Evolution of Bengali music

By Dr. Karunamaya Goswami, The Independent, 8 June 2002 ff.

[Publisher's note: This is not complete, and I'm not sure of its structure.]

It is believed that Badu Chandidas was a great performer himself. Jayadeva performed in the court and in the temples. But Badu Chandidas performed among the people. He used to move to places with his troupe to perform the Shri Krishna Kirtan songs. Written in the speech-play model of the Sanskrit dramatic poetry, the Shri Krishna Kirtan songs offered wonderful scopes for performance in the real dramatic style. The earliest Bengali song-drama as it is, Shri Krishna Kirtan was a source-material for the multi-directional growth of Bengali poetry and music in the decades that followed.

Vaishnava Padavali The poetical and musical initiatives of Jayadeva and Badu Chandidas burst into thousands of songs known as Vaishnava Padavali: Vaishnava songs composed predominantly by Vaishna saint-composers as an integral part of the Vaishnava religious movement. The movement preached Krishna bhakti, devotion to Lord Krishna. Songs became an important medium for propagating the bhakti cult. As for the mainstay for the themes of those songs Jayadeva stood out to be the earliest principal source. He is regarded as the adipadkarta: the earliest composer of the vaishnava songs. So the Radha Krishna love lore was accepted as the universal source material for composing the vaishnava songs.

Although such songs were being composed long since, the Vaishnava musical tradition had to wait till the appearance of Shri Chaitanya (1486-1533) on the religious scene. It is under his personal initiative and attachment that the vaishnava songs in Bengal flourished in surprising number, variety and depth. As the greatest propounder of Vaishnava religious cult he made it essential on the part of his followers to sing in the name of Krishna. Chaitanya was a tireless singer of songs on devotion to Krishna. He strongly believed that songs on Krishnabhakti could effectively turn the mind of man towards the love for the Lord and lead them to the state of eternal bliss. Moreover Chaitanya was soon elevated from the position of propagator of a religious cult. He was regarded as being an incarnation of God. Chaitanya was so magnetic and overwhelming a personality and his influence was so pervasive that he was even during his lifetime looked upon as an incarnation of God. So the spotlight of popular reverence and faith shifted from the traditional deities to a contemporary human being. The faithful believed that in Chaitanya God had appeared on earth as a man. This faith found enthusiastic expression in works glorifying the life of the man who was God.

So, when Chaitanya himself took ardent interest in Padavali singing the spotlight of popular interest fell on this genre and people in ever increasing numbers as poet-composers and singers began to take part in the bhakti movement. What more, the interpretation of the Krishna-story by Shri Chaitanya from a philosophical angle of vision, added a new depth and symbolism to the entire thing. Vaishnava thinkers soon took up the core of Chaitanya’s message and a school of philosophy soon grew up to propagate the ideas preached by him in their depth and beauty. Padavali songs soon emerged as compositions with a new symbolical meaning and new aesthetic school of ideas in their support. In Shrikrishnakirtan Badu Chandidas narrated the Radha-Krishna love episode as a human story. Sukumar Sen says, “The tone of the poem is human and not in the least devotional”. But the Radha-Krishna story in all its facets assumed a different spiritual dimension and the Vaishnava songs communicated those spiritual values in their charming lyricism and musical colour. The life story of Shri Chaitanya was also inseparably related to the Radha Krishna theme and countless songs were also composed on him.

By Vaishnava Padavali, therefore, we mean thousands of songs composed over hundreds of years in Bengal and some adjoining areas on the Radha-Krishna love lore and on the life-story of Shri Chaitanya, sung as a part of Vaishnava religious exercise. Chaitanya’s divine passion gave a new spiritual meaning to Radha’s love for Krishna and this is the reason why the best of the Vaishnava lyric songs were produced by the direct followers of Chaitanya and their immediate followers who had seen the master. The Vaishnava Padavali were not all written in Bengali. They were also written in a highly musical language called Brajabuli. This language was the product of a combination of Bengali and Maithili: the language of Mithila. Some Hindi words were also taken into it. Brajabuli followed very largely from the language of Vidyapati, a noted early fifteenth century poet-composer of Mithila.

“The Vaishnava lyric poetry in Bengal is not all written in Bengali. Quite a large part of it, rather the bulk of it, is written in Brajabuli which, with its variable vowel length, moraic metre, archaic vocabulary and a minimum of grammar, offered to the better equipped writers a ready-made sonorous instrument. The Vaishnava lyrics, Bengali or Brajabuli, are songs and therefore never fully divorced from melody.”Vaishnava Padavali or Padavali Kirtan as they are commonly known, because the musical style in which Vaishnava Padavali are sung is called Kirtan, continued to form the mainstream Bengali art music till the end of the eighteenth century when the indigenous growth of music in Bengal was hampered by the onslaught of incoming Hindustani musical forces. In that case, if we take Padavali to begin with Geeta Govinda, then the age of Padavali continued to thrive for six hundred years which is perhaps no less than a miracle.

Hare Krishna Mukhopadhya divides the age of Vaishnava Padavali into three phases: Pre-Chaitanya phase, Chaitanya phase and post-Chaitanya phase. Among others he includes Jayadeva, Badu Chandidas, Chandidas, Dwija Chandidas, Dina Chandidas, Vidyapati and Gunaraj Khan as poets in pre-Chaitanya phase. Ray Ramananda, Muran Gupta, Narahari Sarkar, Govinda Ghosh, Basudev Ghosh, Shrirup Goswami, Ramananda Das, Yadunath Das, Banshi Vadan, Paramananda, Govindya Acharya and some others have been included in Chaitanya age. Kaviranjan, Ray Shekhar, Jnanadas, Lochana Das, Vrindavan Das, Nayanananda Das, Dina Krishna Das, Narottama Das, Govinda Das, Balarama Das, Ghanashyama Das, Narahari Chakrabarty, Manohar Das, Gadadhar Das and others belonged to the post-Chaitanya phase.

Of the pre-Chaitanya Padavali poet-composers, Vidyapati of Mithila stands out exceptionally remarkable next, as critics believe, only to Jayadeva and Badu Chandidas. To my mind Vidyapati must be given a little more credit than what he has been allotted by the critics. Jayadeva and Badu Chandidas wrote their songs by way of executing a story. But Vidyapati wrote some pure magnificent lyrics in a highly inspired language which, I believe, had gone a long way in giving a direction to the lyricism of the Vaishnava Padavali for which they still enjoy an exemplary position.

The life-story of Vidyapati still remains shrouded in darkness. Nothing is known for sure about him. It is widely believed that he was born in a village called Bispi in Mithila region in the middle of the fourteenth century. Ganapati Thakur was his father. Vidyapati was trained in many branches of learning under Shrihari Mishra. His performance as a scholar was amazing. But the most outstanding of his achievements was what he did as a poet-composer. Even today he is known for his immortal Vaishnava Padavali. He used to visit the court of King Ganeshwar with his father. When Shiva Singha became the king after Ganeshwar’s death, Vidayapati was made his court poet. Shiva Singha ascended the throne in the year 1400 A.D. Shiva Singha and his wife Luxmi were both patrons of poetry and music.

Vidyapati composed many songs under their inspiration. He is believed to remain alive for thirty years more from the day of Shiva Singha’s death. It is assumed that Vidyapati lived for ninety years. He wrote mellifluous songs in Maithili language which emerged as a finished poetic diction in the writings of a minister-poet in Mithila, namely Umapati Upadhyaya. Vidyapati made further embellishments in the language of his predecessor and wrote inspiring lyrics on the Radha-Krishna love lore. His language acted as a source material for the development of Brajabuli, a musical language which soon caught the fancy of the poets in Bengal, Assam, Nepal and parts of Bihar.

Vidyapati was universally accepted by the members of the Vaishnava religious cult in Bengal and elsewhere, because Shiri Chaitanya was himself a very great admirer of his songs. Vidyapati set a model for Vaishnava lyricism and for Vaishnava compositional styles. The Vaishnava songs in pre-Chaitanya phase appear to have inherited three distinct musical and poetic models respectively of Jayadeva, Badu Chandidas and Vidyapati.

The enlarged support to Vaishnava songs, lyrical as well as narrative by people was created by Shri Chaitanya himself in his life time. His personal interest in the genre proved conducive to the total context of exceptional growth of Bengali musical literature. The tradition of Vaishnava music passed into its golden age of flourishment in its post-Chaitanya phase. Thousands of songs and lots of narrative poems given to music were composed on the life and teachings of Chaitanya himself, let alone the Radha-Krishna episode. It was also at this period that a musical system and style typical of the vaishnava padavali was evolved and this was further enlarged and systematized in the following years in different centres of vaishnava learning by Vaishnava composers.

Etymologically the word kirtan means to sing in a loud voice. It is a common notion of scholars that this word was integrally related to padavali, because these songs were also sung aloud or it was a custom to sing them aloud. But the word kirtan, as it appears today, was not coined by the Vaishnavas. It existed in the same name in some form of ethnological music. Haraprasad Shastri, the discoverer of charya songs believed that charya songs were also kirtan like the vaishnava padavali kirtan and he called charya Buddhist Kirtan. He believed, therefore, that kirtan as a musical form was far older than padavali kirtan. Sukumar Sen also believes that “the peculiar musical style in which these songs are sung is known as Kirtan. This style, a crude form of which must have prevailed since early times, was elaborated and developed by Narottam. Das towards the end of the sixteenth century.”

In his important studies on the ethnic people of Chhotanagpur, called Uraons W.G. Archer has referred to a kind of a song sung by the tribals a part of which was known kirtan. He believes that the Vaishnava scholars must have got the word kirtan from the Swami Prajnanananda, a renowned musicologist, who has quoted in his book observations of W. G. Archer and furnished his own views on them.

“Kirtana is a religio-devotional type of song which is sung with classical melody and rhythm, in praise of God, hero or superman. It is prevalent in all parts of India in some form or other. There must have occurred many changes or modifications in it, at different times, before coming into its present classical form. Some are of opinion that it might be possible that Kirtana, in its most primitive form was very simple and crude and it was mostly prevalent among the aboriginal tribes of India in remote antiquity. W. G. Archer says in his informative book: The Blue Grove, the Poetry of the Uraons (1940) that he noticed a type of folk or tribal music, called kirtana, among the uncivilized aboriginal Uraons, in the hilly district of Chotanagpur. He is of the opinion that Kirtanas or the tribal songs of the Uraons and other primitive hilly tribes are probably the precusor or forerunner of the present developed classical type of padavali kirtana, as it is a fact that simple folk music is the origin of the developed art music Archer says: Uraons dance poems are fitted to the drum rhythms, and are sung by the boys and girls while the dances revolve. Most of them are poems of four lines. In the dances which have a definite advance and reverse action the first two lines are called the ‘or’ or the opening movement and the third and fourth lines are known as the kirtana or the reverse. Further he says: The ‘or’ takes the lines of dancers anticlockwise on the circle. After it has been repeated three or four times there is a stop or hitch in the dance and the movement is reversed—the line moving back clockwise, while the kirtana is sung and repeated where there are more than four lines in the dance poem, the fifth and the sixth lines and the seventh and eighth are treated as the additional kirtanas, and after each kirtana has been sung and repeated the dance moves back into the ‘or’ action and repeats the first two lines before it goes on to the next. A few dances do not have any obvious reverse action and in these cases the kirtana is sung as an addition or variation to the ‘or’—the poem being sung over and over again as long as the dance lasts’. In fact, the kirtana of the aboriginal Uraons is a kind of primitive type of dance music. Generally this type of tribal song is possessed of four lines, and when the Uraons go forward after singing two lines it is known as ‘or’, and when they go backward, after singing the remaining two lines, it is known as Kirtana. So it is evident that the tribal songs of the Uraons of Chotanagpur is a combination of ‘or’ and kirtana which is quite different from the characteristics of padavali kirtana of Bengal.

While surveying the historical development of the padavali kirtana of Bengal, we find that during the time of King Lakshman Sena (1178–1179), the classical prabandha type of music was profusely cultured, as evidenced from Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda and other types of padageeti . . .. The nucleus of vaishnava padas or padvalis is found in Hala Sata Vahana’s Gaha Sattasai (i.e. Gatha Saptasati) in the first-fifth century A.D. Hala describes some of the padas, composed of Radha-Krishna Vrajalila . . .. Then we come across with Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda . . .. After Jayadeva, many mystic poets like Vadu Chandidas, Umapatidhara, the court-poet of King Lakshmana Sena, Umapati Ojha of Mithila, Vidyapati, the court poet of king Shiva Singha flourished from the twelfth to sixteenth century A. D. In the fifteenth century, there flourished again Ray Ramananda, Yashoraj Khan, Muran Gupta, Narahari Das, Vasudeva Ghose, Madhava Ghose, Ramananda Basu, Raghunath Das, Vrindavana Das, Balarama Das and other scholars and mystic poets in Bengal and Orissa, and they were all followers of Radha-Krishna cult.

The padavali kirtan of Bengal evolved out of the materials of variant types of the geetis, like baul, mangala, panchali, etc. which were current before the advent of Shri Chaitanya. It also drew its inspiration from the Tantrik Buddhist dohas, charya and vajra, and the mystic prabandha geetis of the Geeta Govinda.”

We, therefore, see that there was no definite musical style known as padavali kirtan. The kirtan musical growth was multi-directional. Its core was lying with the classical musical line, but every other musical genre then current in Bengal was accommodated into it. All this happened because of the popular enthusiasm about it and because there was no systematised central musical support to the padvali movement.

Fifty years after the death of Shri Chaitanya, when the realm of padavali kirtan was really vast and varied, a great vaishnava savant, Narottam Thakur (1531–1587) felt it urgent to improvise a musical system for padavali kirtan aimed at giving it a musical direction typically of its own. He succeeded in performing this historic task.

Narottam was born in a village called Khetari in the district of Rajshahi. Krishnananda Dutt, his father, was a land lord. Narottam was indifferent to wealth. His only urge was to learn music and study the vaishnava cult. At the age of twenty Narottam left for Vrindavan, a reputed centre of vaishnava studies and was taught under great vaishnava scholars and musicians. It is believed that he received musical training from the great Swami Haridas, much known in musical history for his disciple Tansen, a legendary musical personality. Upon completion of his career building in Vrindavan, Narottam came back to his village and stayed there for some years. He paid attention to organising vaishnava community and soon became one of those few who led the vaishnava movement after the death of Shri Chaitanya. Narottam was in firm determination to give a direction to vaishnava music to enable it to perfectly communicate the literary, philosophical and aesthetic values. The model before him was the music he learned in Vrindavan, namely dhrubapada or dhrupada. He devised a kirtan style on the basis of his own musical experiences and his insight into vaisnava aesthetics.

“It was mainly based on the divine emotional sentiment and mood (rasa and bhava), and so it was known as rasa-kirtana and as its composition or theme was based on the divine sportive plays of Radha and Krishna, it was also called lila-kinana.”

Narottam wanted to get his musical concept approved by the vaishnava community and as such he convened in his village a grand vaishnava convention in 1583 or 1584. Thousands of vaishnava savants are believed to have come to the remote village in Rajshahi from different parts of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. It must be mentioned here that Narottam took adequate preparation for presenting his kirtana system. He trained a troupe in his own way. We know the names of four members of his troupe. They were Gauranga Das and Devi Das as Vadaka: drummer, and Shridas and Gokulananda as dohar: supportive singers. The convention unanimously approved the musical system of Narottam as it was introduced to them. It was a matter of satisfaction for all that padavall kirtan was going to acquire a musicological character of its own which it lacked so far.

The basic musical tone of Narottam's style emanated from dhrupada, the oldest of the modem classical forms in India which is known for its depth and devotional mood. He made use of tals: measures or rhythms, of elaborate nature fitting to the melody structure and as for laya: tempo, his preference was for vilambita: slow. It is believed that Naronam devised some new tals for padavali kirtan. A regional effort was always there in Bengal to create some new tals outside the tals belonging to the mainstream classical and neoclassical music and later darvari: court music. We come across one or two new tals in Shrikrishnakirtan. This trend was given a new thrust and colour by Narottam. Today padavali is much known for its tala structure of a different dimension, much different from the rhythmic structure of the Hindustani classical or semi classical music. Narottam pioneered the idea. He made compulsory the singing of Gourachandrika as a preface to padavali presentation. By Gourachandrika we mean songs in praise of Shri Chaitanya, who is also known as Goura or Gourchandra. Narottam's intention was to inescapably link Shri Chaitanya with kirtana presentation. The idea worked well among the Vaishnava savants and the convention readily agreed with the Gourachandrika concept. Narottam did one more important thing. He introduced the idea of presenting the various aspects of the Radha-Krishna story and the life-story of Shri Chaitanya in separate phase or phase-wise presentations. Jayadeva or Badu Chandidas must have inspired him to work out the plan, Narottam's method was to collect and compile the songs on various shades of a particular sentiment and arrange them into a pala. Each pala had a Gourachandrika expressive of its theme. This idea was also approved by the vaishnava scholars. Shri Chaitanya created a great popular enthusiasm about padavali kirtan, while Narottam gave it a musical direction.

The padavali kirtan style devised and introduced by Narottam soon earned the status of a school and was named as Garanhati Kirtan School, Garanhati being the name of the sub-division, an administrative unit of a district, to which Narottam's village Khetari belonged. This is regarded as the basic school of kirtan music. Complex rhythmic patterns, slow tempo and elaborate execution of melody structures were identified as the predominating symptoms of this school. This kirtan school is compared to the dhrupada school of Hindustani music. But the style was a little difficult and pedantic for popular consumption. Some more schools gradually evolved to suit to the varying nature of popular taste and appreciation and to get rid of the stereotype. The next kirtan style or school was developed by a Vaishnava savant named Jnanadas who lived at a village called Kandara under the administrative unit Manohar Shahi. So his school was identified as Manhar Shahi school of kirtan. Jnanadas made his style a little easier than the Garanhati style. He added some speed to the tempo and opted for vocal improvisation to make the composition more attractive.

This kirtan school was counted as being equivalent to the kheyal school of Hindustani music. The third kirtan style was introduced by Vipradas Ghosh. It was the Reneti school of kirtan. The word Reneti is the abbreviated form of Ranihati, a regional administrative unit. Vipradas opted for further speed in the tempo and for sweetness and charm of music. He chose for the easy measure-patterns to make his brand of kirtan more accessible to people. The Reneti kirtan school is compared with the Thumri school of Hindustani classical music. The fourth kirtana school is known as the Mandarini School. It was devised at a place called Sarkar Mandarana. Venidas was its propounder. Popular acceptability was the motto of this school. It was stripped as far as possible of the intricacies of raga music and a recitative musical mode of panchali was added to it. Only the easy rhythmic patterns were sustained. The fifth and the last school of padavali kirtan known as Jharkhandi School, was developed by Kavindra Gokul. It was devised in the Jharkand region. The Jharkandi School gave away the classical or the semi-classical modes of the earlier schools and tinged its compositional style with the colours of folk music. It even accommodated some elements of ethno-music of the indigenous people of Jharkhand.

The development of kirtan schools offers an interesting study of Bengali art music. The first school aspired for the purity, structural complexity, elaboration and depth of the highest form of classical music, and the last one reflected the simplicity and the emotional charge of folk music. In between, the line descended from the peak to the plains. Narottam chose for the elitist musical norms, which could be accessible to a limited number of people. So the diversification was inescapable. Descent to the folk musical level was the real necessity, because the bulk of the Vaishnava people belonged to that stratum. It is really interesting that as the schools developed, they did not thrive in isolation. They grew in charming interrelation with an innate tendency towards simplification and communication of the emotional charge. Many years after, when Calcutta had grown as an organised capital of the British India, a good number of wealthy people there became the ardent patrons of padavali kirtan. Renowned kirtan singers belonging to various schools, particularly, the schools of classical genre were with their troupes sheltered in the metropolis. There were inevitable interactions among these schools and as a result much of the differences among these schools were minimised and there was a perceptible unidirectional development of the city based kirtan styles. Kirtan styles with folk musical elements largely developed in the rural areas.

Padavali kirtan has five limbs, anga as they have been called by the vaishnava musicologists. The limbs are: katha, doha, tuka, chhuta and ankhara. Katha means language. So generally, the text of the song is katha. But the word katha is also used to mean some other contexts. It signifies conversation, particularly in the form of question and answer between Radha, Krishna, Barayi and the companions of Radha. It also means the connecting link between one piece of song and the other. When the kirtan singer explains the meaning of a line or a stanza in plain prose, it is called katha. 2. Doha signifies stanzas of various forms in vaishnava lyrics which a kirtan singer recites in course of his performance.

3. Tuka is an ornamental part of a song which is traditionally handed down from one generation of singers to another. 4. Chhuta is a part of a kirtan stanza. When a part of a stanza is presented in stead of the entire stanza it becomes chhuta. 5. Ankhara is the most significant limb of padavall kirtan. It signifies a kind of extempore composition in the lyrical as well as the musical sense which the kirtan singer delivers at the time of performance. When a padavali singer dwels on a highly suggestive piece and feels that the suggestion should be expanded more, he makes an extempore composition and delivers before the listeners and it becomes ankhara. It is compared with tan of Hindustani classical music. Rabindranath Tagore has called it tan with the help of language. The provision for ankhara helps padavali kirtan keep perpetually fresh by allowing every individual singer to take part in the presentation creatively. There is also a provision for singing ankhara composed earlier by the renowned performers.

Vaishnava savants were at one to declare the mainstream padavali music as classical. Some of them emphasised the alapa phenomenon. Alapa is an important limb of raga music. It is a prelude to presenting a raga either in the form of a song or an instrumental piece. It dwells on the essential raga frame and introduces its fundamental nature to the listeners. Vaishnava composers had also developed an alapa form often rendered in tal: rhythm or measure, in varying tempo. The raga character was retained, but this did not always coroborate the Hindustani way. But the kirtan classicism was not universally recognised. Critics who were enamoured of the Hindustani classical forms like dhrupad, kheyal, tappa, thumri, etc. could hardly recognise the greatness of padavali kirtan as a classical form. They would rather call it a folk music. Dilip Kumar Ray, a renowned Bengali musicologist and performer admits of this diversity in opinion about padavali kirtan when he says:

“Musicologists never disagree over the fact that padavali kirtan is the most elaborate of musical method developed in Bengal, although they hardly agree about its musical values. Some call it folk music, some call it sentimental music, some call it music devoid of variation and some say that padavali kirtan is a great dramatic music. We belong to the last group. We whole-heartedly agree with Rabindranath Tagore when he says that the scope of the developed form of padavali kirtan is greater than that of Hindustani music. Hindustani music does not possess the varied nature of dramatically of padavali kirtan.

Those who count kirtan as a folk form, they commit the mistake that folk music cannot, by nature, possess the structural complexity and variability of padavali kirtan. The existence in the structural excellence of padavali kirtan of the elements of dramatization and of a great architectural frame proves undoubtedly that this musical form is the end product of a long-drawn cultivation of a very high order . . . The very first epithet that strikes me to signify kirtan is I classic. But the classicism of kirtan and that of Hindustani music does not belong to the same order. They are different by class. Once Rabindranath Tagore spoke about kirtan in a letter: ‘In the formulation of the musical structure of padavall kirtan in Bangladesh, there lies at its depth the real charge of human emotion. The charge could not essentially be put into the limitations of the Hindustani musical frame. Padavall did not boycott the elements of Hindustani music. With all these, it created a musical domain of its own. If one really intends to create something, the urge of mind should be so true and impassionate as this.”

On many occasions Rabindranath Tagore expressed his views of appreciation on padavali kirtan of Bengal. He was full of praise for the inspiring lyricism and musical composition. What's more, Tagore diagnosed that the aesthetic direction for the padavall kirtan and Hindustani music was quite different. In the Hindustani raga musical context, even vocal music stood for some pure musical goals. It cared little for the text of the song.

Language was used simply as a tool for pronouncing the melody. Music stood supreme and the performers cared very little for the lyric they sang. But in padavali kirtan music was always directed to heighten the suggestivity of the lyric. It did not possess any extra lyrical goal. Lyric and music, in their perfect unison, made a total song. This was in Tagore’s view the exact ideal for Bengali music : unison between lyrical appeal and the musical expressiveness, He once told Dilip Kumar Ray: “I would like to tell you one thing today emphatically. Why you will not agree to feel that the Hindustani music and the music of Bengal did not grow on the same line ? We get the real character of Bengali music in kirtan. The pleasure we get from padavali kirtan does not emanate from pure music. It is a product of the perfect union between poetry and music.”

Padavali Kirtan is regarded as a rare achievement of art in Bengal. True, the padavali system did not grow in isolation from the mainstream Hindustani classical music. It could not ignore the raga structures as the source of melody. But certainly it stands for a regional aesthetic attitude of a high order where music and poetry are united in perfect respect for each other. The regional Bengali attitude to music was first diagnosed in Charya Geeti. It further developed in Shrikrishna kirtan and in padavall kirtan. We get Bengal’s self-reliant musical organisation supported by its own aesthetic values. Padavali kirtan is the lyrical communication of the difficult vaishnava philosophical cult. It, therefore, tended to be allegorical in most places. But on the surface of it, Padavali Kirtan was so human and so magnetically worded that it easily won over the heart of people. Nothing stood in the way of its popular acceptability. It is true that the golden age of padavali kirtan came to an end by the end of the eighteenth century. But it always remained a popular musical force.

It was given a significant support by the growing wealthy families in Calcutta from the early nineteenth century. Kirtan music had thus become an integral part of the urban culture in Bengal. It even crept into the prayer songs of the elitist religious movement like Brahma religion. All the major composers of Bengal borrowed heavily from the padavali source material. Even Rabindranath Tagore the most ardently nonidolatrious of the major Bengali composers could not resist the spell of kirtan music. Kazi Nazrul Islam in countless ways exploited the lyricism and music of vaishava savants. From 1930 onwards the record companies and the film companies took a renewed interest in the kirtan genre and employed a good number of popular and capable vocalists for the mission.

This went a long way in generating popular interest in Padavali kirtan. As for today Padavall kirtan with its sustaining appeal is still a living force in the world of Bengali music.

THE medieval Bengali poetry and music was very greatly enriched by the liberal patronage extended to it by the royal court in Arakan. Alaol, a great medieval Bengali poet and composer was the brightest product of the Arakan connection.

A close cultural contact between Bengal and Arakan, the neighbouring province of lower Burma was first made early in the fifteenth century when Narameikhla, the king of Arakan, dispossessed by the King of Burma, came to Bengal and took refuge in the court of Gour (1404). After a sojourn of many years he was helped by Jalaluddin, the Bengal Sultan, to regain his throne (1430). We can reasonably assume that the king had acquainted some liking for Bengali song and music, among other things, during his stay in Bengal and introduced them in his own country after he had returned home and to power. But there is no evidence to show how far this engrafting of Bengali culture in the Arakan court was enduring, in spite of the fact that Arakan continued to be dominated politically by Bengal and its external affairs controlled by the Sultan's governors in Chittagong.

The position was however reversed for some years, at least in the third quarter of the century when the Arakan power annexed Chittagong and kept it under control until in the first decade of the sixteenth century, it was recovered by Nusrat Khan, a general of Husain Shah. During the years Chittagong was in occupation by the Arakanese, it appears that some cultural contact between Bengal (and the rest of India) and Arakan was established. From this time Bengali was accepted at the Arakan court as the chief cultural language, mainly because many of the high officials of Arakan came from Chittagong, and the other neighbouring territories whose mother-tongue was Bengali.

After the overthrow of the dynasty of Husain Shah, Arakan seems to have regained its full political independence. But the influence of the Bengali language did not suffer, on the contrary, it grew. The kings of Arakan now adopted also Bengali names for themselves, and sometimes it was, as in the case of Thiri Thu Dhamma (Arakanese pronunciation of Shrisudharma), the only name known to history. The Bengali immigrants or sojourners in Arakan were almost all Muslims, and the officials and ministers were mostly Bengali Muslims. Muslim influence in the Arakan court was therefore potent, and as happened quite often in the seventeenth century, the kings took Muslim names as well. The literary tradition which Paragal Khan and his son Nusrat Khan had started in South-East Bengal reached the court of Arakan by the end of the sixteenth century.

So far we know, the first Bengali poet to write under the aegis of the Arakan court was Daulat Kazi. His patron Ashraf Khan was a commanding officer of king Shrisudharma who ruled between 1622 and 1638. Ashraf was a Sufi and so presumably was Daulat Kazi. To popularise the romantic tales current in West Indian poetry (Rajasthani, Gujrati, Hindi, Avadhi and Bhojpuri), Ashraf had asked Daulat to render the story of Lor, Chandrani and Mayana into Bengali narrative verse (Panchali) . . .. Daulat Kazi took it from the old Rajasthani poet by Sadhan, manuscripts of which have come to light recently. Daulat Kazi died before he could finish his poem. It was completed years later by Alaol (1659), another Bengali poet from Arakan.

It is widely believed that Alaol was born in Jalalpur under the district of Faridpur in Bangladesh in the early years of the seventeenth century probably in 1607. His father was a courtier of Majlish Kutub, ruler of Jalalpur who was in power from 1576 to 1611. Alaol must have been born in this period, and not after this. There is also an opinion that he was born in a village called Jobra in the district of Chittagong. But he passed most of his early life in Faridpur. Once Alaol was going with his father to Chittagong by boat. On the way they were attacked by Portuguese pirates. Alaol's father died in the scuffle and on a lucky escape he managed to arrive at Arakan where he was recruited for the army and taken in the cavalry section.

But at a short period of time Alaol's reputation as a scholar and musician spread around and reached the ears of Magan Thakur, an influential member of the Arakan royal court. It was about 1645 that Alaol was taken into the good book of Magan. Magan himself was a great admirer of art and poetry. At his instance Alaol left the army and joined the court as a poet and musician. He wrote two of his poems including his best one: Padmavati, under Magan's patronage. Magan was inclined towards sufism and was an admirer of Jaisi's poetry. He requested Alaol to render Jaisi's Padmavati into Bengali verse so that it might be appreciated by the people of Arakan. Alaol agreed to do it and completed the task sometime between 1645 and 1652.

Magan died in 1659. Sulaiman, an Arakanese minister then extended his patronage to Alaol and at his instance wrote the sequel to the unfinished poem of Daulat Kazi in 1659. In 1660, Alaol being urged by the Arakanese commander Syed Muhammad, translated a Persian poem titled Haptapaykar. In the same year Alaol was put behind the bars for fifty days on the charge of treason and his property was confiscated. But the charge being disproved and he was set free but his poverty lingered on. Even then he was undaunted. Alaol began to translate the religious treatise Tuhfa from Persian and came to an end of it in 1665. Alaol received some assistance from his previous master Sulaiman. In 1669 Alaol completed his work Saifulmulk Badiuzzamal which he had begun a little earlier. From 1671 on Alaol was again restored to courtly patronage bringing an end to his sufferings. He then paid attention to translating a big volume of a Persian poem called Iskandarnama. Alaol's colourful life through dramatic ups and downs came to end perhaps in the year 1673 or 1674. To-day he is best known for his work Padmavati.

Alaol appears to be the first Bengali writer to translate from Persian poetry. His good knowledge of several languages such as Sanskrit, Bengali, Persian and Avadhi gave a distinction to his style and made his access to the realms of art and poetry exceptionally wide.

Alaol was a poet, musicologist, composer and performer of a very high order. The basic musical pattern he followed in Padmavati is panchali. Panchali is a form of medieval classical music which was described in the authentic books on music as panchataleshwar prabandha. We do not know what its musical form exactly was. But it was found to be employed in long narrative poems. The mangala songs in Bengali followed the panchali scheme of music. It was in a raga form. The name of raga was usually mentioned at the top of the poem or in a section of the narrative and the characteristic recitative pattern of the form was executed by the performer in some pre-ordained melody frame that moved along the simple notational structure of the raga.

But what is all the more important about Alaol is that much before Bharatchandra Ray, he intersected the narrative poem with the inclusion of independently composed songs of highly lyrical nature. There was precedence of Vishnupada of mangala narratives. But his songs were more varied than the Vishnupadas. We come across thirteen such compositions in the narrative frame of Padmavati. The songs are composed in ragas like Kedar, Bhatial, Shrigandhar, Karnat, Shri, Vasant, Bhatial, Suhi, Shrigandhar, Suhi, Mallar, Bhairabi and Ashavari. The songs provided welcome relief with their varied improvisation in the midst of monotonous repetition of recitative panchali-pattern. Alaol was also well versed in musicology and music history. At least in two places in Padmavati, Alaol spoke about music and dance which proved of his musical scholarship. It appears that he was thoroughly known to the theoritical discussions presented in some of the very important books which are referred to even to-day. Alaol had his own approach to musical theories. In some places he differed with the celebrated musicologists of the past.

Alaol's contribution towards enriching the medieval Bengali music has not yet been properly investigated into. But it appears from an ordinary survey that he wanted to give Bengali music a new direction which achieved further maturity decades after in the compositions of Baratchandra Ray (1712—1760). J.C. Ghosh calls Alaol “the pioneer of the neo-classicism perfected by Bharatchandra Ray in the eighteenth century.”

Particular mention must be made of Dhirendra Chandra Mitra, a Nazrul song luminary who came to Dhaka on several occasions and conducted training workshops on Nazrul songs. All these efforts created a favourable impact about developing an insight on the part of the performers into the aesthetic content of Nazrul songs.

The liberal cultural approach by the government was also helpful for the growth of modern song genre. Historically speaking modern Bengali song genre was created in Calcutta. A free compositional style known as modern music was first improvised by the gramophone company composers who include among others Kazi Nazrul Islam, Hiren Basu, Kamal Dasgupta, Pankaj Kumar Mallik, Rciahand Baral, Shailesh Dattagupta, Subal Das Gupta, Hemendra Kumar Roy and Himangshu Datta. Innovation of modern music boosted up gramophone companies' trading in records. But the new urban music genre got its exceptional thrust upon being featured in talkies beginning in Calcutta from 1931. All the great Bengali composers, lyricist and performers worked together to build a golden heritage of modern music. It began in a small way with the talkies when the production capability was limited. But as the area of film production enlarged, the scope of modern songs featured in films enlarged in equal rhythm. There was and even now is a classified lovers of classical or semi classical forms of songs among the Bengali speaking people. Lovers of Tagore songs or songs by D.L.Roy, Atui Prasad and Rajani Kanta are yet limited to the elitist section of Bengali society. Nazrul's raga based songs were and are admired by a small section of people. Mere intuitive love of art does not hold good for creating a sense of love for all these song genres. They require- some access into music forms, poetry and aesthetics.

But in most cases endearing response to songs is intuitive or instinctive. The modern song makers had to remain alive to this psychological nuance and make the compositional style or the lyrical feature fit to feed the instinctive appetite for songs from the side of the ordinary people. It was a new reality which was perceived in the context of the trade by the gramophone companies and the film production houses. It could even be called neo music, instinctively commercial. Kazi Nazrul Islam gave leadership in matter of building the modern music heritage in Bengal and all the eminent Bengali composers, performers and poets joined the effort to build up the new music mode. Of all the off shoots of Bengali urban music, the modem song genre proved to be the most popular and the most universally loved one.

The glorious tradition of modern songs which was created in Calcutta continued, through ups and downs, to flourish there over decades through basic records and featurisation in films. Music lovers in East Pakistan were always keen about listening to modern songs rendered by. eminent vocalist from Calcutta. In those days radio was the only available means to get at the live or recorded recitals. Performers like Hemanta Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay or Shyamal Mitra were the house hold names in Dhaka or else where in East Pakistan. Many of the eminent Calcutta modern song performers visited Bangladesh by turn immediately after the liberation and took part in recitals in Dhaka and all the other major towns here. I clearly remember what a huge turn out of Dhaka people it was at the Paltan Maidan during the weeklong celebration of the 21 February in 1972 which was participated by some great modern song protagonists from Calcutta. Hemanta Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, Satinath Mukhopadhyay, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Pratima Bandopadhyay, Shyamal Mitra, Manna De, Bhupen Hajarika, Arati Mukhopadhyay, Haimanti Shukia, Utpala Sen, Anup Ghoshal and some other eminent modern song performers from Calcutta visited Bangladesh after liberation on several occasions. By 1970 the Dhaka based foundation of modern song development was pretty solid. It got very congenial support from the expanding radio programmes, enhanced investment in film production and founding of television. Even then it was a popular feeling that performance by the renowned modern song maestros from Calcutta added a new colour to entire environment of modern music.

But then as they are found, they have love for music from the South Asian subcontinent in a different form. This may be termed as music's immigrant form which today is denoted in different names. But essence is that raga or raga based music is blended with the Western fast moving popular forms which makes possible the emergence of a third form, a mixed music breed. It stands up to the taste of the second and third generation expatriates. Even the foreigners are found to take interest in it. This experimentation may produce an impact on the-on-land Bengali music. Today we live globally so close that any interaction anywhere doesn’t go unattended. Neo pop at home and experimentations abroad may combine to produce a new aesthetic direction for urban Bengali music to be composed during the coming decades. A wind of taste-change has started to blow. Only time will prove what shape our music heritage is going to take during the next fifty years or so.

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