The Road Taken with Sukhabilash Barma.


“Bhawaiya is not simply a song for me, but more than a song.”

-Nirod Roy, The Hidden Side of Liking-Bhawaiya Sangeet (translated).

In a recent interview with Mr. Sukhabilash Barma, folk song veteran accomplished civil servant and social and political activist; he pictured a nostalgic, cryptic yet a telling story of Bhawaiya’s journey from a  flick show to a genre with a breathing historical legacy. 

When asked about the origin of Bhawaiya song, he replied enthusiastically, “the origin is not exactly traceable but it can be said that its’ primary source must have been the devotional and prayer songs. In fact, Bhawaiya being a folk genre it is rooted in the rural life, with themes pertaining to the activities of this system. Also, you can notice the voice of women here, very explicit, which is generally un-accommodated in the everyday routine of conversation and dialogue.” Further, he added, “the prayer songs refer to the exchange of dialogue between the gods and the devotee.” In a way, this accounts for the personal nature of the songs. But the performance history can be traced as he suggests in the Pala gaan or theatrical shows. In between these performances came the Khasa gaan, which were generally a diversion from the heavy loaded motifs of the Pala gaan. This Khasa gaan later independently managed to gain prominence so as to be performed and sung by the masses in its own right.  

11885282_430616417141307_5700684808967581676_np.c. Buddhadeb Barman

This independence allowed Bhawaiya to transcend the realm of entertainment, to something more refined and deep. The word Bhawaiya, therefore is the focal point in this journey. The word Bhawaiya, says Mr. Sukhabilash Barma “originates from bhab or emotion.” Taking a further leap we can assume the word is more closely associated with “bhaboiya”(noun), the one who thinks or “bhaboiya” (adjective) something that makes one think, rhyming with other words in Kamatapuri language like “gawoiya” or “dekhoiwa”. This emotional turbulence that mostly all scholars, writers and singers confirm is the essence of Bhawaiya, finds an eternal life in the tonal structure, pattern of voice modulations called dhyaks, high notes with almost lyrical weeping adjusted with sobbing breaths in the songs- the very “sweetness” of which according to Mr. Barma lies in this “saddest stories that the whole body is involved in utterance”, quoting P.B Shelley.

The “saddest stories” often comprise the tales of love, longing, unrequited love, eroticism. Mostly sung from a women’s perspective, the songs have an additional depth in its depiction. Preetinicha Barman Prodhani writes in her essay Songs of Desire and Deprivation: Women in Rajbangshi Folk Songs, “These women, condemned to silence both within their private and public spheres, sought an outlet through the songs which they clandestinely sang among themselves away from the prying eyes”.  The comprehensiveness of this subject demands separate attention altogether.

13006620_505940729608875_7262275117157988233_np.c. Buddhadeb Barman

Mr. Sukhabilash Barma on being asked, why this genre accommodates more female voices, he said “lamentation is where denial is. A man in a rural or feudal world, with all his strength and machismo, is all in all, more privileged to not feel deprived socially.” Hence the songs which celebrate harvest, songs of labor and work involve domestic man’s voice, which is relatively less popular. But longing and passion is a domain of the marginalized romantic boatman, singing

Aage nawye dubu dubu,

Pacha nawye boisho, (koina)

Dongai Dongai chekong pani re.

With such vastness in theme, how far can Bhawaiya serve as the harbinger of change among the Rajbangshi community and how? Mr.Barma is convinced that “ Bhawaiya will strengthen the community bond, speak for our culture, history, identity” as perhaps the community in general,  with the trend in growing Bhawaiya artists, singing with the traditional Dotara and Sarindjya. This image will surely trigger a sense of loss and renewal, the voices will incarnate into those “ghosts” of change by awakening the dead images of past, that we most loathe today and fear to confront.

But what and how much change in Bhawaiya is to be allowed, or is to remain the Polaris, anchoring our lost ship? Mr. Barma, with a rather confusing Indian headshake, confirmed “without evolution, there is no progression”, much like William Blake’s idea of experience, “today Bhawaiya evolved from its original form to achieve a multi-dimensional nature, it will do so in future too, to achieve contemporariness. But the backbone or the rhythm, style, authenticity cannot be compromised.”

He left with a smile and a song of promise.


(The interview has been translated  from Rajbangshi.)



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