Unlikely Friends in Patriarchal Lands: An Ecofeminist Reading of Rajasthani Folktale “Sonal Bai”


  • Sushmita Pareek University of Hyderabad




Chronotope, Folktale, Ecofeminist


"Sonal Bai" is a popular folktale about a girl told by women in Rajasthani-speaking areas of north India to initiate young girls into adulthood. This paper investigates the metaphorical representation of a girl’s coming of age through her relationship with a Sandalwood tree analysing, "Sonal Bai" as an ecofeminist text. The story renders voice to socially prohibited themes of menstruation and women’s sensual desire as embodied in silent friendship between a sandalwood tree and Sonal (girl with golden hair). The paper highlights how the outwardly simple tale of “Sonal Bai” is in fact an encoded lesson for teenage girls, inverted as a relationship between two highly treasured “belongings”/ “commodities”—sandalwood and a unmarried girl—in a patriarchal society economically dependent on agriculture. The sandalwood tree is highly valuable for farmers; different parts of the tree are used to produce furniture, oil, fragrance and food items. It is also a part of religious rituals where its essence is used as tilak on idols in Hindu traditions. Rajasthani Language is spoken prominently in the desert regions of India (Thar Desert) and the existence of such a tree in a desert is as precious and rare as a girl with golden hair.  The paper draws reference from recurrent invocation of olfactory senses of the listeners captured by the images of the sandalwood tree in the story. It also explores use of growth metaphors using ‘rhizome’ like imagery of sandalwood branches reaching the sky which become an escape route for a teenage girl hiding from her family. The temporal and spatial indicators are infused together in the story of Sonal Bai leading to an unlikely friendship between two prized possessions that eventually breaks with the arrival of a patriarchal archetype: a handsome young prince. This study discusses the prevalent katha culture in India where women exercise freedom of voice through singing and narrating tales within all-female groups. This site of independent feminine interaction in a highly patriarchal society is investigated using Bakhtin’s “Chronotope” to highlight culturally encoded lessons in folktales meant for young girls in Indian society as a means of informal education.


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Author Biography

Sushmita Pareek, University of Hyderabad

Sushmita Pareek is a PhD research scholar at Centre for Applied Linguistics and Translation Studies (CALTS), University of Hyderabad, India. She is a recipient of Erasmus+ worldwide scholarship and worked at Peter Szondi Institute of Comparative Literature, Freie University, Berlin for a semester. Her work centres on the post-anthropocene challenges of translating animals as symbols of language and culture into a different culture and language with its own unique set of political, theological and socio-economic circumstances. Her M.Phil. research concentrated on children’s literature focusing on Roald Dahl’s novels and translating those to Hindi language. She has a Master’s degree in English Literature from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University and an Honors degree in English from Delhi University, India. She is also a practising translator with additional training experience from Delhi University and National Translation Mission (CIIL, Mysore, India). Her research interests includes Cultural and Folklore Studies, Translation Studies , Ecocriticism and Children's Literature.






Plant Tendrils in Children's and Young Adult Literature