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Sonarai – Worship of Tiger in Bengal

Sonarai, also written as Sonaraya or Shonarai, is the worship of the tigers in north Bengal. It is mainly performed by cowherd boys in eastern India on Pausha Sankranti day (December – January).

This is a declining ritual, since tigers have ceased to be much of a threat. Earlier, when tigers were a great threat to life of both humans and live stocks, it was considered wise to propitiate the tiger.

A couple of days before the Sonarai ritual, cowherds go from door to door, begging for contributions. They also carry drums and sing songs while going around.

There are numerous Sonarai songs set to particular rural folk tunes.

The householders contribute rice, lentils or money for use in the ritual.

A particular spot is chosen for the worship. The cowherds set up sticks adorned with garlands representing  the tiger god.

The food is cooked with the alms given by the people and offered to the tiger god.

The worship and rituals are usually conducted by teenagers or an by an elderly cowherd.

Even at the beginning of the 20th century, tigers were a menace in north Bengal, and villagers lost their cattle to tigers on daily basis. The loss was heavy during winter. Hence, Sonarai was performed during the winter season (December – January). The festival was scrupulously observed in the days before massive deforestation.

The festival was observed and the tiger god was worshipped in Cooch Behar and Rangpur Districts of undivided Bengal and in Assam’s Goalpara area.

Sonarai songs were also popular in Dhaka, Mymensingh and Pabna regions of Bangladesh.