal

Manasa, integral to the cultural fabric of rural Bengal is manifested through its various local crafts and art forms.

Figurine of Mashan (2019) by Shovarani DasBanglanatak

Here Manasa is carved on Shola (a unique natural fibre craft of Bengal) creating a figurine of the Goddess and hooded snakes!

Ritualistic Product - Manasa Chali/Monjush (2019) by Artists from Dakshin DinajpurBanglanatak

The communities also make different ritualistic products of Sholacraft and paint them with images from Manasa folktale.

Colourful Ritualistic Product - Boa (2019) by Artists from Dakshin DinajpurBanglanatak

The monsoon season brings the festival of Manasa worship. During immersion of the goddess, Boas or cuboids made of Sholacraft are either floated on water on a banana leaf boat or hung from bamboo frames over the water. 

Colourful Ritualistic Shola Product-Boa (2019) by Artists from Dakshin DinajpurBanglanatak

The belief goes that this ritual saves the villagers from snake bites because the floating or the hanging Boa stands as a testimony of Manasa (the goddess of snakes) worship.

Terracotta Idol of Goddess Manasa (2018) by Artist from BankuraBanglanatak

Terracotta craft of Panchmura in Bankura district typically features Manasa as a small clay figure with rows of snake hoods fanning out in a half moon shape. This halo of snakes is called “Manasar Chali” meaning Manasa's shelter.

A Village Ritual (2018) by Artist from BankuraBanglanatak

A village scene of Manasa ritual.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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