Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lady of the legend - bonbibi

by Prashanto Banerji of Sunday Indian
Keshab Giri is a pious man. Every evening, the bearded priest of Kultuli village would go to a banyan tree by the river and pray at its feet, light a clay lamp, then walk back to his hut by the paddy fields. This evening wasn’t supposed to be any different.

But as Giri walked, the village seemed unusually quiet. Even the village curs had fallen silent. All Giri could hear tonight was the sound of his bare feet rustling the dry grass. At the foot of the great banyan, Giri began his prayers. The air around the tree was heavy with a pungent, unfamiliar odour. Maybe it’s from the bank, he thought. Dead cattle, rotting flowers and once even a dead man, swollen and yellow had drifted past these shores. But this smell was different – overpowering, but alive.

Giri tried to return to his prayers. He couldn’t. He opened his eyes to light the lamp… there, inches away from his forehead, hanging from the branches was a striped tail, its tip flicking. “I fell over backward, chanting Maa’s name. My eyes met the tiger’s. It glowered and snarled, but didn’t attack,” Giri said. “Quivering with fear, I screamed ‘bagh ayese... tiger’s here!’ Within minutes, the whole village had gathered, flaming torches in hand. We surrounded the tree and started chanting Maa’s name… the tiger seeing the crowd, climbed higher up, and then jumped off the tree, past the crowd and into the village.” Giri pointed at a hut behind a duck pond, “…ran straight into it, past an old woman lying by the courtyard, tore through the wall and into the paddy fields. Astonishingly, no one was hurt. Maayer kripa… grace of the Mother.”

As we spoke, a sea eagle called and a streak of bright orange lit up the horizon. Dawn was breaking over the Sunderbans. Word had spread that a tiger had swum across the river from an island forest and entered the village, and we’d given chase. But we’d reached a little too late. The tiger had been captured by the forest officials and taken away before we could reach. But the journey hadn’t been in vain, because I got to meet ‘Maa’.

In most parts of the country, ‘Maa’ would mean any of the many forms of Durga, but in the Sunderbans, it does not refer to a Hindu deity but a Muslim one – and one both pious Hindus and devoted Muslims pray to together – ‘Maa Bonbibi’. Legend has it that Bonbibi, born to poor Muslim parents, was abandoned, and then brought up by a deer in these forests. Blessed by Nature, she became the protector of these forests and all who enter it in good faith. Bonobibi shrines, with the idol of a goddess sitting on a tiger, dot the Sunderbans. And today Kultuli was going to thank Maa for keeping them safe.

The villagers had organised a jatra – a musical play celebrating Bonbibi. As the gaudily painted actors got into the act, on a makeshift stage, Giri Baba’s friend, a dark eyed man with a shock of white hair and a wispy beard, Muttalib Mollah, whispered, “Sunderban’s villages have both Hindus and Muslims, but in truth they are just children of the forest. The Musholmans pray five times in a mosque and the Hindus do their temple aarothi, but when it is time to go to the forest, we are together in our prayers to Maa Bonbibi. The Muslims tuck their beards and sit arm in arm in front of an idol with the Hindus who have no qualms about praying to a Muslim deity. Even when riots have spread across the Bengals, the Hindus and Muslims of the Sunderbans have lived as brothers… because the forest forces us to remain human, remain humane and stay in touch with what religion was meant to be… a source of strength, a divine bond, with our Khuda, our soul and our neighbour. A night in the forest is enough to teach you that. Theek bolchhi dada?” Muttalib turned to Giri. Though engrossed in the jatra, Giri turned, put an arm around Muttalib, nodded and smiled “theek… aekdom theek”. The play was long, the actors terrible and the music off-key, but the Kultuli crowd cheered, enraptured and entranced. The stage was empty now. The crowd was dispersing. Giri asked Muttalib to sing. “Aekhon kayno… why now?”. He was reluctant. “Gao na, aamra nachbo…sing, we’ll dance” Some people around him also insisted and a reluctant Muttalib went up on stage. Giri told me that Muttalib sang Hari kirtans really well.

Muttalib started, tentatively first, and then with gusto…The musicians returned, the dhols erupted, and the crowd stopped and turned. Muttalib was singing and ‘shaking’, and Kultuli, Hindus, Muslims alike, were ‘shaking with him…

This was my last day in these magical forests. It was a good day…
In the marshy swamps of the Sunderbans, faith has rock-solid underpinnings. Around the largest delta of the world, forest communities hail Bonbibi to protect them against the weather, and of course, the cat. Legends of the goddess, and more elaborately her nemesis, Dokkhin Rai, were first mentioned by Krishnaram Das in the 17th century. Later, the tales were retold in late 19th century in the Bonbibi Johurnamah by Abdur Rahim, who wrote them in Bangla, but in the way of the Arabic script – right to left.
This jungle goddess was born to a Muslim, Ibrahim, and his first wife, who was abandoned in the forest by the former when she was pregnant, at the behest of the second wife. The first wife gave birth to twins and left the girl child to the elements. Raised by a deer, Bonbibi, was chosen by Providence to fight the menace of the wicked Brahmin-turned-tiger, Dokkhin Rai.
Upon her divine mission, Bonbibi set out with her estranged brother Shah Jungoli for Mecca Medina to seek the blessings of Fatima and brought back some holy earth to mix in the Sunderbans’ soil. Her return and activities agitated Rai who challenged her to a duel. Dokkhin was vanquished and he pleaded forgiveness, addressing Bonbibi as ‘Mother’. Bonbibi, in her parting enjoinders, wished the forests be accessed only by the pobitro mone (pure hearted) and khali hatey (empty handed). To date, the Sunderban communities pay their obeisance to the goddess on Bonbibi Utsav, irrespective of caste, clan or religion…

Chalchitra and its technology

Chalchitra or "Devichal" is the painted background of an Idol, especially used with Durga. Chalchitra is a metamorphosed form of halo found in the Indian sculptures of ancient period. Primarily these were used to give proportion to the structure. Gradually narrating the associated myth of the figure gets its place on this halo which then took the form of a slab, known as "Prabhamandali" or halo of the idol. This tradition has been carried forward to the idol of Durga also. According to some this tradition was to put up a resistance to the tide of Buddhism. So decoration to depict the glory of the Hindu gods and goddess in its background has become an important part of the worshipping. According to some this may also be a display of the general familial bonds that a Bengali shares. Though generally Chalchitra or commonly called Chali is painted on perishable materials like, course canvas of "Potas" or paper a few varieties engraved on ivory, wood, stone or sculptured out of metals (Ashtadhatu) are also found.
Originally the artists of Chalchitra are potters but name of two other section are found to be involved in this drawing, surprisingly called "writing". First of them is "Grahabipra" (they are idol makers and might be Brahmanas by caste), the other is called the "Patuas" or "Sutradhar" (the painter of scroll patas, who are often its narrators). These people are often referred as artisans. It might be possible that they are part-timers.
While tracing their religion these artists or writers cannot be clubbed
into a single section as they came from both Hindu and Muslim community. Mysteriously some are found to be followers of both the religions as they had to draw "Gaji" patas for the Muslim locality and Kalighat and other mythological patas for the Hindu locality. They are found to have changed names for serving their purpose.
Four varieties of Chalchitra are still can be found - Bangla Chal, Markini Chal, Mothchouri Chal and Tanachauri Chal. Three more extinct varieties are Girje Chal, Sarbasundari Chal and Dothaki chal. Among these Dothaki Chal probably has two steps with uncountable figures and motifs. One of it stood at the usual background and the other at the front of it. Sarbangasundari chal is like a car shed found in many old houses, spreading like a canopy over three pillars at every four corners. Among the commonly seen chali is the Markini Chal. This is a semicircle stretching from one end of the idol to the other supported by two pillars.
Bangla chal follows the tradition found in temple architecture. The chali extends on both side of the idol in a suspended pattern. The chali is lengthy enough to fit figures like Shiva, Dashabatar of Vishnu and Dashamahavidya of Durga.
Markini Chal
Mothchouri chal has three continuous semicircular divisions like a wave with three peaks.
Tanachouri chal though resembles to some extent the Mothchouri chal it doesn't have the three divisions but here the peaks are prominent. Chalis' differ in their shape as in their themes. Generally chalchitra deals with themes like Shiva at Kailash and Durga sitting in a two-storied building carrying Ganesha at the center. Two extreme corners narrate two battlefields. One battle was fought between Sumbha-nishumbha and Devi Kaushiki, a part of Durga, where Kali was born to kill these two demons.The other battle depicts killing of the demons Chanda-Munda by Chamundi. In between region are covered by themes like Radha-Krishna at Brindaban and Coronation of Ram at Ayodhya.

Making of Bankura Horse

The logo of All India Handicrafts is the Bankura Horse. These horses display the skill and craftsmanship of Bengal.A pair of terracotta horses in a corner of a room adds class to any Bengali living room. These horses are not just decorative artifacts, but they also display the skill and craftsmanship of Bengal. Tracing back to the history of the terracotta sculptures, we land up in the land of red earth, the district of Bankura in West Bengal. The Malla rulers of Bengal played an active role in developing the intricate works of terracotta over the years.In 1655 they built Jor Bangla and Shyam Rai in 1640, which reflect the Vaishnav culture. Terracotta figurines of animals and birds along with geometric panels and historical depiction of the love between Radha and Krishna were the subjects of these architectural splendours. After 300 yrs the structures are still as it were before because of the scientific methods used in building it.
Bankura's horses
Bengal clay pottery can be divided into two segments-Bankura Clay Pottery and Krishnanagar Clay Pottery. Bankura's art form is an ancient form than the art form of Krishnanagar. It was the Kumbhokars or potters of Panchmura, 16 miles away from Bishnupur, who started to make the famous Bankura horses. If looked closely it will be noticed that the Bankura horses have more erect neck and ears and look more dynamic. Their jaws are wider, their set of teeth can be seen, eyebrows are drawn and their forehead is decorated with Chandmala.
Making of the Horses:
The 4 hollow legs of the horse is first made followed by the torso and then the neck and the head. All these parts are separately made and then glued together. On drying they are coloured and burnt in the kiln. These horses are of different sizes ranging from 6 inches to 4 feet. Biboda, Kamardiha, Bishnupur, Jaikrishnapur, Nakaijuri, Keyaboti are some of the places were terracota horses are made regularly.
Horses used for Puja:
Horses made in Sendra are worshiped. These horses are not hollow but solid. Bankura's local God Dharmaraj is another form of Sun God and mythologically it is known that Sun God is the rider of horses. Thus horses form an important part of all rituals while performing puja. Besides terracota these artistic horses have been casted in dokra and wood because of the growing demand.

Cho Masks of Purulia

Masks formed an integral part of all the ethnic tribes of ancient civilizations. Cures to illness and pains were relied on witchcraft and the magic cult. Masks of imaginative Gods and Goddesses and animals were used to instill fear and faith in the common folks.
Mask Makers(Mohagora)
In the chirda village of Bagmundi near Purulia the 'Pals', 'Sil', 'Dutta', 'Garai', 'Silmura', 'Bhatt' are engaged in themask making business. Farmers too look for a second livelihood by making these masks. There is a marked difference between the masks of a God and an Asur. The mask of a God has an aura of divinity in it while the mask of an Asura can be distinguished by its large eyes and protruding teeth.
A clay model of a mask is first made and dried in direct sunlight to make it hard. This is the first step known as 'Mati Gora'. It is then covered with powdered ash. Then layers of old newspapers moist with gum are pasted on this powdered layer. A thin layer of fine clay will be applied known as "Kabij Lapa". On drying, old torn cloth are pasted on it effectively. The mask is then polished, "Tapi Palish", with a wooden spatula. With a small tool, "batali" the features of the face are defined and cleaned. This is known as "Khushni Khoncha". A layer of clay water is applied on it. On drying a layer of zinc oxide or "khori mati" is applied on it. According to the characters the mask is painted and decorated. The artisans are well versed in the use of colours. Dark yellow or bright orange are the colours used for Gods and Goddesses like Devi Durga, Lakhmi and Kartik. White is generally used for Lord Shiva, Ganesh and Goddess Saraswati. Goddess Kali is painted black or blue. A talisman or a tilak is applied on the forehead of Lord Rama and Krishna. The Asuras are painted in black or deep green with thick mustaches, protruding teeth and large eyes.
Decoration of the mask
Silver and golden foil cut in different shapes, string of beads, pith works, and coloured paper flowers, feathers of hens and peacocks are used for decorating the masks. A type of oil is applied on the mask for a fine finish. Many masks are required for performing cho(not Chow) dance, to bring in variety to the performance but the exorbitant prices of the masks along with the cost of the drums, becomes nearly impossible for professionals to perform let alone non professionals. This piece of art is in great demand in our country and abroad. Different institutions and organisations decorate their places with these beautiful masks to add value to their institutions.

Monday, March 29, 2010


At times, Gambhira Dance is also performed in duet or in-group, depending upon the number of participants. The characters of the dance represent Puranic deities like Shiva, Parvati, Kali, etc. The big drum Dhak is primarily used as the principal accompanying instrument and the song, sung in eulogy of Lord Shiva and the tunes are loud and coarse, giving an added glory to its form. Gambhira songs are assumed to have originated from the worship of the god Shiva, since he is also known as `Gambhir`. In ancient times, Gambhira used to be celebrated as Puja,but in the medieval period, most Hindu communities started celebrating the Puja of `Dharma thakur` (a popular god of the Hindus) on the last three days of the Bengali year. This later on, was known as the `gajan of Shiva`. In the past, Shiva was imagined to be present at the time of actual performance.

The songs of Gambhira originated among the Hindu community of Maldah in West Bengal, completely in its theme formation. With time, Gambhira songs have undergone many changes in terms of theme and style of its presentation. Later, Muslims became the custodians of these songs and made many changes in its form, as it was an integral part of their social life and their culture by the time.

At present, the main characters in the Gambhira are a maternal grandfather and his grandson. The performance is usually structured as a dialogue between them, interspersed with songs for fluent flow, where the dialogues consists of both prose and poetry. The Gambhira reflects contemporary social problems through witty dialogues, songs, dances and jokes. Sometimes it also reflects a generation contradiction in opinions & choices.

The costumes for this performance are very simple, since both the performers wear lungis. The gray-bearded grandfather wears a mathal i.e. straw hat on his head and holds a stick in his hand, whereas, the grandson wears a torn jersey and has a gamchha, a local checked towel that is tied around his waist.

In the past, Gambhira songs were sung in the measures of ektal, trital, dadra, khemta, kaharba but nowadays, the tunes are more influenced by songs from popular Bangla and Hindi movies in terms of music. The Gambhira songs were made popular by Kutubul Alam, Rakibuddin, Biren Ghosh and Mahbubul Alam in their regions. They tried to introduce many new subjects and characters as its content with interesting and witty dialogues.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Scroll Paintings in Lord Jagannath's Orissa

Folk art is an indivisible part of folk culture. The study of folk culture in the subcontinents of India dates back to the 19th century. Some eminent personalities or connoisseurs began to study folk culture absolutely to quench their personal interest. In this respect, the names of Dinesh Chandra, Sen. Reverend Lalbehari De, Ramendrasundar Trivedi, Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore and Gurusaday Dutt should be always mentioned. Of them, Gurusaday Dutt is the foremost pioneer in the field of collection, consequation and deliberation of folk art and culture in Orissa.
As quoted by the famous Bengali historian Nihar Ranjan Roy, Gurusaday Dutt had revealed the origin and flow of folk art and culture with the insight of an expert jeweller, who can easily identify a real stone.
Folk art has been defined in various ways and words. A thorough observation of the social, historical, geographical and cultural remains of the Indian subcontinent suggests that folk art is the art form created by the rural people for the rural people, which is centered round different kinds of folk and tribal religious rites, customs and festivals. The creation of folk art needs no grammatical norms set up by any ancient author of folk art and culture. The art form that is created by the spontaneity of a rural artist in the simplest possible way with the help of natural colours and ingredients may rightly be termed as folk art.

Antiquity of Scroll Painting: Historical Backdrop
Generally speaking, 'pattachitra' refers to an art form or painting created on paper or cloth. The literal meaning of the works 'pattachitra' or 'drawing of a patta' seems quite absurd, and this term might have been added later on, which is why, we find even in Tagore's songs - the words -
Tumi Ki Kebol-i-chobi,
Shudhu Patte likha"
"Are you just a painting written only on a scroll?"
The word chitralekha has been in use for a very long time. In ancient India, the word 'chitra' signified hand-drawn pictures and inscriptions or sculpted out images. In that age, to differentiate hand-painted pictures from smeared or inscribed pictures, these were called written or "lekhya" pictures, and the practice of drawing was known as 'chitralekhan'. In spite of being unaware of the grammatical authenticity of the word 'chitralekha' (writing of a picture), the Patuas have coined the term 'pattalekha' (writing of a scroll). The word 'lekha' suggests a link of the Patuas with the ancient scroll painters.

According to the concept of folk paintings being executed by the folk painter, scrolls are written rather than drawn or painted by them. In Sanskrit, 'patta' means 'a cloth'. According to the history of Indian art, in ancient ages, pictures were 'pattachitra'. The creators of 'pattachitra' were introduced as the 'patuas'. On the basis of regional differences, the Patuas are classified as - pattikar, patkere, pattidar, mistry and so on.
However, the Patuas claim to have descended as a class belonging to 'Chitrakara', who had taken birth from celestial parents - the celestial artist, Vishwakarma and the celestial dancer, Ghritachi. Nowadays, art formS are not created on cloth, rather all the creations are produced on paper. Gazi Patta and Yama Patta, collected by Gurusaday Dutt, were made on cloth. These are now conserved in the Gurusaday Museum of Bratacharigram, Joka, Kolkata.
The Chitrakaras, or the scroll-painters, were mentioned in the 10th chapter of Brahmavaivarta Purana, written in the 11th or 12th century A.D. At a certain time, the celestial artist Vishwakarma descended from heaven and took birth in a Brahmin family. Simultaneously the celestial dancer, Ghritachi, took birth as the daughter of a gopa (milk producer) family. They got married and gave birth to nine sons: Malakara, Karmakara, Sankhakara, Kundibaka or Tantubayee, Kumbhakara, Kangsakara, Sutradhara, Chitrakara and Swarnakara.
According to the story, Vishwakarma and Ghritachi were the original parents or ancestors of the Patuas or Chitrakaras. In this regard, they are as honourable as any other artist or artisan of the Hindu society. In reality, however, Patuas are considered to be untouchable and ostracized. There is a myth behind this ostracism. An ancestor of the present day Patuas once drew the portrait of Mahadeva, the Great Lord of Hindu religion, without seeking His permission. After drawing the portrait, the artist was naturally very much annoyed and afraid as to what would happen if the Lord were to get angry with him. Incidentally, Mahadeva was just then coming by.
The painter hid the paint brush inside his mouth. Mahadeva asked the artist why had he made the brush unclean by keeping it inside his mouth. The Patua replied that he had done it out of fear. Mahadeva got angry and said that the Patua could have thrown it away. Instead he had made it unclean, so he had to accept the punishment. Then Mahadeva imprecated that from then on, the Patuas would be ostracized from the society. They would neither be Hindus nor Muslims. They would have to perform Muslim rites and work like the Hindus, i.e., they would draw pictures and read or sing.
As far as history is concerned, this is the reason behind the ostracism of the Patuas due to the imprecation of Mahadeva. So the Patuas now go to Mosques like the Muslims and draws the pictures of Hindu deities, sculpt out their images and sing the praises of Hindu deities presented on the scrolls.
The reason for the ostracism of the Patua community has been mentioned in the Brahmavaivarta Purana. Since they had violated the rules of painting directed by the Brahman, the Brahmin society cursed them. As a consequence, they have been outcasted. So, both history and folklore suggest that violation of set up norms led to the ostracism of the Patuas. This fact is further supported by Parasurama's sloka:
"Vyati Kramena Chitranang Sadyashchitra Karashtta Patito Brahmo shapeno Brahmonanancho kopata"
Deviation from the normal art form has led the Patuas to be outcasted by the curse of the Brahmin society.
Regarding the ostracism of Patuas, Gurusaday Dutt pointed that the form of Bengal's generalized Hindu religion is quite separate from the scriptural religion devoted only to Brahma. The eternal, independent imaginative Bengali soul could not conform to a fixed regulation set up by the scripture while performing religions rites and creating images of deities. Rather, the Bengali Patuas have formed and moulded the images of deities according to their own imagination and expression. As a result, Bengal has its own forms of Rama, Sita, Laksmana, Shiva and Durga. They bear little similarity to their original historical forms.
The generalized form of Bengali Radha-Krishna does not conform to their corresponding historical or lila form. Bengali Patua's Sita-Rama are different in appearance and nature from their counterparts, mentioned and portrayed by Valmiki or Krittibasa. To reach the masses and to fulfill their heart's desire and imagination, the Patuas were courageous enough to violate the rules set up by the dominating Brahmin society even at the cost of their identity and existence. They have been bold enough to reflect Bengali sentiment and spirit in their songs, on their pattas and in the moulding of images of deities.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jamdani & Tangail Saree

'Jamdani' and 'Tangail' are two pioneer sarees in the filed of heritage handloom products of Bengal handloom.

'Jamdani' - the great characteristic of fine art in hand weaving derived from a "PERSION" word 'JAM' meaning a 'cup' and 'DANI' denotes the 'container' . Jamdani style of weaving flourished under the benign, rich and enlightened patronage of kings and emperors. It may be considered as a textile of excellence for its super fine qualities in the fifteenth & sixteenth centuries. Excellence in weaving lies in the virtuosity of forms drawn from the social, religious and natural environment and translated through a particular technique and the weaver's sensitivity to create a new art form.

The figured muslin with delicate motifs worked on by deft fingers, needed besides skill, unlimited patience, a length of cloth sometimes taking months to weave.

The "Mughals" recognized this excellence, acknowledged its rarity. During the region of Emperor Jahangir and Aurangjeb, the manufacturer of finer Jamdani was a rare product and a royal monopoly
After the "Mughals" Jamdanis were continued to develop under the patronage of 'Nawabs' Wajid Ali Shah of Tanda and Nawabs of Dacca (presently under Bangladesh)

The weavers of Dacca were expert in Jamdani known as 'Daccai Jamdani' for producing mainly sarees and dress materials. While the weavers of "Tanda" and "Varanasi" in Awadh were experts in weaving of 'Awadh Jamdani' for producing mainly sarees, dress materials, handkerchiefs, Ornas, caps, table cover etc.

Both "Dacca" & "Tanda" Jamdanis, the ground warp and weft threads are commonly fine nature grey cotton yarn of counts, ranging from 60s to 150s. However, mulberry silk (13/15 Den filature)yarn were also used. The warp yarn for selvedge at normally 1/4th width are either grey or bleached cotton in both the styles.

In case of indigo dyed Nilambari Jamdani sarees of Bengal, the selvedge yarn dyed with madder colour is beautifully matched. Bleached cotton, indigo and black dyed cotton, silver and gold zari, munga threads are used as extra weft for figured motif in Dacca where as b leached cotton and gold zari are in vogue in "Tanda" as extra weft. The small cut piece of 3-5 plyed of these extra yarns are used for the desired effect of each motif using the same count as that of warp yarn.

8' x 8' pit looms were generally used for producing figured Jamdani. Like other sarees, hank sizing is largely followed for Jamdani from hank form yarn available in market.

The motion of layout of Jamdani fabrics are directly woven on loom by traditional master weavers from their hereditary skill, experience and talent. Traditional Jamdani motive are of geometric in concept, adopted from local flowers, birds, leaves, zig-zag lines, and so on by the weavers who improved and evolved a directory of design of "Dacca Gharana" These designs have its nomenclature Hazar-buti, Chand, Tara-buti, Dora-kata' Dabutar- khop, Rose-leaf etc.

In those days (Mughals, Nawabs), the bleaching & dyeing techniques were carried out by indigenous method due to non availability of chemical dyes and ingredients the technique of weaving Jamdani figured designs may be call "PICK & PICK" i.e., one pick extra weft design and then one ground pick.

It was originated from Tangail, a district of present Bangladesh. Previously it was named as "Begum Bahar" where silk warp and cotton weft were used. Later on, both cotton warp and weft were in vogue. The weaver mainly of 'BASAK' community who migrated from Tangail district before partition of our country & settled in 'Katwa' Dhatrigram, Tamaghata, Samudragarh, area in Burdwan district.
At present, silk Tangail sarees have been revived. The technique of drawing and weaving of extra weft for figured Tangail sarees is more or less identical to Jamdani sarees. Unlike Jamdani, two plain picks instead of a single pick are inserted after each extra weft meant for figured design.

Now in Samudragarh, Dhatrigram area design on Tangail sarees are woven in boarder by using Jacquard. The recent development is its decorative design. The main characteristics of these sarees in the loom finishing. While weaving Tangail saree , a sort of finishing by putting starch is done in addition to sizing on cotton yarn. Other feature of this saree i.e. paper finish appearance depends on its surface texture.

In recent time handloom weavers have diversified the Tangail saree in to the following varieties:
* Tangail Naksapar with jacquard design.
* Tangail (silk x silk ) sarees.

There are about 94000 people at Burdwan cluster engaged as part or full time basis in handloom activities. Besides this, there are remarkable number of designers, dyers, card makers, traders and auxiliary support providers. Approximate 60% of weaver force is from the adjacent villages of the cluster while 40% weavers are from outside the West Bengal mainly from North Bengal District.

Weaving community is largely concentrated at Ketugram, Ghoshhat, Panuhat, Musthali, Tamaghat, Kamalnagar, Mertala, Purulia, Serampore, Vidyanagar, Hatsimla, Nasratpur, Goalpara and Dhatrigram areas.

Before partition of Bengal i.e. in the year 1942, 12- 14families of weaving community from 'Nowakhali' and Tangail (presently Bangladesh) district came along-with their looms and concentrated at Hatsimla, Dhatigtram, and Nasratpur area. They were specialized in weaving of Tangail designed sarees with finer counts of yarn mainly imported varieties. At that time of weavers used to get their yarn from Dhakkai Patti at Kolkata and also sale their finished products to that 'patti' only. Each of the weaving manifested areas i.e., Kalna & Katwa sub division has its own history. as to how weaving activities/industry developed there.

The main product in the two different subdivision vary in their quality, variety and individuality. This has been caused due to different factors. For instance the raw material by which the Katwa belt weavers turn out their products are coarser variety of material. As a result this sub division produces coarser variety of handloom products such as 'Gamcha' (napkin), Lungi, Saree (40' x 40' ) for rough use. Besides the weavers who have settled in Katwa sub division have mainly migrated from Nwakhali dist of East Pakistan (presently Bangladesh) who were accustomed in weaving these type of handloom products.

On the other hand, weavers of Kalna sub-division are mainly successors of Tangail Dist of former East Pakisthan who were famous for their skill and expertise in weaving of finer and up grated quality of handloom saree e.g., Tangail 'Naksapar' Buttik saree with attractive design and colours.

Folk Sects of Bengal

Folk Sects the people of Bengal may be broadly classified into four main religious communities: Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian. Alongside these principal communities, there are some folk sects having different religious faiths, lifestyles and cultural patterns. Though they are not completely detached from the main religious streams, they cherish separate and independent concepts and perceptions, and their life-styles are different. These sub-communities emerged at different times and in different places. Although some sub-communities have dispersed and spread, they remain confined mainly to their places of origin. Religious sub-communities, like the Balahadis, BAUL, KARTABHAJA, Jagomohani, MATUYA, Nyada, and Sahebdhani, are found in both Bangladesh and WEST BENGAL in India. These groups may also be referred to as 'folk communities'.
Balahadi Balaram Hadi (1780-1845) of MEHERPUR, KUSHTIA, was the founder of this community. The ideal of the Balahadis is to lead a pure and simple life, above greed and sensuality. They consider praying to be their fundamental duty. According to them, the universe is the body of God. Hindu disciples call their deity Hadirama, while Muslim disciples use the term Hadi-Allah. Though declining in numbers, the Balahadis are still to be found at some places like Meherpur, Nishchintapur in NADIA , Daikiari in Purulia, Shalunigram in Bankura etc.
Baul The Baul form the most well-known folk sect or community in Bengal. It is believed that the community came into existence as a result of the blending of the Muslim fakir or mendicant class with the followers of the SAHAJIYA cult. Although the Baul community was in existence before LALON SHAH's time (1774-1890), it was only with the coming of Lalon that the community established itself as a social force. Lalon Shah's ideas of common spiritual ties between people of diverse religions appealed to ordinary people, particularly oppressed farmers and weavers.
There are both itinerant Bauls as well as Bauls who live at home with their families. Itinerant Bauls depend on alms and wander about singing and playing their EKTARA in search of their maner manus or ideal being. The Baul are iconoclasts, believing in neither caste nor creed. They say that both body and soul are important and that God lives in the human body. Although the Baul community originated in the districts of Kushtia and Nadia, it has spread from SYLHET and Tippera in the east to Birbhum-Manbhum (India) in the west.
Jagomohani Jagonmohan Gonsai (17th century) of the village of Baghasura in Sylhet district was the founder of the community which was organised by Ramkrishna, one of his disciples. Jagomohinis believe in the Vedas and lead ascetic lives. They are iconoclasts and do not consider the tulsi plant or cow dung to be sacred. Songs, known as Nirvan Sangit, form an important part of their religious worship. They have a total of twelve holy places including Machulia and Jalsukha in Sylhet and others in FARIDPUR and DHAKA.
Kartabhaja AWUL CHAND was the earliest preceptor of the Kartabhaja community. He started the community with 22 followers. His disciple, Ramsharan Pal (?-1783), organised the Kartabhaja community following the ideals of his spiritual guide. While the community includes both Hindus and Muslims, there is a predominance of Hindus, particularly from the Sadgop, Kalu, Muchi, and Vaishnava communities. Kartabhajas celebrate Dolkhela, Dol Purnima, Baishakhi Purnima, and LAKSMI PUJA. They believe that bathing in the Himsagar Lake is as sacred as bathing in the Ganges.
Kishoribhajan is a Vaishnava sub-community located in Sylhet. However, they oppose orthodox Vishnu philosophy and are followers of the Sahajiya cult. In their meeting places they perform dances and songs based on the Radha-Krishna story. Every male member has a female partner, whom he initiates in the art of love. There is also a diksa-guru, an initiator guide, who initiates disciples. They believe in five elements: nama (God's name), mantra (mystical words), bhava (essence), prema (love) and rasa (sentiment). Among these five elements, love and sentiment are of cardinal importance.
Matuya Sri HARICHAND THAKUR of Urakandi in Faridpur (now GOPALGANJ) was the founder of this sect. His son, Sri Guruchand, helped organise it. Thus both of them are equally respected. The word matuya is derived from matta or matoyara, meaning completely engrossed. The Matuya follow twelve principles, among them, universal humanism, social welfare, truthfulness, mercy to animals, self-help and uttering the name of God. Songs form an integral part of their worship, as they do that of Bauls. The SCHEDULED CASTES of Faridpur and KHULNA districts are the main followers of this cult.
Nyada Birbhadra, son of Nityananda, was the founder of this community. The Nyada are somewhat similar to the Vaishnavas and Bauls in dress and practices. They utter the phrases Haribol and Bir Abadhut. They have also some austere practices like the Bauls. They wear loose, patched, multi-coloured robes. They wear caps, carry cloth shoulder-bags and hold a stick and a coconut shell in one hand. They maintain themselves on alms. The descendants of the community still live in the Dhaka and Birbhum districts.
Sahebdhani The Sahebdhani community originated in the village of Dogachia-Shaligram in Nadia. The actual founder of this community is unknown, but both Muslims and Hindus contributed to it. The Sahebdhani are iconoclasts and do not believe in caste or creed. They believe in congregational prayers and hold them every Thursday. They call their spiritual guide Dinadayal, Dinabandhu. They have certain esoteric sexual practices. They hold an annual festival and mela (fair) during Baisakhi Purnima in the village of Brittihuda on the banks of the river Jalangi. The community has decreased considerably in number.
Bibliography Kshitimohan Sen Shastri, Banglar Baul, Calcutta 1954; Akshaykumar Dutta, Bharatbarsiya Upasak Sampraday, Calcutta 1870; Sheikh Gaus, Khulnar Loka-Sahitye Itihaser Upadan, Khulna, 1981.

Chal Chitra

Chal Chitra literally, roof painting, a kind of folk art on circular or vaulted canvas behind the statues of Hindu deities. There is a long tradition in Bengal of placing a circular canvas of mat, cloth or paper bedecked with picturesque paintings of celestial scenes above the idols of gods and goddesses. This is particularly so for the goddess Durga. This traditional art not only enhances the appearance of the Durga image, but also possesses some aesthetic value.
In order to make a chal chitra, the base is prepared by pasting paper on cloth coated with clay. This base is then painted white. Various figures and scenes from myths and legends are drawn on the whitened canvas. Popular themes include Lord SHIVA and his followers, scenes of wars between the gods and the demons (asuras), the goddess Durga slaying the demon, the scene of the coronation of RAMACHANDRA, images of Kali, RADHA, and KRISHNA. The image of Mahadeva or Shiva is found at the centre of all ancient chal chitra. The image of Durga surrounded by her sons and daughters suggests the warmth of Bengali family life. Besides being used for Durga images, chal chitra is also seen behind the statue of the goddesses Jagaddhatri and Basanti (worshipped and celebrated in the vernal season).

Gazir Gaan

The Fokire Paala of the Gazir Gaan (The Ascetical Drama of the Gazi Song) Dudhshar, a village in Shailkupa thana in Jhenaidaha district. There resides Rowshan Ali Jowardar, one of the lead singers or narrators (Gayen) of the Gazir Gaan (Gazi's song). The all time involvement with his performance keeps this man away from his home most of the time.
Gazir Gan songs to a legendary saint popularly known as Gazi Pir. Gazi songs were particularly popular in the districts of faridpur, noakhali, chittagong and sylhet. They were performed for boons received or wished for, such as for a child, after a cure, for the fertility of the soil, for the well-being of cattle, for success in business, etc. Gazi songs would be presented while unfurling a scroll depicting different events in the life of Gazi Pir. On the scroll would also be depicted the field of Karbala, the Ka'aba, Hindu temples, etc. Sometimes these paintings were also done on earthenware pots.
The Gazir Gaan singers and the instrumentalists took their seats facing north on the square shaped mat. Then commenced the starting ritual. As the lead singer implanted the symbolic icon, Gazir Asha (Hope of Gazi) north of the audience, music played on. Among the musical instruments were flutes, harmonium, juri or Mandira (a small hollow pair of cymbals) and the dhol (instrument of percussion which is not so much in width as a drum but longer in size). After the group instrumental, the lead singer presented a devotional song with his troupe accompanying him in stages.
If you come, Oh Merciful to rescue the destitute / (Merciful) Please take and make me cross
(I) do not offer my prayers, nor do I fast / Please have mercy and make me cross
(I) coming into this world / about you I have forgotten/ under the spell of infatuation . . .
Each individual has the knowledge of good or bad and for the singers and the spectators or the audience of Gazir Gaan, the performance is as recreational as it is of devotion. Some show their devotion by praying, some by worshiping (Puja), some by offering a particular sacrifice to the deity on fulfillment of a prayer (Manot) and some may look for some other way to express their devotion. Gazir Gaan, whatsoever includes humour or even obscenity, ultimately it is something of sheer devotion.
There are altogether 7 Paalas (episodes) in the Gazir Gaan performance:
• 1. Marriage
• 2. Didar Badshah
• 3. Dharma Badshah
• 4. Erong Badshah
• 5. Taijel Badshah
• 6. Tara Dakait
• 7. Jamal Badshah

But the performance commences with the “Fokre Paala" depicting the story behind Gazi and Kalu's becoming ascetics after which continues seven episodes. Gazi is very serious and sincere in his work, while the character of his brother Kalu is more comical and he is the one who creates the humour through his role. Through his jeers and meaningless dialogue and activities he very skillfully takes the audience into the embedded sorrow and depth of the story. Here are some quotes from the "Fokre Paala". After the dance performed by the "Chukris", the lead singer stands up and delivers some introducing words in his local accent.

After the introductory words of the narrator, starts the instrumental and then the Dhua or starting chorus of the narrative passes from the lead singer to his members of the chorus.

Singer starts the main narration of the Fokre Paala of Gazi and Kalu and at the beginning he requests Kalu earnestly to become Gazi's companion in his quest of becoming an ascetic leaving behind the earthly pleasures and luxury. As this song ends Kalu comes up and takes part in dialogue (in verse and prose)based drama with the lead singer. The statements and their replies are rather nonsense, comic in nature and sometimes with the use of indecent words.

Gazi answers satisfactorily and at one stage Kalu points out the asha of the Gazi. [The asha is one of the most holy ritual accessories that play an important role in the performance of the miracles of the saints (Pirs). It indicates the symbolic representation of a saint's supernatural power. During the Gazir Gaan performance, the asha is implanted in the ground and is not used in the performance. Other ritual accessories are used in Gazir Gaan and the offerings made to the saints in the performance are usually taken by the lead-narrator or singer himself on behalf of the saint.

At the end of the performance of each episode of the Gazir Gaan, the narrator asks the crowd which episode would they like to watch. The troupe performs accordingly because it is the mood of the crowd that matters to really feel the beat of the performance

Ghazi Pat

Pats (Sanskrit Patta) means picture is an ancient folk tradition. Dr. D. P. Ghosh (1980) describes , "Two thousand and five hundred years ago, scroll-painting or panel painting was widely used in many parts of India as mass media for enjoyment, general education and religious practices." Ram pats or Ghazi pats (picture) used by Hindu and Muslims. Pats are held very vertically and painted from top to bottom were shown scene after scene from the epilical stories.pats were produced for educative and religious purposes. They are used as accessories of balled singer.. Patua is a composer, artist and singer. Evidences of this has been cited through the last two thousand and five hundreds years that Pat and Patua were important audio-visual mediums in educating the masses almost corresponding to the gallery lectures of modern museums.
Gazi Pats Ballad:
Jamdud kaludt at
The right and left
The friend of the Jam raja (king)
Sits in the midst
Gazi says: Chase them away
With Gazi's name.
Gazir Pat a form of scroll painting; an important genre of folk art, practised by patuyas (painters) in rural areas and depicting various incidents in the life of Gazi Pir.
Those who took part in the performance were members of the bedey(snake charmers) community and Muslim by faith. Besides Gazir pat, there were other scrolls depicting well-known stories such as Manasa Pat (based on the goddess manasa), Ramayana Pat (based on ramachandra), Krishna Pat (based on Lord krishna) etc. The asutosh museum of indian art (Kolkata, India), Gurusaday Dutt Museum (Kolkata, India) and the Museum
Gazir pat is usually 4'8" long and 1'10" wide and made of thick cotton fabric. The entire scroll is divided into 25 panels. Of these, the central panel is about12" high and 20.25" wide. There are four rows of panels above and three rows below the central panel. The bottom row contains three panels, each of which is5.25" high and 6.25" wide. The central panel depicts Gazi Pir seated on a tiger, flanked by Manik Pir and Kalu. The central panel of the second row shows Pir Gazi's son, Fakir, playing a nakara. The central panel of the third row shows Gazi's sister, Laksmi, with her carrier owl. The right panel of the second row shows the goddess Ganga riding a crocodile. In the bottom row, Yamadut and Kaladut, the messengers of Yama, are shown in the left and right panels. The central panel shows Yama's mother punishing the transgressor by cooking his head in a pot. As Gazi Pir is believed to have the power to control animals, a Gazir pat also depicts a number of tigers.

Red and blue are the two pigments mainly used. There are slight variations of colour, with crimson and pink from red, and grey and sky-blue from blue. Every figure is flat and two-dimensional. In order to bring in variety, various abstract designs (such as diagonal, vertical and horizontal lines, and small circles) are often used. The figures lack grace and softness. Some of the forms (such as trees, the Gazi's mace, the tasbih, (the Muslim rosary), birds, deer, hookahs etc, are extremely stylised. The figures of Gazi, Kalu, Manik Pir, Yama's messengers, etc appear rigid and lifeless. There is no attempt at realism. The traditional method of painting Gazir pat begins with the preparation of size from tamarind seeds and wood-apple. The tamarind seeds are first roasted and left to soak overnight in water. In the morning the seeds are peeled, and the white kernels are ground and boiled with water into a paste. The paste is then sieved through a gamchha (indigenous towel). The tamarind size thus obtained is then mixed with fine brick powder. In order to prepare wood-apple size, a few green wood-apples are cut up and left to soak overnight in water. The resultant liquid is strained in the morning, and the size is ready to use.

A Gazir pat is generally painted on coarse cotton cloth. The piece on which the painting is to be executed is spread on a mat in the sun. A single coat of the mixture of tamarind size and brick powder is then applied on the side to be painted, either by hand or with a brush made of jute fibre. After it has dried, two coats of size are applied on the other side of the cloth, which is then left to dry. On the side to be painted, another coat of a mixture of tamarind size and chalk powder is applied. When the cloth is dry, it is divided into panels with the help of a mixture prepared with wood-apple size and chalk powder. When the prepared cloth is dry, the patuya starts painting the figures.

The pigments were originally obtained from various natural sources: black was obtained by holding an earthen plate over a burning torch, white from conch shells, red from sindur (vermilion powder), yellow from turmeric, dull yellow from gopimati (a type of yellowish clay), blue from indigo. The patuya would make the brush himself with sheep or goat hair. Some of these techniques are still used today. However, the patuya usually buys paints and brushes from the market.

The tradition of Gazir pat can be traced back to the 7th century, if not earlier. The panels on Yama's messengers and his mother appear to be linked to the ancient Yama-pat (performance with scroll painting of Yama). It is also possible that the scroll paintings of Bangladesh are linked to the traditional pictorial art of continental India of the pre-Buddhist and pre-Ajanta epochs, and of Tibet, Nepal, China and Japan of later times.

The scroll paintings of Gazir pat (pat meaning cloth), present the valour of legendary figure Gazi Pir, who was respected and worshiped as a warrior-saint, writes Robab Rosan Although worshipping the images of Gazir Pir is not mentioned in history, according to some scholars, the Muslim saint Gazi, might have appeared around the 15th century and seemed to be related to the rise of Sufism in Bengal. Islam Gazi, a Muslim general, served Sultan Barbak (1459-74) in Delhi and conquered Orissa and Kamrup (now Assam). Towards the end of the 16th century, Shaikh Faizullah praised the valour and spiritual qualities of this general in his verse Gazi Bijoy, the victory of Gazi.

There are some influences of Khijir Pir or Khawaj Khijir, a Muslim holly man considered as the protector of water, found in the story of Gazi Pir. To the worshipers of Gazi, this warrior-saint protected his devotees from attacks of wild animals and demons in the forests. Particularly, in the regions of the Sundarban, the story and images of Gazi Pir had earned much popularity among the forest dwellers, like woodcutters, beekeepers and others. These communities still believe in the supernatural powers of the Pir and utter his name when they venture in to the forest.

In the plains, Gazi is worshiped as the protector against demons and harmful deities and saves them from all sorts of dangers. The villagers usually call the gayens or folksingers, who know the story of Gazi Pir to sing the saint’s praise. The travelling storytellers, mostly belonging to the bede (gypsy) community, use a Gazir pat and pointing at the images on the pat, they narrate the power and prowess of the Pir in their singing verses. The devotees also hang the scroll paintings of Gazi in their houses to protect them from the influences of evil power.

The singers’ preaching created a demand for the pats among the devotees, irrespective of caste, creed and community and the pats had gained a huge popularity in the rural areas across the country, in the early years. Traditionally, the singers were Muslims while the patuas belonged to the Hindu religion. Sadly, at present, this combined form of art, paintings on pats and rendering of Gazir praise, has lost its purpose as a savoir from evil.
Gazir pat has specific images painted on a single canvas which have remained unchanged through the centuries. These images have been honoured as sacred symbols of good omen. There are twenty seven panels in a traditional Gazir pat, which measures 60 inches X 22 inches. The ankaiya (painter) follows the traditional styles in depicting the images. In the twenty-seven panels, the ankiya draws the images of a shimul tree; a cow; drum to depict triumph of Kalu Gazi; sawdagar or merchant; a deer being slaughtered; Asha or hope, the symbol of Gazi; Kahelia; Andura and Khandura; tiger; umbrella in the hand of Gazi’s disciple; Suk and Sari birds sitting on the umbrella; Lakhmi; charka, the spinning wheel; two witches; goala or milkman; mother of the goala; a cow and a tiger; an old woman beautifying herself; Baksila; Ganga; Jamdut; Kaldut; mother of Jam raja; and in the centre Gazi riding on a tiger. The singer or singers narrate sometimes the night long story, pointing at the characters, which appear in the twenty seven panels of the pat.
Red and blue are the two pigments mainly used in the pats. There are slight variations of colour, with crimson and pink from red, and grey and sky-blue from blue. Every figure is flat and two-dimensional. In order to bring in variety, various abstract designs (such as diagonal, vertical and horizontal lines and small circles) are often used. Trees, Gazi’s mace, the tasbih or prayer beads, birds, deer, hookahs etc, are extremely stylised. The figures of Gazi, his disciples Kalu and Manik Pir, Jama’s (the Hindu god of death) messengers, etc appear rigid and lifeless. Though there is no attempt at realism in the images of Gazir pats, the sort of painting has a time value as primitive work.

Among the adi patchitras or ancient paintings besides the Gazir pat, we also come across in history the Mahabharata pat, Ramayana pat, Muharram pat, Jam pat, Chaitanya pat, Manasa pat, Laxmi pat and others. Among the modern pats, one can see saheb pats, cinema pats and grameen pats.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Kushan, A Folk Theatre of North Bengal

(we are thankful to http://chandrakantha.com/)
by By Mir Ali Akhtar
The folk theatre of Northern parts of Bengal has an ancient past.However, the continued viability of this tradition is a perennial question. Folk culture in the rural areas, has long been under pressure form the urban culture. Just as folk-crafts have found it difficult to compete with mass produced goods, so too, folk music and theatre must compete with radio, TV, and the cinema. Under the pressure of the larger urban culture, many elements of folk culture have disappeared or been pushed into oblivion.
The kushan is a form of folk theatre that was once found in many parts of Northern West Bengal and the former greater Rangpur district of Bangladesh. However today, it is extremely rare. The kushan (sometimes transliterated as kusan), is a dramatic presentation which involves, singing, recitation of dialogue, acting, dancing, and musical accompaniment.
The themes of the kushan theatre are essentially religious in nature and revolve around portions of the Ramayan. In particular they tend to revolve around Ram's sons Kush and Lob (i.e., Lav). The etymology of the term "kushan" is unclear. There appear to be two stories concerning the origin of the term; but both of these deserve considerable scepticism.
According to some, it seems that one day Sheeta's (i.e. Sita) son Lob (i.e., Lav) was missing. Sheeta was in great distress and Balmeeki Muni (i.e. Valmiki) heard of her problems. Sheeta told Balmeeki that she did not know how to tell Sree Raam Chandro (i.e., Sri Ram Chandra) that their son was missing. When Balmeeki heard of Sheeta's dilemma, he told her to "bring some straw" (Kush = "hay" or "straw", "aan"= "bring"). When Balmeeki obtained the straw, he fashioned it into the form resembling the missing son Lob, and infused it with life. After some time, the missing son Lob returned, and from that day forward Sheeta had two sons, Lob and Kush. According to this etymology, "Kushan" means "bring straw".
There is different story concerning the origin of the term. According to other people the word "kushan" means "To wipe away evil" ("ku"= evil, "shan"= "to clean by wiping"). This is supposedly derived from the concept of destroying injustice, which is a consistent theme of the kushan theatre.
There is a distinctive hierarchy of performers in the kushan theatre. There is a main performer who is also the leader of the group; he is known as the "geedal" or "mool". The geedal gives the narration in Bengali; this is the official language of both Bangladesh and the North East Indian state of West Bengal. Secondary to the geedal is the dohar, daaree, or doaree. This secondary narrator gives almost the same narration, but instead of a more standard Bengali (Bangla Bhasha), he translates it into a local vernacular dialect of Rajbongshi.
After these come the supporting musicians, and a very few singer-cum-actors. The supporting musicians are known as the "baiin". The baiin members are named according to their instrument; therfore "banshia" is the banshi (i.e., bansuri) player; Khuli is the khol player; Juridar are the mondira or khafi players (i.e., manjira); and the behala-master is the violin player. there is a slightly different nomenclature for the players of Western instruments; for these, the term "master" is appended to their instrument name. Therefore one finds designations such as, harmonium-master; clarinet-master; etc. The supporting singer-cum-actors are known as "paiil". Of particular interest among the paiil are the chokra. These are four to six young boys who dress up in women's clothing and play the female parts of the drama. As is typical of much of South Asia, women performers are not used.
Music and dance are integral to the kushan theatre. However, unlike much of the other theatre of South Asia, dance plays a relatively minor role. Much of the narration is presented in the form of the song. Perhaps the greatest demands are placed upon the main performer (i.e., the geedal), who must sing, provide narration, and play the traditional stringed instrument known as bana.
The songs play an important part in the performance of the kushan. These songs are classified as nachari, dhooya, poyaar, and khosha. Of these, the nachari gives dialogue and naration; the dhooya are popular folk songs), the poyaar are the musical themes of the performance, while the khosha are comical riddles.
Instrumental music is also very important to the kushan theatre. Obviously the major purpose is to provide musical support for the singers and to provide a background for the dance performance. However in the case of the main performer (geedal), the bana actually helps define his position within the performance.
There are a number of instruments which may be used in the kushan. Aside from the bana, there is a bowed instrument known as as sharinda (i.e. saringda). Over the years, this has come to be replaced with the violin or the harmonium; however the use of these Western instruments is not traditional. Arbanshi (i.e., bansuri or bamboo flute) is also commonly employed. There are also a number of percussion instruments used as well; principal among these are the akhrai (e.g., dholak), khol, mondira (i.e., manjira), and khapi (larger manjira).
The kushan performance has a typical structure. It is:
1. Bondona (i.e.,Vandana)(adoring/invocation/veneration) - The bondana is what is known in India as a "vandana". It is a prayer in the form of a song. Such bondonas may be in praise of gods, saints, or gurus (either spiritual or artistic). Typical examples may be Debi Shoroshshoti Bondona (i.e., Saraswati Devi Vandana), Debi Monosha Bondona (i.e. Manisha Devi Vandana)(in folk-theatre Poddopuran only), Dikbondona (Invocation of the blessings of the cardinal directions, east, south, west, and north), Guru Bondona, etc. Each bondona is usually four to five minutes long. Everyone in the group participates in this; but there is no dance with bondona.

2. Nachari - This is a type song or a number of songs, whose lyrics describe the forthcoming pala (play). These are dialogues with acting in front of the audience. All the group members participate in this, with a full accompaniment of dance, music, etc. It lasts about five to six minutes. The musical structure is as of vaoaiya which is a very common folksong in this area.

3. Palarkotha (dialogues and naration) - These are a few lines of the dialogue which are delivered by the geedal in somewhat standard Bengali; the dohar quickly repeats/and elaborates in the local dialect. In this case it was Rangpuri or Rajbongshi. This is necessary because the locals do not understand standard Bengali very well. This continues for about 10-12 minutes. There is also acting with this. At times, one or two members of the paiil join in for dialogue and acting. There is no dance accompaniment, but there is music.

4. Poyaar - The poyaar is generally three to four lines, but sometimes as many as eight lines, of a popular folk song vaoaiya. The themes of which fit with the interludes of the preceding dialogue. It lasts about 10-12 minutes. All the members of the group participate. There is also dance and musical accompaniment. Generally the chokra do not sing because they are busy dancing. These folk dances demand strength in the knees as chokras (i.e, young boy dancers) are required to rise vigourously on the "shom" (i.e., sam or first beat of the cycle). At times three or four subsequent risings are required when a "tehai" (i.e., tihai or a triadic rhythmic device) is given with the khol (i.e., folk drum).

The gach poyaar is particularly interesting; It may be thought of as a theme. These are fundamental poyaars made at the time script is first created. "gach" in Bengali means "tree", but in this context it means "original" or "fundamental".

One should note that the term poyaar in the context of folk theatre does not mean the same as it does in mainstream literary circles. Typically a poyaar is Bengali measure of verse consisting of two lines, each of which is 14 syllables. However the poyaar in the folk theatre of Dhorla River basin, area does not adhere to this structure.

5. Nachari

6. Palarkotha

7. Poyaar/dhooya/ Khosha - At this point there will be poyaar, dhooya, and khosha. The poyaar has already been discussed; however the terms "dhooya" and "khosha" deserve some discussion.

Dhooya - These are also a few lines of any very popular vaoaiya/chotka, but not related to the theme of the play. All the members participate in this. The music of this is generally in a 3/4 time signature ("druto" or fast dadra tal).

Khosha - This is a short comedy drama, which need not directly related to the story of the play. It generally lasts for 20-30 minutes. It is performed by geedal, dohar, and one or two of the paiil. There is no dancing in this, but there is musical accompaniment. Very often this comedy takes the form of a riddle. Khosha was extremely important in the old days when there used to be competitions (norok). It is considered to be the most interesting and most attractive portion of the performance.

8. Nachari

9. Palakotha

10. Ending - In one night a play is performed for 6-7 hours. It is ended by singing a dhooya; however before ending, the geedal lets the audience know that it is finished and invites the audience for future performances.

Putul Naach(Puppet Theatre) of Nadia

West Bengal had a strong tradition in this type of puppetry. In Nadia distrtict rod-puppets used to be of human size. This form is now almost extinct, and that which survives uses puppets of about 31/2 t o 4 feet in height. usually they have 3 joints. The head is jointed at the neck and both hands at the shoulders. Only a few figures, such as dancers, have joints also at the elbows. The technique of manipulation is interesting. A bamboo-made hub is firmly tied to the waist of the puppeteer. On this hub the rod that supports the puppet figure is placed. The puppeteers, each holding a puppet, stand behind a head-high curtain. Usually mats made of bamboo or a special kind of tall grass are used as the curtain. While manipulating the rods attached to the head and hands, the puppeteers also move and dance, imparting corresponding movements to the puppets.
Simultaneously, they sing and deliver prose dialogue in a stylized recitative manner, each for the stage provide the accompanying music with a harmonium, drums and cymbals. The music, style of delivering the dialogues, costumes which the puppets wear, all have a close similarity with Bengalee Jatra, the most popular,vital and fascinating of folk theatre prevalent in the state. It is evident that there has been a continuous exchange between Putul-nach and Bengalee Jatra. There are about a dozen plays in the traditional repertoire of Putul-nach. Most ancient of them are, perhaps, the plays based on Ramayana. The other plays, such as Satee Behula, are based on legends of which a few are peculiar to Bengal and are favourites of Jatra theatre as well. Some puppets fascinate the audience because they are so ingenuously articulated. Rod puppets of West Bengal do not come under this category. Their appeal depends not on manipulating dexterity
but on the histrionic talent of the puppeteers.


Bhadu is the social festival of South Bengal. The festival starts from the first day of Bhadro, the fifth month in Bengali Calendar and continues till the end of the month.
It has its origins in the story of a princess called Bhadravati (Bhadresvari) of Panchakote who committed suicide. Bhadravati's devotees make an image of her and sing and dance before it throughout the month. On the last day of Bhadra, they gather on the river bank and immerse the image in the water. Songs, mainly focussing on marriage, form the main attraction of the festival in which both professional groups and amateurs take part. Celebrations include fairs and cultural programmes.2
Bhadu festival is mostly celebrated in Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum and Bardhaman districts of West Bengal.
Bhadu was an orphan found by the chief (mukhya) of Lada village. Raja Nilmoni Singh of Kashipur in whose kingdom Ladha is located has just introduced a new strain of rice—Bhaduyi—for cultivation in Kashipur is fond of touring the kingdom in a disguise along with his minister, Dhruvachand, to see if his subjects are in favor of the new crop. In the course of his travels he hears that the chief of Lada village has a daughter who is the living embodiment of goddess Lakshmi. He decides to see her in person. He disguised as a Sanskrit pundit (scholar) and was wonderstruck by her beauty and grace and decides to adopt her as his daughter. However, her father, the village chief, will not let her go away and the king decides to let Bhadu stay in the village. He decides to provide her the benefits of a royal princess. Dhruvachand stays behind to oversee her education. Bhadu's new identity, as a royal princess, is kept secret. Bhadu is very popular among the village people because she works actively for their betterment. Then she meets Anjan, son of the doctor (kaviraj) in the neighbouring village. They fall in love, much to the dismay of Dhruvachand3. In the meantime the British imprison the king because of his active involvement in the popular uprising of 1857. He is, however, later released. When he hears about Bhadu's involvement with Anjan, he orders the latter's capture and secret imprisonment. Bhadu is heartbroken and, together with two of her companions, travels across the kingdom singing songs at the gates of various forts in which Anjan may be imprisoned, hoping that he will recognize her voice and respond. The king relents and Anjan is released, but by then Bhadu has disappeared. Her companions report that one morning she seemed to fade away, merging with the sky. Village women continue to sing the songs that Bhadu first sang in the fruitless search for her lover.
Bhadu gaan, an inseparable part of Bhadu festival reflects the colours of rural society. It used to be very popular in Burdwan, Bankura and Midnapore. But in Birbhum the existence of this unique genre is being threatened by the rising popularity of cinema and television. Bhadu songs are composed extemporeneously and sung on each night of the festival, depicts the Goddesses as young girls. They describe Bhadu and tell in loving detail how they will be entertained. Since Bhadu is unmarried, her songs are sung mostly by unmarried girls. Dancing and playing drums accompanies Bhadu.


AAlkap Pala Gaan is an wondering ancient folk-Theatre of eastern India, originating in and around Murshidabad district of West Bengal. It was then spreading to the adjoining districts of Malda and even Dumka and Purnia in the adjacent State of Bihar.
AAlkaap is an amalgamation of music, dance and theatrical presentation. Opinions vary regarding its nomenclature as well. According to some, AAlkaap (Aal-faal) was the name given to a group of rural performers, usually from the low socio-economic strata, who were like wandering minstrels. Some says it is the Kaap or Kappoye the leader who use the Aal the pin to through bitter social truth to the mass.
The performances were usually serio-comic in nature, urging people to discard foreign goods and use homogenised swadeshi goods. Again, some believe Kaap means ‘kavya’ (verse) and Aal is part of the verse. Others believe it to be a gross form of entertainment comprising verses that provide cheap thrills and are enacted with seductive gestures.
Usually 10 to12 people are involved in the presentation of a pala. The central character of an AAlkaap is a youth (known as Chhokra), who enacts the role of a woman, other than him, there’s one ‘Kepe(Kappoye)’, a ‘Chhoradaar’ (poet), an ‘Ostaad’ (director), a harmonium player, a percussion player (Dugi-baadak) and ‘Dohaari.’ Bangla novelist Sayed Mustafa Siraj wrote a path breaking novel Mayamridanga(MagicMridanga) to depict the life and livelihood of chokras. Still now Chorkars are one of the main attractions of the AAlkap as well as dramatic dialogue of the characters derived from various local events, where the groups use to perform.
AAlkaap is presented in five parts: Asar Vandana, Chhora, Kaap, Baithaki Gaan and Khemta Pala. AAlkaap is a reflection of rural society and gives an authentic picture of the socio-economic condition of the people.
Master of this trade is Karunakanta Hazra and group of Murshidabad.


Jatra is a popular form of folk theatre from the Eastern region of India, mainly Bengal. It is the enactment of a play with a cast and comprises music, dance, acting, singing and dramatic conflict. Earlier, religious values were communicated to the masses through the powerful medium of Jatra.
The origins of Bengali Jatra are quite hazy and the historians and literary critics have widely divergent views. Nevertheless, it is to be mentioning that the word Jatra can be traced in the Natyashashtra, the bible on the arts and science of dance. It was also attributed that there are dramatic presentation in Bengal to Jaydeva's “Geet Govinda”. And it can be said that Jatra is a mix of various popular and classical art forms.
In Bengal, there was a form of singing called the Carya(Charya), which was popular between the 9th and the 12th centuries. The commentaries on the Amarakosa mention its existence and some fragments from these are quoted in copperplate grants. The languages of these songs are considered to be a creation of sections of people who were followers of Mahayana Budhhism. There are also references to a Buddha Natak. While no definite deductions can be made from this evidence, it is clear that this was a kind of musical drama, which was possibly prevalent during that time. During the same period, the Carya Padas were popular in Orissa.
SriChaitanyaDev (social reformer) and his followers contributed to a reawakening and were responsible for bringing about a national integration in many parts of India at the cultural level at a time when all Indian regions were affected by political and economic devastation. They were the Creators, the directors of Drama and self-consciously used the vehicle of drama for religio-social purpose. History owes them the first definite presentation of theatrical spectacle where Chaitanya himself played Rukmini. This then was perhaps the beginning of the ‘Krisn jatra.’ So he is, undoubtedly, the predecessor of the contemporary Jatras of Bengal.
Today, the style of writing plays for Jatras has undergone changes. Jatra plays are now, no longer limited to the mythological, historical or fantastical subjects. They include social themes to suit modern taste. Jatra is performed on a simple stage with the spectators surrounding it on all sides. The chorus and the musicians take their position off stage. There are no stage properties except a single seat meant to serve various functions - a throne, a bed or a way-side bench. Onstage, the actors move in a very theatrical manner. They deliver their speeches in high-sounding words and have to be loud enough to catch the attention of the spectators seated on all sides. Consequently, they espouse an exaggerated style and are heavily made up. Their costumes dazzle, their swords blaze and their words boom to the accompaniment of the crashing cymbals. Sometimes the actors depict subtle emotional moods like love, sorrow, pathos, but the element of exaggeration is always present, as they have to project themselves as larger than life figures.
As in the case of other theatre forms, the main Jatra performance is preceded by some preliminaries. Here they constitute the singing of a melody and the playing of several instruments. Many Ragas including Syama Kalyana, Bihag, and Puravi etc. are used. Singing of the same melodic line follows the playing of the instruments. Soon after the conclusion of the musical overture, a group of dancers rush in from the gangway and begin a dance. Often, the group dance is followed by a solo dance.
In the last four or five decades the advancement hindi cinema in the rural Bengal has a influence over the transformation Jatra. These need to be much more flashy with colourful dresses, coloured lights, revolving sets etc. and in the mean time various popular personalities of the film fraternity of Bengal and Mumbal are joining to experience the pulse of jatra. this trend has also an effect on it.
The Jatra forms are an important branch of the parent tree of Indian literatures, languages and theatre forms. Its survival appears to have thrown seeds, which have given modern Bengali theatre a new direction.

Friday, March 19, 2010


(Courtesy: Rangan Dutta)
Legend says that Lord Shiva appeared before Maharaja Krishnachandra (the king of Nadia) in his dream, and told him that he was shifting his base from Kasi to his capital. So in order to please the Lord the Maharaja set up his new capital at Shivniwas, and constructed 108 (although historians have doubt about the figure) temples in his honour.
But Historians have come up with a more rational explanation. They say that in the middle of the eighteen century Maharaja Krishnachandra in order to save his capital Krishnanagar from the invading Marathas (Bargis) shifted it to Shivniwas, which was surrounded on three sides by the Churni River, thus providing a natural protection from the invaders. After shifting his capital the Maharaja christened it Shivniwas, probably after the Lord himself. However some historians claim that it was named after his son Shiva Chandra.
Cultural Development:
During the reign of Maharaja Krishnachandra (1728-1782) Bengal went through a phase of huge cultural revolution. His knowledge, education and culture have given him a unique place in the cultural history of Bengal. His navaratna (nine jewels) sabha still plays a significant role in the cultural development of Bengal. The cultural activities of Krishnachandra also had a huge impact on the architecture of the period. This period was marked with the construction of huge temples. The temples did not follow the traditional Bengali structure of Chala (sloped roof) or ratna (domes) but contained arches, spires and minars thus giving it an Islamic influence. Even traces of Gothic architecture is present in some of the temples. Also almost no terracotta decoration, which was the hallmark of all Bengal temples of that period, was found on these temples.
Shivniwas Today:
Sadly however only three of the 108 temples exist to this day, and one of them contains the largest Shiv Linga of Eastern India. The two Shiva temples along with a Ram Sita temple and the ruins of Krishnachandra’s palace are all that remains of Shivniwas’ glorious past.
Ram Sita Temple:
This is a brick temple with the walls covered with cement plaster, which was added later. On the eastern side of the temple complex lies the Ram Sita temple constructed in 1762. The temple is built on a 2.4m high platform and measures 12.8m m in length and 9.8m m in breadth, the extended balcony was probably added later on. The main structure is crowned by a char-chala (four-shaded) roof, topped with the square base structure, which again is crowned with a char-chala roof totaling up to a height of 15.2m. Unlike the traditional Bengali temple the cross-section of the top chalas are not triangular but bell shaped. The four corners of the square structure are provided with narrow long decorated minars, having significant Islamic influence. Five arches flank the entrance of the temple, while that of the garvagriha (inner sanctum) is marked with three, having remarkable resemblance with Gothic architecture. The bell shaped chalas, the Gothic arches and Islamic minars have given Ram Sita Temple of Shivniwas a unique place in Bengal architecture.

Ram Sita Temple, Shivniwas.

The temple contains the idols of Ram and Sita. The idol of Ram is made of stone and that of Sita is of astodhatu (8 metals). The idol of Ram is seated and is placed on a wooden throne while that of Sita is standing and is placed beside the throne. The statue of Ram is crowned on the head and has remarkable resemblance with Buddha. The temple also contains idols of several deities, including a stone image of Bishnu, probably found on the banks of Churni and dating back to the Pal age.

The temple was first restored by Birla Trust Fund in 1965-66 and although the pink paint appear totally out of place, the temple has more or less been well maintained. It is an active temple with Pujas and Bhogs offered regularly.
Ragniswar Temple:
THE RAGNISWAR IS A DIFFERENT NAME FOR SHIVA. Few yards to the west of the Ram Sita Temple lies the Ragniswar temple containing the 2.4m high Shiv Linga. Built in the same year as the Ram Sita Temple, the char-chala temple is built on a 1.2m high platform and has a square cross-section of side 8m. it is crowned with a narrow char-chala spire and reaches a total height of 18.4m. Three of the four sides of the temple are provided with arched gateways leading to the giant Shiv Linga. The fourth side has an identical closed arch. Sadly, the temple is in a sorry state, with trees growing all over the structure. In spite of all these the absence of paint gives it a somewhat authentic look.

Ragniswar Temple, Shivniwas.
Raj Rajeswar Temple:
On the western end lies the 120 feet (36.6m) high Raj Rajeswar Temple, locally called Buro Shiv’er Mandir (the Old Shiva Temple). Built in 1754 the temple has totally been reconstructed by Birla Trust Fund in 1965-66. (After that a number of restoration work was crried out by different trusts, however, giving more importance to reconstruction than restoration) and nothing remains of its 250 years old architecture. Built on an octagonal base of height 1.8m the eight vertical walls rise to a height of 5.3m and are topped with a long narrow spire totaling to a height of 24.4m. It is probably the highest temple of its period in West Bengal. Three of the eight sides are provided with Gothic arched gateways while the other five are provided with identical closed arches. The eight corners are provided with long, narrow decorated minars, thus giving it a unique place in Bengal architecture, which cannot be classified under any of the traditional classification of Bengal temples.

Raj Rajeswar Temple (Buro Shiv'er Mandir), Shivniwas.

Starting from the first restoration of 1965-66, the temple has been restored, or rather reconstructed, several times, the last one taking place in February 2006, when shabby looking iron railings were added to the octagonal platform. Today the cemented plastered temple, neither resembles the grace and beauty of the original structure and the yellow and pink paint looks totally out of place. Thus the 250 year old temple is totally reconstructed and thus in the process wiping out a piece of history from the face of the planet.
Although the outside of the temple has been totally modified into a modern structure, the inside of the octagonal temple remains the same. The Raj Rajeswar temple has the distinction of housing the largest Shiv Linga in Eastern India. Measuring 2.7m in height and 6.7m in circumference (including spout), the black stone Shiv Linga is definitely the star attraction of Shivniwas. At the back of the Linga a flight of stairs lead the devotees to a height of about 1m, thus allowing them to pour water on the giant linga.

Giant Shiv Linga at Raj Rajeswar Temple, Shiviwas.
Maharaja Krishnachandra’s Palace:
A dirt road connects the temple complex to the ruins of Krishnachandra’s Palace. The road goes past a phone booth and past several houses to a small clearing housing the remains of the royal palace. History describes the palace as a huge fort but nothing remains of this historical structure. Most part of the structure is buried underground and is covered with dense vegetation. Apart from a small roofless room nothing much is left of this historical structure and that too remains in a very sorry state. Most of the structure is inaccessible due to dense undergrowth but the walls of the accessible portion are used by locals to dry cow-dung cakes.

Ruins Maharaja Krishachadra's palace, Shivniwas.
Trip Tips:
It is best to take the morning Gede Local from Sealdha (departure 7:40am) and in about 2 hours and 45 minutes you will be in Machdia. A cycle van ride through tree-lined roads will take you to the banks of the river Churni. After crossing the river on a rickety bamboo and wood bridge follow the mud path to the temple complex.
• Nadia Jelar Purakirti by Mohit Roy edited by Amiya Bondopadhay and Sudhirranjan Das.
• Pashimbanga Bhraman O Darshan (part 1) by Bhupati Ranjan Das.
• Bhraman Sangi Weekend Tour (Travel Guide)
• Siter Mela, Bhraman (Travel Magazine) December 1994

Smartya Raghunandan

Bhattacharya, Raghunandan (c 15th-16th century) famous scholar of Smriti or hindu law, born in nadia, son of Harihar Bhattacharya. He is central to Hindu law in Bengal which is described as pre-Raghunandan, Raghunandan, and post-Raghunandan. The new Smrti in Bengal was dominated by Raghunandan, whose scholarship and analysis of Hindu laws almost made earlier and later Smrti scholars insignificant.

Raghunandan did not confine himself to the scriptures but adopted many tantrika rites. Brahminism was undergoing a severe crisis because of the expansion of buddhism in Bengal and the advent of the Muslims. At this time many Vaishnava rites emerged from Buddhist rituals. Vaishnava sahajiya philosophy also emerged from Buddhist Sahajiya thoughts. In his efforts to protect the Hindu religion, Raghunandan prescribed many rites in his Smrti books taking into account the social realities of his time. This is why his books were deeply influenced by tantricism and also why they were easily accepted.

Raghunandan wrote 28 books on Smrti, the most famous of them being Astavingshatitattva, which contains almost all aspects of Smrti. His other books include Shraddhatattva, Tithitattva, Shuddhitattva, Malamasatattva, Smrtitattva, Durgapujatattva, Tirthatattva, Yatratattva, Tripuskarashantitattva and Dayatattva. He also annotated dayabhaga by jimutavahana, one of the great Smrti scholars of Bengal. For his scholarship in Smrti, Raghunandan was known throughout India as Smarta Bhattacharya. Bengal Hindu society still follows the rules laid down by him. His scholarship also extended to grammar (kalaptattvarnav, Shavdashastravivrti), tantra (Mahimnahstotratika) and astrology. The most important book on astrology in Bengal is still Raghunandan's Jyotistattva. [Dulal Bhowmik]


Saptagram (colloquially called Satgaon) was a major port, the chief city and sometimes capital of southern Bengal, in ancient and medieval times, the location presently being in the Hooghly district in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is about 4 km from Bandel, a major rail junction. By the early twentieth century, the place had dwindled to a group of insignificant huts. The port had to be abandoned because of the silting up and consequent drying of the Saraswati River. It had an impact on the subsequent development and growth of Kolkata. H. E. A. Cotton writes, “Here then may be traced nucleus of the future city of Calcutta, and as time went on the silting up of the river opposite Satgaon still further favoured her fortunes.”
The word ‘Saptagram’ means seven villages. These are identified as Bansberia, Kristapur, Basudebpur, Nityanandapur, Sibpur, Sambachora and Baladghati.
There is an interesting mythological story attached to the name. King Priyabanta of Kannauj had seven sons – Agnitra, Medhatithi, Bapusman, Jyotisman, Dutisman, Saban and Bhabya. They were not happy with the royal life and so they set out in search of a place where they could carry out their meditation. When they came to the confluence of Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati, they liked the place and settled down in seven villages to a hermit’s life. Thus grew Saptagram around the seven villages.
Saraswati River, which used to take off from Hooghly River at Triveni, 50 km north of Kolkata, ran parallel to the Hooghly River on its west. It is believed that the Saraswati used to flow on the bed of the Rupnarayan River on which stood the port of Tamralipta.
Since the end of the 7th century, the Saraswati had begun to move towards the present course of the Hughli river. By the early twelfth century, the Saraswati had moved to a position when it flowed out of the Hooghly River at the Triveni junction (of the Ganges, the Saraswati and the Jamuna) and after a movement towards the west turned to the southeast to meet the Hooghly River again at Betore opposite present Garden Reach, thus forming a loop. Saptagram was situated on the upper part of the loop on the southern bank. Saraswati started drying up from the 17th century and ships, which navigated up the river, could no longer do so.
Once upon a time Saptagram was one of the tallest ports of eastern India. There were two brothers, Hiranya and Govardhan Mazumder, the owners of Saptagram. They use to pay twelve lakhs of Rupees as a tax to the Rular of Delhi every year. Both were very charifable and rich Brahmans, well-behaved, high-born, and foremost in piety, the support of the Brahmans of Navadwip, whom they helped with land and money. Their guru was Nilambar Chakravarti, who treated them like his brothers. As they had formerly served Purandar Mishra, they were well-known to the Master. Raghunath Das was the son of this Govardhan, and averse to the world from his childhood.

India's Legendary Wootz Steel

Let us start with a quote:

The school or college going student today may not be aware that India's contributions and prowess in the making of iron and steel were amongst the most remarkable in the ancient world. Of course, many of them may have had the occasion on school tours to visit the imposing Qutb Minar Complex in New Delhi and to admire the splendid Gupta era Iron Pillar (ca 400 - 420 AD). ...

There is another truly remarkable story that is not so well known. This is the chronicle of the legendary wootz steel from India, which has long been a subject of much fascination around the globe, with many legends and accounts surrounding it...

Thus begins the first chapter of the popular science book India's Legendary Wootz Steel: An Advanced Material of the Ancient World by Dr. Sharada Srinivasan and Prof. Srinivasa Ranganathan. The former is with the National Institute of Advanced Studies, which is inside the IISc campus, and Prof. Ranganathan is my senior colleague and a good friend. This book is a result of their collaborative work for well over a decade in the interdisciplinary area of archaeometallurgy. The story of wootz steel that their work has uncovered is truly fascinating.

First, a few words about wootz: it is the anglicization of 'ukku', the Kannada word for steel. Artisans and craftsmen from parts of south India had the technology to make wootz steel, a 'high-grade' steel that "was highly prized and much sought after across several regions of the world over nearly two millennia". India, apparently, was a leading exporter of this steel for ages. This steel is "synonymous with Damascus steel since it was used to make the fabled Damascus swords", so it also played a technological role in re-drawing the maps of nations and empires over many centuries. We only have incomplete knowledge of how Indian artisans came to develop and perfect the technology of making this high-quality steel.

A story about such a legendary steel and the lethal weapons made from it is always interesting; and, Dr. Srinivasan and Prof. Ranganathan have chosen to tell this story at a popular level "oriented towards a wider readership inclusive of school and college students".

"There is a plethora of historical accounts from around the world, which conjure up picturesque and fanciful images of the fame that Indian iron and steel seems to have enjoyed. When many consider that a scientific temper has not yet been deeply inculcated in modern India, where many people's lives are still guided by superstition, it comes as a pleasant surprise to note the high esteem in which some of the skills of Indian metallurgists and metal workers were held. It bears testimony of the existence of technological acumen and a sense of experimentation in Indian antiquity."

What you get from this book is not a straight and simple narrative about wootz; instead, you get a large and complex picture painted on a broad canvas. It has many sub-pictures, if you will, covering individual aspects of wootz -- its origins in south India, myths, legends, historical and literary accounts about this steel, and how the Damascus sword -- a great killing machine in its era -- was made from steel 'outsourced' from India. The book also covers developments in making and use of iron and steel in other parts of the world, placing Indian artisans' technological expertise in this field in a wider perspective.

The book doesn't stop with recounting stories from antiquity about wootz. Its later chapters deal with scientific studies done on this steel from the 16th century onwards. For example, did you know that Michael Faraday "... enthusiastically studied wootz between 1819 and 1822" before his interest "moved on to the problem of electromagnetism"? Wootz continues to fascinate modern metallurgists and materials scientists, who have been using the some of the most sophisticated techniques and equipment, such as electron microscopes, to figure out what made this material tick. In these chapters, you will find a brief account of such 20th century materials science concepts as superplasticity, dendritic solidification, laminated composites, nanotechnology, and more!

Along the way, you will find many interesting characters who took interest in this material: early (9th to 15th century) scholars and visitors from the Middle East, 18th and 19th century scientists such as Michael Faraday, mid-20th century scientists such as Cyril Stanley Smith, and finally, late 20th and early 21st century scientists such as John Verhoeven. You will also encounter great historical figures, including Alexander and Porus, Chandragupta II Vikramaditya, and Tipu Sultan.

The blurb says, "it appears fair to claim that wootz steel as an advanced materials dominated several landscapes: the geographic landscape spanning the continents of Asia and Europe; the historic landscape stretching over two millennia as maps of nations were redrawn; the literary landscape as celebrated in myths and legends, poetry and drama, movies and plays; and, not least of all, knitting together the religious landscape through trade and other interactions of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity". The book backs up this claim with lots and lots of evidence.

For a richly illustrated -- with 65 figures -- book of less than 150 pages, such a vast scope is both its strength and weakness. It is a weakness because the vast amount of information makes one feel a little overwhelmed, and sometimes, the narrative tends to jump from one topic to another. On the other hand, it is a strength because, after a first reading, you can go back (alas, the book lacks an index) to the interesting parts to just 'snack' on them. And, there certainly is plenty to snack on: myths, legends, literature, history geography, early and modern science, and literary and scientific personalities. Oh, yes, the book also has interesting nuggets on empires, kings, and great wars!

All in all, a lively and interesting book -- and an important contribution -- on a fascinating material. Do check it out!

(You can download the pre-publication version of the book from Prof. Ranganathan's website. The only catch is that the text and figures are in separate files; thus, their combination does not have the same look and feel of the book itself, which is beautifully produced, with text and figures intermingled. I have asked him to see if the final version itself can be made available online; as and when it happens, I will post an update, with links. HIS E-MAIL- rangu@materials.iisc.ernet.in)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Great Shyllet - Bangla outside bangla

(By curtsy http://sylhetinfo.com/)
The Greater Sylhet is enriched with great varieties of songs as much as it is blessed with the bounties of a plentiful nature. The sprawling greens, intermittent waterbodies and numerous hills and hillocks of the region reverberate with equally diverse and lively forms of folk songs that include Baul, Burshidi, Bhatiali, Mystic, Kabi, Jaari, Saari, Wedding songs and Dhamail. One seldom experiences such a wide variety in folk songs. For ages, numerous poets and mystics have contributed to this ever-varied folk music of the region. Deen Bhovananda, Syed Shah Noor, Radha Raman, Arkum Shah, Sheikh Bhanu, Shitalong Shah, Hason Raja, Shah Abdul Karim are only a few of the most noted of them.
Historically, however, a large part of the then Laur, Goud and Jaintia states of the region, which now constitutively Sylhet were ruled by the Koch Kings of Pragjyotishpur of Assam. Even in recent past during the British rule, Sylhet was geographically a part of Assam and so it is not unlikely to find Assamese influence on the dialect and folk music of Sylhet.
Sundari, Shribhumi as Sylhet was described by Tagor, is a land of exquisite beauty and holiness; it has been blessed by the holy presence of the great Muslim saint Hazrat Shah Jalal (R) and his 360 companions as well as the Vaishnaba saint and dveotee. Consequently the literature music and arts of Sylhet have been amply influenced and enriched by the tow streams of lofty thoughts: Sufism (the philosophy of spiritual love of certain Muslim saints) on the one hand and Premdharma (the religion lo love) on the other, preached by Shri Chaitanya Dev. This can still be observed particularly in Marfati, Baul, saari, Bhatiali and mystic songs of the region. That Shari Chaitanya Dev got the main inspiration of his premdharma from the Sufi thoughts has been established by Muhammad Enamul Haq. Haq has also pointed out the similarity between Sufi and Vaishnaba literatures in the following words:
The Vaishnaba principal of reciting the holy name and of loving all certain is almost the same as the Sufi principle of Zikr (recital) and Khedmat (service). It clearly goes to show the imprints of the Islamic ideas of equality, generosity and fraternity. Moreover, there is no difference between the Sufi soma and the Vaishnaba kirtana… Likewise the Gajmiyat of the Sufis and the padabali of the Vaishnabas have almost the same ideas and meaning conveyed in almost the same style. The ashik and mashuk of the Sufi literature have their almost exact counterparts in Krishna and Radha of the Vaishnaba padabali; hijan and bishan are also closely echoed in the Vaishnaba biroho (estrangement of lovers) and milon (union).
The two traditions met and this has left a tremendous impact on the collective psyche of the people of this region, thus inspiring a liberal humane attitude and outlook. This is why our baul and mystic songs have become an unequivocal expression of the universal human mind. Love is the basic idea in the Sufis and Vishnaba thoughts and the folk-poets of Sylhet have ceaselessly sung the praise of this love. Hason Raja for example, indentifies this world of ours as a ‘market-place of love’;
প্রেমের বাজারে বিকে
মানিক ও সোনা রে
যে জন চিনিয়া কিনে
লভ্য হয় তার দুনা রে।

(In this market-place of love
Gold and gems are sold;
Whatever recognizes and buys them
He gets a profit two-fold)
One feature of the Sylhetti folk-song is that almost all the poet-singers sing about the union and separation of the lovers and also about the fiery aspects of love that burns and consumes. For example, Radharaman says:
ভাইবে রাধা রমণ বলে প্রেমানলে অঙ্গ জ্বলে গো
ও যেমন তুষেরই অনলের মতো জ্বলে গো।

(Radharaman finds his body burning with love;
It burns like a fire made with husk.)

Syed Shah Noor also finds the same truth about the inextinguishable fire of love;
সৈয়দ শা’নুরে বলে, প্রেমানলে অঙ্গ জ্বলে গো
যদি সেই রূপ সাপিনী হইয়া আমারে মারিত নেশ
শ্যাম যদি হইত মাথার কেশ!
(Syed Shah Noor says his body burns with love,
O, had that beauty been a she-snake to bite me!
O, had Shyam been the locks on my head!)
Hason Raja also sings about love in the same vein:
আগুন লাগাইয়া দিল কোনে হাসন রাজার মনে
নিবে না দারম্নণ আগুন জ্বলে দিলে জানে।
(Who has set fire on Hason Raja’s Heart!
The inextinguishable fire is consuming my heart and soul!)
Later lyricists also show the same trend. Abdul Gaffar Dutta Chowdhury for example echoes those folk-poets in this song:
মনে আগুন দিয়া বন্ধু লুকাইল কোথায়?
আমার বলে মরিয়া যাইতাম তথায়।
(Where has my friend gone after setting my heart afire?
A man wishes he could go there flying even if that meant death.)
Now to shift from the contents to the technical aspects of the Sylheti folk music. There are no two trends concurrent in the folk-songs of the region: one is Sufi and the other is Vaishnaba. The Vaishnaba type mainly relies on delicate movements and slow measures and the accompaniment has provided by the laua-ektara (the gourd-monochord). The Sufi type on the other hand is basically dynamic and has a three-stroke rhythm with the accompaniment of the two-stringed dutara and khamak. The Sufi from brought in a new dynamism in the delicate movements and measures of the Vaishnaba form and together they embodied a harmonious union of Hindu and Muslim thoughts and integrated into one combined culture with a progressive social commitment. The Hindu gurus, the Muslim Murshids, the Radha and Krishna to the Hindus and the ashik and mashuk (the lover and the beloved) of the Muslims crossed boundaries. An analysis of the folk songs by the late artist Hemango Biswas shows that the Chatka, a zonal tune of the North Bengal region has certain stylistic similarity with the Murshidi and Marfati songs of Sylhet.

Here we can cite the example of one of the most appreciated and popular songs of Hason Raja:
লোকে বলে বলেরে ঘরবাড়ি ভালা না আমার
কী ঘর বানাইমু আমি শূনের মাজার!
ভালা করি ঘর বানাইয়া কয়দিন থাকমু আর?
আয়না দিয়া চাইয়া দেখি পাকনা চুল আমার!
(They say my house is no good.
But what house shall I erect in midst of this emptiness?
How long shall I live in a house built with love and care?
I look into the mirror and find my hair graying.)

The song is sung very much in the same manner and measure as the following Chatka from North Bengal:
ওকি মাই গো মাই
মোর মতন আর সতী নারী নাই
(O my dear mother,
There is no woman as chaste as I.)
In Murshidi, the stress falls on the stroke of som (the first beat); so also is the case with chatka. Another feature of these songs is that the first few of their words are delivered very swiftly to the effect that they seem to be spoken rater then sung. One famous song by Arkum Shah. Caair cheese pinjira bani (the cage I make with ofur things) can be cited here as an example. When traditional processes of collective or folk creativity started to give to individual efforts, individual styles of singing also come to flourish. Such individual traits evolved also with many individual folk-poets and singers of Sylhet. The characteristic traits that mark the songs of, for example, Radharaman, Hason Raja, Eklim Shah and Durbeen Shah distinguish their songs and give them an identity of their own. The same can be ofund in today’s Mymensingh where Jalaluddin and Deen Sharat have their own styles of delivery. The lyrics of Hason Raja and Radharaman fused with the local tune and melody have created individual and distinct styles for them and established what we can call a typical tradition or gharana. Like Laloneeti (Songs of Lalon Ofkir) the songs by these poet-singers are easily and characteristically identifiable as being Hasongeeti and Radharamangeeti. In this context, we have to remember that folk-songs are traditionally considered to be collective folk creations that gradually evolve as many a person contribute to their growth. However, Bangla folk-music particularly that of Sylhet, displays the concurrence of both the individual and collective creative efforts. Those mentioned above bear ample evidence to this.
Saari and Bhatiali songs of a river-centered life are two of the important braches of Bangla folk music. Saari is sung in chorus whereas Bhatiali expresses an individual’s feelings and is reentered solo. This may go to indicate that the Saari is perhaps an older from than the Bhatiali. The reason of such an assumption is that man learnt to value individual efforts, reactions and tastes much later than the collective ones. In its original from the Bhatiali used to celebrate the real life and its pains and sorrows and would sing about rivers, boats, love and nature. Then came into play the philosophical mind: the river came to stand for the river of life and the boat for this mortal body of ours. Likewise, there came gradual changes in the tune as well.

In the bhatiali, the rest at dhaibat (musical note) comes after the panchami (5th note) of the second octave to komol ni (the 7th soft note) of the first octave. This movement is subject to variations and variations indeed have resulted in different local varieties. There may be other differences. For example, the speakers of the Sylheti dialect will invariably use his local sound-patterns and intonation while singing a folk song. With all these the Bhatiali of Sylhet has a beauty of its own. The movement from dhaibat to daibat and then coming down with a swift motion lends a particular charm; this constitutes a remarkable characteristic of the Sylhetti folk-music. Here is a bhatiali by Rad haraman sung in a slow measure:
রাই বিচ্ছেদ প্রাণ বাঁচে না,
মইলো, গো রাই কাঁচা সোনা।
(Rai's separation is killing me,
Woe is me! Rai is like pure gold.)
This bhatiali from Hobigonj has a typical flavor of the area:
বড় দুঃখের দুঃখী আমি ও গুরম্ন
ভবে কেউ নাই আপনার
শ্রীচরণে এই নালিশ আমার।
(I am afflicted with great sorrows, O master!
I have no kin on this earth:
This complaint I submit at your auspicious feet.)
Bhatiali songs can be rendered in a slow measure as well as in baitalik. The bhatiali is slow-measure song while Saari is faster. Saari is called a boat-race song in Sylhet and is sung during boat-race competitions thereby necessitating speed and fast-moving rhythm. Such songs have as their materials rivers and boats, Radha and Krishna or even contemporary affairs. These songs may also occasionally celebrate family bonds for example: between a grandfather and granddaughter. Here we cite a part of one such Saari from Sunamgonj:
নাতিন আমার চনদ্রবসন রসের কমলা।
ফুল তুলিতে যায় গো নাতিন দুইফরি বেলা।
নাতিন লইয়া দাদায় খেলাইন বইস্যা কদমতলা
(কিরে সাব্বাস সাব্বাস হেইয়া)
(The granddaughter has a moon for her face and is an orange null of juice,
She goes to pluck flower at noon.
Grandpa plays with her under the Kodom tree.
(Hurrah ho, hurrah ho!)...
The Bhatiali tune predominates the entire Bangla folk-music. It can be seen that the Baul, Murshidi, Marfati, Jaari and Saari songs have evolved from the Bhatiali. The Jaari for example: is composed of the three-unit dadra and khemta beat of the Saari. These songs centre round the story of Karbala as is seen in the ofllowing Jaari from the Sunamgonj region. It may here be mentioned that Jaari means lamentation and Jaari songs are laments in which the Sylhetti folk-poets mourn the heart-reading incidents of Karbala.

Classical music and folk music have certain common premises and an examination of the folk songs of Sylhet also leads to the same assertion. The two froms of music have indeed thrived on a mutual interaction since from ancient times. Certain classical ragas have been composed of the base of different regional music (for example: Pahari, Saveri, Maar, Aabheri); classical music also in its turn has influenced the folk music of different regions. This is true also the Sylhetti folk music. As we notiece certain Bangla folk songs bear imprints of different ragas like Jhinjhit, Desh, Bhairavi, Bhimpalshree, Bhupali and Bibhash. For example the Vibek in Jatra songs pure rage-based songs. The folk songs of Sylhet also show the use of ragas like Desh and Bhupali. The ofllowing song from the Hobigonj area shows clear marks of the Bhupali rage:
দেহতরী ছাইড়া দিলাম
ও গুরু তোমার নামে।
(I set out in this bark of a body
O master, with your name.)
The Hori songs came not from above or outside, but originated among the common people. The introduction of these songs in Sylhet is held to b indebted to the rash utsab and Jhulan Jatra etc. of the Vaishnaba Manipuri community.
Women of Sylhet have traditionally played a glorious role in the folk culture, especially in creating, developing and nurturing the bridal songs and Dhamail dance-songs. They preserve out cultural heritage in their dress and deportment as well as in their attachment to folk traditions and music. The women-folk of Sylhet, however show a marked difference from the women other areas of the country in their skill of and love for dance from performed along with Dhamail songs. The Dhamail song is entirely a product of the soil; despite having Rahda and Krishna at its core, the Dhamail song essentially celebrates life and its many joys and delights. It may even have contemporary social and political issues as its subject matter. This song along with accompanying dances is performed by groups of village girls on joyous occasions like childbirth, wedding ceremonies or different festivals. Rhythmic claps accompany the song and the dance.
As has already been stated the Dhamail song is sung with the accompaniment of the Dahmail dance; hence, the story is very rhythmic, as can be seen in the following example:
আমি কী হেরিলাম নদীর ঘটে গিয়া নাগরী গো
হেরি মুখ চান্দে পড়িয়াছি ফান্দে
প্রাণ প্রাখি কান্দে রইয়া রইয়া নাগরী গো

(What a thing I have seen in the ghat, oh my firend!
I saw the moon of his face, and I am ensnared,
My soul-bird ceaselessly wails, o my firend!)
Dhamail has many different forms but al of them are related to the Bhatiali. However, an absence of meed and prolonged tune makes them completely different form Bhatiali songs.

Another important contribution of the women-folk of Sylhet to the folk-music is the bridal songs. Marriage ceremonies are made more joyous with bridal songs in almost all the religious of the country but Sylhet has an incomparable range of such songs, which celebrate all the different stages of marriage. Here are few example of Sylhetti bridal songs:
আমি রবো না রবো না গৃহে
বন্ধু বিনে প্রাণ বাঁচে না।
(I cannot keep home any more,
I am dying for my friend)
লীলাবালী লীলাবালী ভর যুবতী সই গো
কী দিয়া সাজাইমু তোরে।
(Hallelujah, Hallelujah! You are brimming with youth,
How can we adorn you, oh friend!)
দামানদেরা সাত ভাই যেন সাত সোয়রী
চলো যাই চলো যাই দামানদের বাড়ি।
(The groom is one of the seven brother s who are like seven riders.

Let’s go to the house of the groom
There is a particular kind of bridal in the lower parts of Sunamgonj. Termed bou-naacher gaan (the dance-song of the bride.), these songs are sung to celebrate the arrival of the bride in her husband’s house:
সোহাগ চান্দ বদনী ধনি নাচো তো দেখি
বালা নাচো তো দেখি।
(O my fond moon-faced lassie,
Start dancing so that we can see;
Lassie, dance now so that we can see.)
Many modern lyricists also show clear influence of these folk poet-singers. The songs of Abdul Gaffar Dutta Chowdhury whom we have mentioned earlier also, echo many to his predecessors:
ওরে বন্ধু রে নিদারূণ
অনত্মরে জ্বলিয়া রে গেলে পিরিতের আগুন।
মনের আগুনে ঢালি নয়নের জল,
নিভিয়া নিভে না আমার পিরিতের অনল।
আমার বুকের আগুন চোখের জলে জ্বলেরে দ্বিগুণ।
(O my friend, O my merciless,
You’ve spread fire of love in my heart;
I try to douse it with my tears.
Alas! The fire of love never goes out.
The hearth in my heart blazes twice as strong with my tears.)
Another song written in the local dialect by this poet around 1944 became very popular in the then-undivided Bengal. In the song he protested the imposition of taxes on the betel-nut of Champa Ghat:
ও এগো সজনী,
গুয়াগাছো টেকসো লাগল নি।
বাটার উপর পইলো ঠাটা
গাল ভরি পান খাইতায় নি।

(O my sweetheart,
The betel trees are now taxed,
Thunderbolt is on the betel-case
How will you now have your mouthful of paan and betel?)
The song in Dhamail tune, first rendered by late Nirmalendu Chowdhury and Khaled Chowdhury at the conference of Progati, Lekhak O Shilpi Sangho, came to enjoy tremendous popularity.

Folk songs have also inspired the common message with the ideals of the Swadeshi movement, Language Movement and our Liberation War. For example, the following song recaptures the memory of the language movement of 1952:
কাইন্দো না কাইন্দো না মাগো
মুছো আঁখির জল।
তোর কান্দন কেউ শুনবে না
কান্দিয়া কি ফল? ও বাংলারে...
বায়ান্নের ফেবু্রয়ারী কেমনে ভুলা যায়,
আমার বরকত শহীদ হইলো ঢাকার কারবালায়।।

(Don’t wail, don’s weep, O mother,
Wipe your tears away;
Nobody will take note of your tears
So why should you cry, O my Bengali!
How can I forget the February of fifty two
When my Barkat is martyred in Dhaka’s Karbala!)
The following is an example of songs celebrating the victory in the Liberation War:
স্বাধীন দেশে বাস করিব পাবো না আর কোন ব্যথা
স্বাধীন জনতা আমার স্বাধীন জনতা।
(We shall live in a free country and shall not bear any more sufferings!)
We are a free nation, O we are a free nation!)
Of the folk poet-singers of Syleht still writing, we may mention here Shah Abdul Karim, whose songs are popular not in Sylhet but also in other parts of the country and outside the country as well. Below we cite a few songs by Karim
সখী কুঞ্জ সাজাও গো
আজ আমার প্রাণনাথ আসিতে পারে।
(Prepare the bower, O my friend,
My lord may come today.)
পিরিত ভাল না সখী তোমরা প্রেম করিও না
পিরিত করেছে যে জন সে জানে পিরিতের কি বেদনা
(Love is not good, friends, don’t you get involved in love,
Whatever has done that knows what pain it entails.)
আগে কি সুন্দর দিন কাটাইতাম।
গ্রামের নওজোয়ান, হিন্দু মুসলমান
মিলিয়া বাউলা গান আর ঘাঁটু গান গাইতাম।
(What a nice time we had then!
The youths of the village, both Hindus and Muslims,
Would sing together Baul and Ghatu songs.)

Many gifted individuals have contributed to the nurture, practice and development of the Sylhetti folk music. Artists Hemango Biswas, Nirmalendu Cho and Khaled Chowdhury are a few of the notable among them. Nirmalendu Chowdhury has played a significant role in popularizing the songs of Radharaman, Hason Raja and Eklimur Raja. Hemango Biswas in his writings has upheld the cause of the Sylhetti music and helped it preserve the original diction, tune and flavor. Gurusadai Dutta and Nirmalendu Bhoumik have helped preserve the Sylhetti folk songs from the verge of being lost by collecting and publishing them.
A large number of songs have been written about holy saints Hazarat Shah Jalal, Hazrat Shah Paran and others. One can still hear these songs all around Sylhet so sweetly sung by Bidit Lal Das:
ও বাবা জালাল
আমি হই তোমারি কাঙ্গাল, বাবা শা’জালাল

(O reverend saint Shah Jalal,
I am a supplicant to you)
সিলেট পরথম আজান ধ্বনি বাবায় দিয়াছে
তোরা শোন সেই আজান ধ্বনি আইজো হইতাছে।

(My holy saint first called to prayer [aazan] in Sylhet
You can hear the call still reverberating.)
Similarly popular is this song sung by Aarti Dhar:
তুমি রহমতের নদিয়া
দয়া কর মোরে হযরত
শাহজালাল আউলিয়া।

(You are a river of kindness.
Bless me O great saint
Hazrat Shah Jalal.)
Sylhet has traditionally been inhabited by many ethnic people like Manipuri, Khasia, Garo, Hajong, Tripura along with the mainstream Bangalees. Interaction between them have given the culture and folk-music a rare beauty and charm. Moreover, folk music is the certain of the common masses or of individuals close to common masses. Such songs are spontaneous in nature reflecting an unadulterated state of the human mind. Hence, notwithstanding its being regional in respect of the place of origin, it has a universal appeal as a repository of the universal human mind. The Sylhetti folk-music reveals this very beautifully.