Let us begin with a brief review of the evolution of styles and forms of music in Bengal as far as traceable. This will help us to situate the Saregamapa program.
The earliest music in Bengal was influenced by Sanskrit chants and evolved under the influence of Vaishnav poetry as exemplified best in the 13th-century Gitagovindam by Jayadeva, whose work continues to be sung in many parts of India. The Middle Ages saw a mixture of Hindu and Islamic elements under the patronage of Nawabs and the powerful landlord’s baro bhuiyans. Much of the early music, however, continued to be predominantly devotional, as was evident in the Hindu devotional songs of Ramprasad Sen a bhakta who captured the Bengali ethos in his rustic, poetic and ecstatic vision of the Hindu goddess of time and destruction in her motherly incarnation, Ma Kali. Two prominent and influential figures of the time were Chandidas and Vidyapati along with a host of other composers/ singers.
We may now go over to the different styles of music now prevalent in Bengal; these are roughly as follows :
By far the most defining expression of the present Bengali music, with an oeuvre of over two thousand songs, was from Rabindranath Tagore. His songs cover themes from devotion, love, nature and seasons, and patriotism. Tagore’s earlier works had been inspired by the lilas of Krishna while his latter works leaned towards Upanishadic transcendentalism.
Tagore’s Contemporaries and Successors
Contemporaneous with Tagore there were a few other composers, who although not being able to completely escape his influence, succeeded in carving out distinctive stylistic schools named after the respective composers. Among them the following deserve mention.
An influential body of work is that of Kazi Nazrul Islam, which constitutes what is known as Nazrul geeti. Many of his songs have strong theistic traits, Kali being a predominant deity in his devotional songs.
Dwijendralal Ray’s songs which number over 500, create a separate subgenre of Bengali music. Two of his most famous compositions are Dhana Dhanya Pushpa Bhara and Banga Amar Janani Amar. He has also hauntingly melodious devotional and love songs.
Atulprasadi, one of the major lyricist and composers of early-modern period, is credited with introducing the Thumri style in Bengali music along with Nazrul.
A contemporary of Tagore, Rajanikanta Sen’s compositions remained nearer to the indigenous Vaisnava musical traditions of Bengal than others. Next to Tagore’s, currently his is perhaps the most popular group of songs.
Prabhát Saḿgiita or Prabhat Songs, are a large number of songs composed by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, including the lyrics and the tune, in a period of eight years from 1982 until his death in 1990, in eight different languages/dialects.
This class of music is also called light music, a rather odd term, to distinguish it from the classical. As in many other aspects of modern life, it has two related yet sharply different features: (I) it is eclectic and refreshingly free from parochialism, and, (II) it is very often rootless, hybrid and thin at the same time. Originating from the impact of the contact with the West, usually a very superficial surface level contact at that, it received a strong stimulus to spread through films. By and large, at the popular level it is the one that has now the widest currency.
All traditional Bengali music is based on classical music or on its variations. Some of the most reputed classical musicians of the sub-continent come from Bengal including Ustads Allauddin Khan, Ali Akhbar khan, Sangeetacharya Tarapada Chakraborty, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Manas Chakraborty, Ustads Ayet Ali Khan and Ustad Abed Hossain Khan, Enayet Khan, Vilayet Khan, Ajay Chakravarty, Nikhil Bandopadhyaya, Budhadiitya Mukhopadhaya to name a few at random.
Curiously, however, Bishnupur Gharana is the sole Classical (Dhrupad) gharana of Bengal. It originated in Bishnupur, Bankura by the court musicians of the Malla Kings.
Folk Roots and Forms
Men have always been looking for expressions and music is in-born in him. Nothing offers solace to his heart as music does in his hours of need. It soothes a sore heart as well as energizes one in hours of jubilation. Since classical music is exclusive, for the appreciation of connoisseurs, ordinary men give vent to their hearts through Folk and Light music that is nearer to their hearts. This music caters to all kinds of people, their preferences, their varied moods, diverse feelings, finer emotions. (There are devotional for the devout,. . .).its earthy tones, rustic flavour, its subtle mysticism, it’s probe into deeper meanings of life, it’s doses of erotica – all these have tremendous appeal to populace. It is the window to open our hearts, medium to share our joys and grief /sorrows, to give full expressions to our unbounded feelings.
Shyama Sangeet is a genre of Bengali devotional songs dedicated to the Hindu goddess Shyama or Kali which is a form of supreme universal mother-goddess Durga or Parvati. Since the time of Ram Prasad, this genre has acquired a special status and prominence among Bengali devotional songs as to become a class by themselves.
This along with Kirtan, particularly the Pada Kirtans, stands in the twilight region between the Classical and Folk.
The repertoire of Bengali Folk music is truly enormous and it not only expresses yearnings of hearts, brings life to humdrum living but also celebrates life in all its aspects. It can be classified into several sub genres:
• Bhandari: devotional music.
• Bhatiali: music of fishermen and boatman,
• Bhawaiya: song of bullock-cart drivers
• Chou dances of Purulia and Rarh.
• Dhamail: a form of folk music and dance originated in Sylhet, Bangladesh..
• Ghazal: Popularity of folk music of Sufi genres: introduction of philosophy and religion in music.
• Gombhira: song performed with a particular distinctive rhythm and dance with two performers, always personifying a man and his grandfather, discussing a topic to raise social awareness.
• Hason Raja: devotional songs written by a music composer by the name of Hason Raja.
• Jari: songs involving musical battle between two groups
• Jatra Pala: songs associated exclusively with plays (performed on-stage). Usually involves colourful presentations of historical themes.
• Kirtan: devotional song depicting love of Hindu god Krishna and his beloved Radha.
• Kavigan: poems sung with simple music usually presented on stage as a musical battle between poets.
• Sari: sung especially by boatmen. It is often known as workmen’s song as well.
The Bauls (meaning “divinely inspired insanity”) are a group of mystic minstrels (Muslim Sufis and Hindu Vaishnas) from the Bengal region, who sang primarily in the 17th and 18th centuries. They are thought to have been influenced greatly by the Hindu tantric sect of the Kartabhajas as well as by Muslim Sufi philosophers. Lalon Fakir, alternatively known as Lalon Shah, who lived in the 19th century, is considered to be the greatest of all Bauls.
Because of invasion of various modern popular forms of music, folk forms of music languished behind, or, even got lost, in the race of popularity. With the invention of tractors on the field , launches in the river etc or because of accessibility of electronic media, the folk forms are no longer sung in the environ of the Vast – out in the open , by the riverside, on the meadows, or are not any longer performed in the rural settings -at the village courtyard, at the Fairs, in extant Jatras etc .
They also failed to get much patronage in the urban areas as Pop culture took over. As a result, although there are diverse genres of folk-forms, but a large number of them had been extant and so had been out of public memory. There had been a form called ‘ Rai Benshe ‘ in north belt of Bengal.
Also, in the fifties of the last century, a dance form was prevalent in Cacher (a Bengali -populated part of Assam ) called Vrata chari Nrtya, that used to be danced gracefully by small school girls in white dress with sticks wrapped in colored papers, making combinations of circles of flowers striking each other’s sticks, now lying on ground, now sitting, now standing, now moving. This dance form was developed in the thirties of the previous century by Guru Saday Datta of Sylhet.
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa of Zee Bangla TV Channel tries to cover a large part of this rich genre of music and so far succeeded exceedingly well. Here , we may recall some of the folk genres to have one more glimpse at them – prevalent or extant.
Three groups of music are being showcased here:
3) Light music.
Variety of music forms like Jhumur, Kabigaan, Kirtan, etc are highlighted through the talented participants. Vishal-Shekhar, Daler Mehndi and Sajid-Wajid do mentor the singing talents throughout this season. Deepon , Adrij, Pieu,Kaushik, Adrija Chakraborty, Tania, , Durnibar Aditi Munshi, Sneha Pramanik, Tirtha, Soumya, Rwishi, Tulika and Gangadhar are some of the great new finds this year. The presentations usually include songs,dance and music of all varieties and instruments and largely the depiction of the contextual background of the relative theme. The performances are excellent not only due to the superlative skills of the performers but also because of never seen before level of direction, team work, coordination and choreography attained. Association of stalwarts like Kalika Prasad and Sumon Bhattacharya adds new dimensions to the performances.
The rich tradition of folk forms that are the songs of the soil with their earthy aroma cannot go into oblivion, as these are entwined with all stages of life, with festivities, with seasons, traditions, with parting, with reunion… Yet to bring them to Public Platforms / Proscenium Stages, as Zee Bangla has done is not only a commendable effort for their revival and their preservation but also an endeavour to take audience back to their roots which they had forgotten awhile.
The program on folk music that is now held on the Zee Bangla has become immensely popular, so much so, that interests seem to have been revived particularly in Folk and Light music. One wishes that the efforts of Zee Bangla are replicated all over, because it now remains for such presentations to catapult themselves to the national level so that the whole nation gets an opportunity to immerse them in the beauty, rhythm, flavour of such rich and wonderful regional music.
~ By Sumita Bhattacharya and Sudip Bhattacharyya. Sumita is a former journalist; Sudip is a commentator on Society, Politics and Economy.