Bangla Music

Radha Krishna as lovers: Palm Leaf script of Geet Gobinda (16c)

Happy Bangalee couple: Paharpur


History: Bangla Music*

Name  Region Year Musical tradition
Narottam Thakur Rajshahi 1687 Evolved the organized version of the rendering of Padabali Kirtan at a time the East India Co was at war with the Mughals
Bharat Chandra     true representative of the transition of music from medieval to modern age.
Kabiranjan Ramaprasad Sen   1720-


Founder of Shaktapada Sangeet school. Sangeets of this school are marked by their tendency to compose musical lyrics on the goddess of power.
Ramnidhi Gupta Calcutta 1741 Great innovator of modern musical developments. He made both dominant musical trends (shaktapada and baishnab padabali) popular among the Bangalees.
    1839 Bangla music achieved its modern form freeing itself completely from its medieval mores. 

Trends in Bangla Music

Trend Description
Tappa A form of Hindustani (North Indian) classical music introduced by Golam Nabi, a famous musician from Lukhnow. Structurally Tappa lyric was made up of two stanzas devoted mainly to theme of love between men and women. The delivery was done in a light classical style embracing two Indian styles: Hindustani music and Punjabi folk songs sung by the camel drivers.
Shakta Sangeet Shyama & Agamani Sangeet
Baul songs sung by a specific group of people known as Bauls. Purnadas Baul, Prahlad Brahmachari
Bhatiali The songs of the boatmen by the southern Bangla. Late SD Barman did lots of experiment with these tunes and applied them in popular modern songs.
Bhaoaia Abbasuddin
Palligeeti Amar Pal
Kirtan  Ritualistic songs usually sung in chorus. Chhabi Bandyopadhyay
Rabindra Sangeet Songs written and tuned by Rabindranath Tagore. Kanika Banerjee, Suchitra Mitra, Debabrata Biswas, Arghya 
Sen, Asoktaru Banerjee, Ritu Guha,Chinmoy Chatterjee, Dwijen Mukherjee, Pankaj Kumar Mallick, Purabi Dutta, Sailajananda Majumdar, Rajeswari Dutta, Rezwana Banya Choudhury, Sanjeeda Khatun, Purba Dam, Bani Thakur, Sumitra Sen, Hemanta Mukherjee, Sagar Sen, Nilima Sen, Subinoy Roy 
Najrul Geeti Songs written by Kazi Nazrul Islam, the rebel poet of Bangla. Artists: Firoza Begum, Krishna Chatterjee, Anjali Mukherjee, Dhiren Bose, Manabendra Mukherjee, Anup Ghosal, Satinath Mukherjee, Tarun Banerjee, Dhananjoy Bhattacharya, Atulprasadi, Dwijendrageeti, Rajanikanta Sen
Ganasangeet  Generally sung in chorus carrying some social 
message. These songs are primarily associated with anti-imperialistic (British), socialist and liberation (1971) movement.  Salil Sen, Ajit Pandey, Ruma Guha Thakurata, Udichi 
Jeebanmukhi Gaan Songs with contemporary social issues of urban Bangalees. Suman Chatterjee, Anjan Dutta, Nachiketa Chakrabarty, Mousumi Bhowmick, Lopamudra Mitra 
General Modern Bengali Songs Film and non-film songs. Hemanta Mukherjee, Manna Dey, Sandhya Mukherjee, Jaganmoy Mitra, Shyamol Mitra, Arati Mukherjee, Kishore Kumar, Sachin Deb Barman, Asha Bhosle, Lata Mungeshkar, Satinath Mukherjee, Rahul Deb Barman
Band  Modern rock group with strong western musical and instrumental influence. Jinga Gosthi, Spandan, LRB, Souls, Obscure, Renaissance, Miles, Cactus, Paraspathar,Bhumi.


Origin of Bangla Music

Bangla literature evolved from a form of musical composition known as Charya which was basically a north Indian musical form. The Charya lyrics were similar to sonnet in length and its organized singing mode infused into Bangla songs a kind of classical discipline at the very early stage.

Jaydeb, a 12th C Bangalee poet, modeled his songs on Radha-Krishna love lore and compiled in a collection called Geet Gobinda. The Geetgobinda is regarded as precursor of Dhrupada. Historically speaking the early Bangla musical expressions were expressed in loric forms and was modeled on the mystical Buddhist songs known as Charya songs.   

Baru Chandidas was the poet and musician who first bestowed upon his collection of songs, Shrikrishna Keertan, unique forms and melodies typical to Bangla region.  

But later in the Padabali Keertan, the regional musical approach of Bangla was blended with the mainstream Hindustani (North Indian) musical modalities. This union of high lyricism of Baishnabi lore and musical excellence of North Indian tradition marked the onset of rich trends of Bangla music.

Raygunakar Bhratchandra liberated Bangla music from its traditional grasp of the deities and humanized them for the entertainment of common people. He also broke away from the narrative tradition of music and composed a considerable number of songs which were independently lyrical. Bharat Chandra also pioneered the tradition of  composing Radha-Krishna love songs on Raag musical forms. He had also made some initial attempts to write musical odes on the goddess of power. Bhratchandra also tried to shift his musical tone  from medieval devoutness to modernist eroticism. Although Jaydeb's Geetgobindo was rich with erotic elements, its eroticism was later suppressed by the devotional nature of the dominant Baisnabi musical trend. Bharatchandra's adept exploitation of the erotic elements of Radha-Krishna love songs created a fresh interest in eroticism in music.

As the appeal of Baisnabi songs waned towards the end of the 18th century, Kabiranjan Ram Prasad Sen created a new musical trend known as Shaktapada Sangeet (songs on goddesses of  Shakti or Energy). His reigning deity was Kali and his songs expressed the unorthodox sense of Bhakti or devotion and a strong longing for mother love. The humanization of the cannibalistic goddess Kali  as a mother caring for her own folks made his songs immensely popular among the Bangalees. This mother-child theme was heightened in a kind of melodic pattern known as Prasadi Sur. This particular melodic pattern was named after him because he himself created it through a union between a classical melody and baul, a Bangla folk musical form. Prasadi note (sur) is simple, sweet and touching. In the history of Bangla music, Ram Prasad's musical trend is very important as it marks the onset of formal unison between classical music patterns and folk music forms. 



A form of Hindustani (North Indian) classical music introduced by Golam Nabi, a famous musician from Lukhnow. Structurally Tappa lyric was made up of two stanzas devoted mainly to theme of love between men and women. The delivery was done in a light classical style embracing two Indian styles: Hindustani music and Punjabi folk songs sung by the camel drivers. Ramnidhi created the Bangla version of Tappa and it became very successful.

Rise of Secular Music

From the mystic Buddhist Charan Geeti to Ramaprasad's songs on goddess Kali spiritual themes prevailed in Bangla music. But Ramnidhi pioneered the relocation of Bangla music in domains of humanity. Before him only the divine characters peopled the realm of music. There was no distinction between agape (spiritual love) and Eros (physical love). Only the Radha Krishna episode of the Charya geet offered an allegorical presentation of fine amorous themes. Ramnidhi was the first musician to devote his creativity to portray Eros involving human characters. Since Ramnidhi Bangla music flowed in two distinctive streams: secular (humanist) and devotional (spiritual). Ramnidhi was the founder of the secular trend which culminated in the creative genius of Tagore. Tappa was the musical medium of the secular trend of Bangla music and underscored the modern age of Bangla music in particular and Bangla poetry in general. Ramnidhi liberated Bangla music from sectarianism and imbued it with humanist spirit of universal love.

The credit of being the cofounder of the Tappa school also goes to Kalidas Chattopadhyay, popularly known as Kali Mirza(1750-1820), another notable contemporary of Nidhu Babu. Kalidas's Tappa belonged to Golam Nabi school of Benaras. Together Nidhu Babu and Kali Mirza introduced a new dimension in Bangla musical culture.

Meanwhile another notable composer, Raghunath Ray (1759-1836) began to compose Bangla songs in the Kheyal forms. Kheyal is the second important school of Hindustani classical music, the first being dhrupad.

While Raghunath Ray composed songs in kheyal forms, his cotemporary Ramsankar Bhattacharya (1763-1853) began composing Bangla songs in dhrupad style. He initiated the tradition of composing Bangla dhrupad songs and it was later evolved into Ramsnkar's Bishnupur school of dhrupad. By the close of the century the composition of mainstream Bangla songs conformed three out of four modes of Hindustani classical music: dhrupad, kheyal, and tappa. The fourth trend was thumri.

The later composers extensively exploited the tappa form created by Nidhu Babu and Kali Mirza. Among them Dashrathi Ray (1800-1857) Shridhar Kathak (1816), Gobinda Adhikari(1800-1872), Ashutosh Deb (1803-1856), Kashiprasad Ghosh (1809-1873), Radhamohan Sen, Jagannathprasad Basu Mallik, Manomohan Basu (1831-1912) were notable for their contribution and achievement in tappa style. DL Ray, a major Bangla poet, dramatist and composer created a mixed form tappa, tap-kheyal, blending tappa with kheyal. Even Tagore took great deal of interest in tappa and innovated his own style in exploiting tappa form.

Kabi Gaan

Kabi Gaan was a popular musical from in the 19th century Bangla. Kabi songs were sung in public music competitions by two rival groups each led by a kabi (poet) or kabiwalah. The songs were improvisations on a particular theme from usually from epics or myths. Once the competition starts, the Kabi of the winner (by lot) party first throws a question for the leading poet of the rival group to answer. Then the match goes on until one of the competing Kabi fails to answer correctly. The match is very absorbing. The whole performance is divided into several sessions and each session is again subdivided into several musical phases. Although kabi is primarily a form of folk music, it is very organized and the total music is delivered in several steps each having a name of its own. Kabi gaan as a music organization is uniquely Bangalee in Indian musical culture. Kabi songs are uniquely Bangalee in its structure as well. Structurally it is distinct from dhrupad which is made up of four movements: sthayi, antara, sanchari, and abhog. It is also distinct from kheyal and post-kheyal classical forms which are made up of two movements: sthayi and antara. The movements used for presentation of kabi gaan are called chiten, parchiten, fuka, melta, mohra, shawari, khad and antara. These underscore the power of Bangla folk poets to execute a long musical discourse through an intricate amalgam of movements.

Contributors: Gojla Gain (1704) is known as the founder of Kabi tradition. His disciples Lalu Nandalaal, Ramji, Raghunath Das greatly contributed to form primary background for this tradition. Other leading figures in Kabi tradition are: Rasu (1735-1807), Nrisingha (1738-1807), Haru Thakur(1738-1812), Nitai Bairagi (1751-1818), Basu (1786-1828). Ramesh Sheel from Chittagong and Sheikh Gumani Dewan of Murshidabad are two leading contributors for the recent versions of kabi songs. 

Trends in 19th century Bangla Music

In terms of lyrical themes the 19th century Bangla songs can be divided into three categories: love, Brahma and patriotic songs.

Portrayal of Eros, or love between men and women, marks a significant development in Bangla love songs. This was the first time Eros was represented stripped of all metaphysical symbolism. " The elements of love", says Arun Kumar Basu, "was first introduced into Bangla songs through kabi compositions and Nidhu Babu first of all stripped the kabi spirit of other associations and himself composed songs to portray individual love".

The acquaintance of Bangla poets with the western ideas and institutions, specially individualism, romanticism and democracy, had tremendously influenced the form of Bangla love songs. In Bangla songs, for the first time, we come across the feelings of woman's right to love. But social impediment were great. In real life, man and woman in love could seldom unite. Biharilal Chakrabarty (1835-94) is noted for his great contributions to the development of Bangla love songs in secular line: he enriched the  lyrical dictions, intensified the spirit of romanticism and made nature a companion of individual existence. In Bangla songs, he first epitomized the idea of eternal feminine in  a non-metaphysical context.

Brahma Sangeet

Associated with the Kolkata based Brahma movement, Brahma sangeet constituted an important trend in 19th century Bangla songs. Brahma is a Vedic word for God. Brahma songs, therefore, means songs about Brahma. These songs were sung as a part of worship of Brahma as prescribed in a new form of Hinduism founded by Raja Rammohan Roy known as Brahma religion or religion of God. God is, as conceived by the thinkers of Brahma samaj, one, indivisible and formless. This pantheistic concept of God is essentially very different from the polytheistic concept of God  predominant in conventional Hinduism. So, in spirit, the Brahma songs were very different from the traditional  Hindu devotional songs of idolatrous sentiment. Brahma songs were sung in praise of one, indivisible formless God. Structurally Brahma songs are practiced in classical musical forms. Later Bishnu Chakrabarty (1804-1900) set a new tradition of delivering Brahma songs. As a gifted dhrupada singer, he set the tradition of singing Brahma songs in dhrupada style. Later the composers of Indian Brahma Society, an offshoot of Brahma Samaj, created another trend in Brahma songs known as Padabali Keertan using the indigenous musical forms instead of dhrupada and other classical musical forms.

Patriotic Songs

With the rise of middle class coupled with dawning nationalism, a new genre of Bangla music, patriotic songs, flourished in the second half of 19th century. Three waves of patriotic songs corresponded to three political events involving Bangalee nationalist: (a) songs composed before partition of Bangla (1905) (b) songs composed in the wake of partition of Bangla (c) songs composed since the annulment of Partition of Bangla.
It is not certain whether patriotic songs were presented in the first session of Hindu Mela (1867). But the famous patriotic song
" unite India's children" by Satyendranath Thakur was sung as the inaugural song of the second session (1968) of the Mela. Critics consider this song as the first national anthem of India. Dwijendranath Thakur (1840-1926) composed a pensive patriotic song for Hindu mela: "India your face is a pale moon". It was tuned to Natabehag, a somber classical music. In this song India is represented as a pale weeping woman exhausted by unassailable sorrows. Dwijendranath's song set a particular trend of patriotic songs with portrayal of India as a woman in sorrow and the note is predominantly pensive as opposed to the trend set by Satyendranath the note of which was predominantly inspirational. The two trends set by the Thakurs in the Hindu mela catered for two tendencies of Bangla patriotic songs: lamentation and stimulation. Later although the tendency of stimulation prevailed over the tendency of lamentation, some beautiful songs were composed expressing the second tendency. The notable composers of this period of patriotic songs were: 

a. Manomohan Basu (1832-1912) 

b. Ganendranath Thakur: "How shall I sing in glory of India, because I'm buried in shame.

 c. Hemchandra Bandopadhyay(1838-1903) 

d. Gobindachandra Ray (1838-1917) 

e. Bishnuram Chattopadhyay (1932-1901) 

f. Rangalal Bandopadhyay: "who wants to live without being free" 

g. Rabindranath Tagore  

h. Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay: "Bande Mataram" 

i. Sarala Debichaudhurani


Second PhaseAnti Partition Movement( 1905-1911)

"Although the tradition of Bangla patriotic songs originated in the Hindu Mela, says critic Geeta Chattopadhyay, it flourished during the anti partition days." Hundreds of anthologies of patriotic songs were published from all parts of united Bangla. Rabindranath Tagore was the towering figure of this phase of patriotic songs. He composed his most celebrated songs during this period including " my golden Bangla, I love you" which is now the national anthem of Bangladesh. a remarkable feature of patriotic songs is that although composed to voice nationalist cravings for independence from the fetters of colonialism, they outlived the temporal with their imbedded universal musical merit. Tagore exploited the Bangla folk musical stock, specially baul, to compose melodies for his patriotic songs of this phase.

Dwijendralal Ray's patriotic songs were also very popular among the Bangalees. His songs had a fresh musical tone acquired from western music. Musical design of gradual rise and fall yielded his songs a new charm which was greatly amplified if sung in chorus. Ray also composed some parodies on patriotic sentiment.

Rajanikanta Sen's songs constitute a vigorous protest against the partition of Bangla. His masterpiece  "Accept as a blessing the coarse cloth given by mother" was chorused all over Bangla during and after the anti partition movement.

Barisal, a district town in southern Bangla, hosted a number of anti British and anti partition movements. The people of Barisal (unlike the present day conservartism ) had always been in the forefront of   the anti partition and anti imperialism movements and its poets composed some blazing patriotic songs. The most famous of those composers were: Mukunda Das (1878-1934) and Ashwini Kumar Datta (1856-1923). The words of fire and blasted music of Mukunda's songs made him a national figure. Among others only Nazrul out poured some of his blazing sentiments. He was known as the bard of fire. He traveled all over Bangla to sing his self composed songs and enact his plays to evoke patriotic feelings among the colonized Bangalis. His plays are known as Swadeshi Jatra. He represented all the tendencies of patriotic songs. Like his contemporaries and successors, he looked upon the motherland as a goddess, possibly a goddess of power. He also upheld the tradition of milangaan, or song of unity to invoke communal harmony between the Hindus and the Muslims.

The third phase of Bangla patriotic songs was mainly dominated by Tagore. They are primarily the outpourings of the second phase of Tagore's creative genius, a period between 1900-1920.

DL Ray

DL Ray innovated a unique musical style combining Hindustani classical music with western musical pattern. He applied this neo-musical style, with great success, to his patriotic songs. The western structural charm of western musical patterns, its gradual rise and fall, added a new dimension to the expressiveness of his compositions. Commenting on Ray's musical innovations Kalidas Ray, a distinguished Bengali poet and critic says: " This kind of liveliness was not present in our music. DL Ray derived this liveliness from western music and instilled it into the music of our land. He introduced in our country what is known as movement in western music. In our musical system melody expand pretty slowly but DL Ray noticed that enthusiasm and speed have great musical value. It expands the area of melody and instills liveliness into it."

DL Ray achieved unprecedented success in utilizing western chorus singing style in the raga musical frame. He pioneered the use of marching music in patriotic songs. Ray exploited the raag music but never opted for using the conventional raag musical ways.. He rather adopted a personal approach to suit the suggestiveness of varying lyrics. Although he exploited all the musical trends of his day, tappa, kheyal and a combination of both of them known as tap-kheyal, he left his individual mark of creativity in all the style and forms he used to create his own style.

To be completed.....

 *Adapted from "Bangla Music": Prof Karunamay Goswami



Further Reading:

Rabinda Nath Tagore Sangeet Chinta (1966), Rabindra Rachanabali, vol-ix (1942)
Subhash Chaudhuri Muktir Gaan (1948)
Shubha Guhathakurata

Rabindra Sangeeter Dhara (1959)

Sri Kumar Bandopadhyay

Sahitya o Sanskritir Tirtha Sangam (1962)

Rajeswar Mitra Banglar Geetikar o Banglar Ganer Nana Dik (1973)
Arun Kumar Basu Bangla Kavi Sangeet o Rabindra Sangeet (1978)
Geeta Chattopadhyay

Swadheshi Bangla Gaan  (1983)

Sudhir Pradhan Sanskritir Pragati (1883)



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