4th Vol, No1 (April 2017)
Kolkata’s Hand-Pulled Rickshaws Are The Last Sketches Of A Colonial Hangover In India: —
Like tea, tram, cricket and Gothic architecture, the hand-pulled rickshaw is a British heritage in Kolkata’s colonial treasure. These light-weight, wooden rickshaws pulled by men of thin & sturdy body frame, wrapped in lungi from the waistline till knee joint, through waterlogged lanes and crowded marketplaces are unique to Kolkata’s identity in contrast to the city’s modern infrastructure with skyscrapers and flyovers. Hand-pulled rickshaws will soon be replaced with batter-operated modern vehicles from the streets of Kolkata as the Government of West Bengal is up with a rehabilitation plan. The hand-pulled rickshaws which Kolkata streets are going to say goodbye in the coming days. Tourists will see replicas of Kolkata’s hand-pulled rickshaws among the exhibits of museums in India and abroad in the next few years. Foreign tourists identify Kolkata City with the Victoria Memorial, the Howrah Bridge and these hand-pulled rickshaws.
Since the end of the 19th century, hand-pulled rickshaws have been plying the streets of Kolkata. They have witnessed to and remained an integral part of Kolkata’s socio-economic evolution for over 100 years. By the time the wooden version of the Japanese rickshaw made its way to Calcutta, the then capital of British India, in the 1890s, the city’s aristocratic families and zamindars (landlords) used to ride palanquins. The man-pulled, embellished palanquin was a symbol of the elite’s socio-economic status. Soon, hand-pulled rickshaw became the middleclass people’s (Bourgeois) answer to palanquins. The rickshaws were a convenient means of travel, able to traverse winding, narrow city streets. During monsoon season, passengers might be carried out of the carriage, above the flooded streets, to the door of their arrival. They offered door-to-door travel, unlike scheduled public bus and tram service
In the post-independence era of India, the hand-pulled rickshaw that the British had introduced to Calcutta to exercise their authority and establish their supremacy over the poor Indians became a means of sustenance to the immigrants from West Bengal’s neighbouring states: Bihar and Odisha, Chhattisgarh.
Kolkata’s hand-pulled rickshaws are mentioned in many literary books and featured in films of different languages. It plays the protagonist in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Phantom Rickshaw’. The story is set in Shimla of the 1980s. Greg Vore, an international travel photographer, researched on the life, role and history of hand-pulled rickshaws in Kolkata and Bangladesh. Bimal Roy’s classic Do Bigha Zamin (released in 1953) tells describes the fate of an impoverished farmer who becomes a rickshaw puller in Kolkata. The 1992 Om Puri plays a rickshaw puller, revealing the economic and emotional hardship that these underpaid workers face on a day-to-day basis, City of Joy, too recalled the travails of a rickshaw puller’s life. But despite the negative portrayal in films and literature, even as the city has changed its skyline, the rickshaw has continued to trundle along the lanes. In Pearl S. Buck’s 1931 novel The Good Earth, hero Wang Lung leaves his land to travel southward during a drought. He ends up in the city of Kiangsu, where he becomes a rickshaw puller in order to support his family.
Kolkata’s emblematic two-wheeled contraption has been a long-standing symbol of oppression and has often been used to depict wretchedness. Though the rickshaws have symbolised the worst in human oppression, the pullers insist that people have always considered them the preferred mode of conveyance, especially during emergencies and for the older people.
Kolkata is the only Indian city to keep up with the hand-pulled rickshaw, while this mode of transport pulled by one human being for the other has been rolled back from the rest of Asia. That is why Kolkata often draws flak from the advocates of human rights. Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other Asian countries have done with such lowly and laborious profession as pulling of rickshaws by the end of the 20th century.
3rd Vol, No2 (August 2016)
College street ka Naya Masiha –COLLAGE STREET COFFEE HOUSE KOLKATA. This cafe-located opposite the Presidency College on College Street, Kolkata. It has been for a long time a regular hang out and a renowned meeting place (adda) for intellectuals and students (and ex-students) of the Presidency College,University of Calcutta, and other institutions in College Street. It has played an important part in Calcutta’s (Kolkata) cultural history and known as the hub of intellectual debates.The history of the Coffee House at College Street can be traced to Albert Hall, which was founded in April 1876. Later, the Coffee Board decided to start a coffee joint from the Albert Hall in 1942. Notable citizens were frequent visitors to the place. In 1947, the Central Government changed the name of the place to “Coffee House”.The place became a meeting place for the poets, artistes, literati and people from the world of art and culture. In 1958, the management decided to shut down the Coffee House, but it was re-opened the same year, after professors of Presidency College and Calcutta University rushed off a special petition to the government, to save the heritage place. In 2006, a huge financial crunch kept the co-operative society from undertaking renovation of the coffee house. Though a few companies such as Asian Paints approached the society with offers to renovate the restaurant, the offers were refused due to clash of norms and conditions.
The Hungry Generation movement in Bengali Literature ,which took Calcutta in 1961 .This literary movement was launched by Malay Roychoudhury, Samir Roy Choudhury ,Subimal Basak,Debi Ray,Saileswar Ghose,Basudeb Dasgupta,Tridip Mitra,Subhas Ghose,Falguni Ray and Arunesh Ghose who were in their early twenties at that time .This movement was based on COLLAGE STREET COFFEE HOUSE KOLKATA. .They had coined Hungryalism from the word “Hungry” used by Geoffrey Chaucer in his poetic line The Sower Hungry Time’.Initially they used to publish handbills which carried their writings and these used to be distributed in Calcutta College street coffee House,Malay Roy choudhry a young Bengali poet has been central figure in the Hungry Generation .The Hungry Genaration movement in Bengali literature and painting also known as Hungrealism, Sarvagrassa,,khutkatar,khsudhart,Bhukhi Peedhi ,which shook post colonial Bangla culture with an Intensity caoparable to the impact of pre -colonial young Bengali social movement.Hungry Generation` came out and it declared Malay & Samir brother duo father of the movement, Shakti the leader and Debi Roy the publisher. Samir Roy Choudhury has been creative off and on. After his first collection of poems he published Aamar Vietnam a collection of poems, though not based on Vietnam, but premised on the sensitivity of a person who lives in a different world and is regularly bombarded by war-news which are shockingly inhuman. Then after a decade his third collection of poems Janowar (জানোয়ার) (The Animal) was published written in a different vein. Among the Hungryalists, he is considered to be a master of word formation and language-plasticity. Recently He died 22nd June 2016.The movement was first conceived as a poetry-movement but later on it did not remain limited to poetry but branched out to other genre of literature.
The origins of this movement stem from the educational establishments serving Chaucer and Spengler to the poor of India. The movement was officially launched however, in November 1961 from the residence of Malay Roy Choudhury and his brother Samir Roychoudhury . They took the word Hungry from Geoffrey Chaucer’s line “In Sowre Hungry Tyme” and they drew upon, among others, Oswald Spengler’s histriographical ideas about the non-centrality of cultural evolution and progression, for philosophical inspiration. The movement was to last from 1961 to 1965. It is wrong to suggest that the movement was influenced by the Beat Generation, since Ginsberg did not visit Malay until April 1963, when he came to Patna. Poets Octavio Paz and Ernesto were to visit Malay later during the 1960s., it had participants spread over North Bengal, Tripura , Benares,Allahabad ,Bombay.
Poetry is not the caging of belches within form .It should convey the brutal sound of the breaking values and startling tremors of the rebellious soul of the artist himself with ,with words stripped of their usual meaning .Poetry should be able to follow music in the power it posses of evoking a state of mind .Let us read a few points of Hungry manifestos:
1 To reject traditional forms of poetry and allow poetry to take its original forms.
- To break loose the traditional association of words and to coin unconventional and … unaccepted combination of words.
- To present in all nakedness all aspects of the self.
- To transmit dynamically the message of the restless existence and the sense of disgust in a razor sharp language. 5.To depoliticize the soul of each solitary individual.
6.To let every individual realize that existence is pre -political.
7.To let it be noted historically that politics invites the man of third quality,aesthetically the most lowest substratum of society ,at its service.
8.To declare the belief that all intellectual fakeries called political theory are essentially the founts of fatal and seductive lies erupting out of abominable irresponsibility.
9.To demarcate the actual position of a politician in a modern society ,somewhere between the dead body of a harlot and a donkey’s tail.
10.To never respect a politician ,to whatever species or organism he may belong to..
11.To never escape from politics ,and at the same time,neither let politics escape from the terror of our aesthetic being.
12.To remodel the basis upon which political creeds are founded.
Today ,when we look at Indian politics we are stunned by this prophetic discorse delivered more than 55 years ago.The Hungryalists further confounded the situation by the slogan REMOVE YOUR MASK priented on paper masks of jokers ,demons,animals ,ghosts .Hindu gods and goddesses etc.This action was apiece of sheer genius which has become a part of literary folklore.And action comparable to actions of 19th century ‘Young Bengal’ was distribution of turmeric -smeared Hindu wedding cards complete with symbols of butterfly and palanquin wherein the ruling school school of poetry was vehemently attacked and the intellectuals indirectly called headless. Manifestoes appeared regularly on short story ,drama,religion ,criticism,painting ,discourse,obscenity ,style ,diction etc during the peak of 1963-64.Magazines edited by Hunryalist started appearing frequently.
2.Tapan Das edited Pratibimba
3.Subimal Basak Edited Pratidwandi
4,Debi Ray edited Chinho
5.Tridip and Alo edited Unmarga and waste paper
6.Shambhu edited Blues
7.Pradip edited Swakal /Phooo.
Literary and new magazines whose hegemony was threatened ,continued their trade against the Hungryalists almost everyday.It is wrong to suggest that the movement was influenced by the Beat Generation, since Ginsberg did not visit Malay until April 1963, Poets Octavio Paz and Ernesto were to visit Malay later during the 1960s., it had participants spread over Tripura , Benares,Allahabad ,Bombay.though written and verbal complaints against the Hungryalists to the cheif Minister and calcutta police commissioner continued .On September 2nd 1964 arrest warrants order were issued with conspiring to produce and distribute an obscene books against the Establishment (Section 292 of Indian Penal Code)Samir ,Malay ,Subhas ,Saileshwar ,Debi and pradip were arrested..Debi and Subimal were transferred out of kolkata by their employers. Pradip was rusticated from Viswa Bharati ,Utpal Was Dismissed from his professor’s job.Malay and Samir were suspended from service.Malay and Samir had to present themselves before ”Investigating Board’ which interrogated them for severall hours to find out whether they were really in any conspiracy.Maiay roy Choudhry had to go through 35 months long ordel of arrest conviction by lower court on 28th December 1965 and ultimately exoneration by Higher Court of Calcutta.Anyway the movement did create a world wide-stir..Poets from every part of world started to gather money for them.
Stark Electric Jesus – Poem by Malay Roy Choudhury.Charge against this book was obscenity.
Oh I’ll die I’ll die I’ll die
My skin is in blazing furore
I do not know what I’ll do where I’ll go oh I am sick
I’ll kick all Arts in the butt and go away Shubha
Shubha let me go and live in your cloaked melon
In the unfastened shadow of dark destroyed saffron curtain
The last anchor is leaving me after I got the other anchors lifted
I can’t resist anymore, a million glass panes are breaking in my cortex
I know, Shubha, spread out your matrix, give me peace
Each vein is carrying a stream of tears up to the heart
Brain’s contagious flints are decomposing out of eternal sickness
other why didn’t you give me birth in the form of a skeleton
I’d have gone two billion light years and kissed God’s ass
But nothing pleases me nothing sounds well
I feel nauseated with more than a single kiss
I’ve forgotten women during copulation and returned to the Muse
In to the sun-coloured bladder
I do not know what these happenings are but they are occurring within me
I’ll destroy and shatter everything
draw and elevate Shubha in to my hunger
Shubha will have to be given
Kolkata seems to be a procession of wet and slippery organs today
But i do not know what I’ll do now with my own self
My power of recollection is withering away
Let me ascend alone toward death
I haven’t had to learn copulation and dying
I haven’t had to learn the responsibility of shedding the last drops
Haven’t had to learn to go and lie beside Shubha in the darkness
Have not had to learn the usage of French leather
while lying on Nandita’s bosom
Though I wanted the healthy spirit of Aleya’s
fresh China-rose matrix
Yet I submitted to the refuge of my brain’s cataclysm
I am failing to understand why I still want to live
I am thinking of my debauched Sabarna-Choudhury ancestors
I’ll have to do something different and new
Let me sleep for the last time on a bed soft as the skin of
I remember now the sharp-edged radiance of the moment I was born
I want to see my own death before passing away
The world had nothing to do with Malay Roychoudhury
Shubha let me sleep for a few moments in your
violent silvery uterus
Give me peace, Shubha, let me have peace
Let my sin-driven skeleton be washed anew in your seasonal bloodstream
Let me create myself in your womb with my own sperm
Would I have been like this if I had different parents?
Was Malay alias me possible from an absolutely different sperm?
Would I have been Malay in the womb of other women of my father?
Would I have made a professional gentleman of me
like my dead brother without Shubha?
Oh, answer, let somebody answer these
Shubha, ah Shubha
Let me see the earth through your cellophane hymen
Come back on the green mattress again
As cathode rays are sucked up with the warmth of a magnet’s brilliance
I remember the letter of the final decision of 1956
The surroundings of your clitoris were being embellished
with coon at that time
Fine rib-smashing roots were descending in to your bosom
Stupid relationship inflated in the bypass of senseless neglect
I do not know whether I am going to die
Squandering was roaring within heart’s exhaustive impatience
I’ll disrupt and destroy
I’ll split all in to pieces for the sake of Art
There isn’t any other way out for Poetry except suicide
Let me enter in to the immemorial incontinence of your labia majora
In to the absurdity of woeless effort
In the golden chlorophyll of the drunken heart
Why wasn’t I lost in my mother’s urethra?
Why wasn’t I driven away in my father’s urine after his self-coition?
Why wasn’t I mixed in the ovum -flux or in the phlegm?
With her eyes shut supine beneath me
I felt terribly distressed when I saw comfort seize Shubha
Women could be treacherous even after unfolding a helpless appearance
Today it seems there is nothing so treacherous as Woman & Aet
Now my ferocious heart is running towards an impossible death
Vertigoes of water are coming up to my neck from the pierced earth
I will die
Oh what are these happenings within me
I am failing to fetch out my hand and my palm
From the dried sperms on my trousers spreading wings
300000 children gliding toward the district of Shubha’s bosom
Millions of needles are now running from my blood in to Poetry
Now the smuggling of my obstinate legs are trying to plunge
Into the death-killer sex-wig entangled in the hypnotic kingdom of words
Fitting violent mirrors on each wall of the room I am observing
After letting loose a few naked Malay, his unestablished scramblings.
In early sixties of 20th century the coffee house became the intellectual battleground of the famous Hungry generation literary and cultural movement; the iconic poets Malay Roy Choudhury, Samir Roychoudhury brother duo who pioneered the movement were arrested and prosecuted. Several literary magazines owe their origin to the inspiration from the adda sessions at this coffee house. The coffee house is famous for its adda sessions, and as the breeding place of several political and cultural personalities and movements. Many people come here just for the sake of adda and just being a part of the long talking sessions. Several talented and illustrious persons from different streams have been thronging this renowned adda for a long time.
3rd Vol, No1 (January 2016)
Allahabad – A City of Confluence by Pallavi Chandel
“ Ae Allahabad ae – jaulanghe gango jaman,
Tera daman teen tirbeni ki hai ek anjuman”
As it has been rightly put forward, Allahabad, a city known for the confluence of three rivers Ganga, Jamuna and the invisible Saraswati has been in the occupation of a civilized race long before the first beginnings of authentic history. While its contemporaries in the pre –historic age are now gone forever like Ninevah, Babylon, Thebes and Memphis, Allahabad known as Prayag during ancient times stands like the Indraprashtha of the Mahabharata where it did five thousand years ago. The Puranas pay glowing tributes to the city of Prayag, it was here that the Lord Brahma performed many sacrifices, subsequently it became a land of great sacrifices and came to be referred to as the Holy of the Holiest, the Tirthraj in Hindu Mythology. The name of Prayag is also mentioned in the Ramayana where we are told that it was here that Bharat followed his wondering brothers Lord Rama and Lakshman and his sister – in –law Sita bound for the South. He met them at the hermitage of Rishi Bhardwaja which overlooked the confluence of the three rivers and tried to convince them to return to Ayodhaya. Prayaga also figures in the records of ancient Chinese travelers Fa-Hein and Hiuen Tsang who visited in the 5th and 7th century BCE respectively. It was at the Sangam of the three rivers that King Harsha of Kanuaj held his great assembly to distribute his accumulated treasures to the poor and needy as well as to the religious of all denominations. Prayag developed as Allahabad under the reign of Akbar and gained political importance but did not lose its religious value. Akbar laid the foundation of an imperial city and constructed a fort on the banks of the Yamuna, which he called “Ilahabas”, the new city became a favorite place of pilgrimage under Akbar’s tolerant rule. The city grew rapidly and before the end of Akbar’s reign it was a place of considerable size. However, the city became the scene of civil strife during the reign of later Mughals. The city witnessed the signing of the historical agreement between the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam and the British East India Company in 1765, which gave the British the Diwani rights of Bihar, Bengal and Orissa. Nothing further of importance happened till the War of Independence in 1857. Allahabad played a significant role in the uprising; the rebellion in Allahabad was led by Maulvi Liaqat Ali. Once the British East India Company suppressed the rebellion, Allahabad was re-planned and rebuilt in 1858. It became the capital of the United Provinces and a seat of power under the British Government. Allahabad contributed even towards the Freedom Struggle, Anand Bhawan, the residence of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru being the centre of all activities
It was in December, 1873, that Lord Northbrook the then Viceroy of India, laid the foundation of the Central College in Allahabad that later transformed into the University of Allahabad thus fulfilling the cherished dream of the citizens of the Allahabad of having an institution of learning. The University has progressed well, its contributions are noteworthy and it has churned out an array of intellectuals, authors, writers, poets, bureaucrats, leaders, artists, politicians etc. Few of its eminent and distinguished personalities are A.N. Jha, Dr. Tarachand, Moti Lal Nehru, Acharya Narendra Dev, K.N. Katju, Harivansh Rai Bachhan, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Mahadevi Verma, Bhagwati Chandra Verma, Dharam Veer Bharati, Kamleshwar, Chandrashekhar, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, S.C. Zamir, Justice R. K. Verma etc and among the contemporaries are Neeraj Roy, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Vikas Swaroop, Pankaj Mishra, Mukqtar Abbas Naqvi and many more.
The landscape of the city are as alluring as its history, some of the most prominent monuments are the Akbar Fort an exquisite specimen of the Mughal architecture, the grand and magnificent mausoleums of Prince Khusrav , his mother and sister at Khusrobagh, yet another example of Mughal craftsmanship is the Shahi Mosque, the Thomas Mayne Memorial which houses the public library reflects the gothic style of architecture and was built to commemorate the friendship of Thomas the Commissioner and Mayne the Collector of Allahabad during the British period, the Mayo Hall constructed in the memory of Lord Mayo, the Viceroy, demonstrates neo – gothic style of architecture and was used to organize public meetings, gatherings etc., the All Saints Cathedral, a rich example of colonial structure is considered as the pride of the city while the Allahabad High Court , truly amplifies the grandeur of the city.
Allahabad is also known for its varied variety, taste and fragrance of Guavas, the Guavas have a huge demand both in national and international market. The city also boasts of a rich cuisine and its food is as diverse as its population. Right from jalebi, kachori, imarti chaat and mithai, the city is a delight for the food connoisseurs.
The city exhibits not only the confluence of rivers but is truly indicative of the Ganga – Jamuni tehjeeb or the intermingling of two different cultures and traditions, that of the Hindus and Muslims. The city is also a centre of Sufi traditions and even today seven daayras (schools of Sufi thought) still exist. The city reflects a cosmopolitan culture, wherein you can find Kashmiris, Bengalis, Sikhs, Marathis , Gujratis and Anglo – Indian community. The citizenry of Allahabad feels proud of rich cultural heritage and traditions.
Pallavi Chandel is a Freelance Teacher Educator , Curriculum Designer and content writer for the past twelve years. And in each position she has experienced a great sense of fulfillment. presently she works as a Freelance Curriculum Designer with Shri Educare Ltd – the company that is successfully running the The Shri Ram Schools pan India and abroad, developing and designing activity based curriculum both for CBSE and ICSE board and as a Freelance Teacher Educator with Macmillan Educations. Her interest in art and culture led her to form a cultural society Sanchaari, with the aim of reviving the cultural milieu of her city. Sanchaari had successfully organized a literary and cultural festival which witnessed the confluence of authors, writers, theatre personalities, musicians etc.
2nd Vol, No1 (July 2015)
Representation of Folk culture in the works of Rabindranath Tagore
—By Prof. Sibasis Jana
From my earlier childhood days I have a long cherish dream to read about Rabindranath Tagore and to drink his literary milk in ‘full throated ease’ as we have already read and enjoyed “Sahaj Path” (Easy Lesson) part 1 and part 2. And we have read them, memorize them, sang them with tunic soothing balm to the rhythms of our heart’s content. The more we are reading and drinking, drinking and reading Tagorean thoughts and actions, aims and ideals, beliefs and customs, philosophy and spirituality, nationalism and cosmopolitanism in every battering days of our livelihood, the more we are groping into darkness in the world of Tagorean philosophy and psychology. And Rabindranath Tagore, the master artist in creating and recreating varied literary genres i.e. poetry, novels, plays, short stories essays, songs in his own experimental paradigm, depicts multi-faced themes and interpretations with versatile socio-cultural integrity and universal glorifications. Sometimes he was also engaged in collecting all the rhymes that women currently use to divert their children to determine the history of language and society and its aesthetic sense and values. There is timelessness in all these nursery rhymes so far. They never carry any indication of who wrote them, and none can think that on which day or in which year they were written. It is because of this inherent timelessness, even if they were written in our own day, they are ancient and even if they were written thousands of years ago are still new.
So, my article “Representation of Folk culture in the writings of Rabindranath Tagore-A Study” is an attempt to highlight the background behind Tagore’s folk study and how this folk is reflected in his works and how far it is relevant in reshaping our life style and nature science.
To quote Tagore— “There is nothing as ancient as infancy. Adults have been changed in many different ways by place, time, education and custom, but infants are the same today as they were a hundred thousand years ago. Unchanging ancientness is born into human homes again and again in the form of a baby , yet the freshness , beauty, innocence and sweetness it had at the beginning of history is the same today.” (“Loksahitya”,Rabindrarachanabali. Volume -3.p-750.)
Tagore’s interest for folk culture and tradition is reflected in his poetry, plays, novels, essays and short stories also. Sometimes he is regarded as the pioneering figure in the field of folk literature. While India was under the British colonial chain, at that moment of time two streams of freedom movement were at the peak of liberal flow. One was flow of moderate Indian National Congress policy and the other was Extremist armed revolt of “Jugantar Anusilan samity” against the British territory. But those people who did not believe in the two streams of anti-colonial tendencies instead of that they have their own patriotic zeal in their heart, they got the opportunity to nurture third option of cultivating Folklore as projected by Tagore. While Tagore was living at Silaidaha, Sahjadpur, and Bolpur outside of his four walled Jorasanko Thakurbari, he was closely intimated to the common folks, beauteous aspects of village life, folk cultures of the people of those areas.
In his famous essay “Lokasahitya” (1907) Tagore highlights –1. “Chhelebhulano chhara1 (Child Deluding Rhymes)
2. “Chhelebhulano Chhara-2(child Deluding Rhymes). 3. “Kabisangit”(songs of the poet). 4. “Gramyasahitya” (literature of Village).
He was interested in Folklore and deeply engaged in nurturing such folk literature to inspire people to have—1…Closeness to nature. 2. Harmonization of the language, 3.Aesthetics of village life. 4. Quest for patriotism.
He also stated that how from the earlier childhood days he was marvelously spellbound with the rhythms spell of the rhyme it is so heartrending that he never forgot it—
“Bristi pare tapur tupur nade alo ban
Sibthakurer biye habe tin kanye dan,
Ak kanye randhen barden , ak kanye khan,
Ak kanye rag kare baper bari jan”
(“Loksahitya”,Rabindrarachanabali. Volume -3.p-753.)
(pitter patter falls the rain , the river has over flowed ,/ the marriage of ‘Shibthakur’ is celebrated with the handing over of three brides ceremony,/ one bride cooks and serves, other bride eats, /Another bride went away to father’s house in fury) (Translation mine).
In “Loksahitya” Rabindranath focused the importance and vitality of folk literature–“As the root of a tree is deep within the soil and the top spread out towards the sky, so the everywhere the lower part literature is widely covered under the deep soil of motherland, and it is specially narrowing of own land and regional. That is enjoyable and accessible to the human folk of own country not for the outsiders. That what is universal is based on the foundations of the local – thus there is a relationship between the root and the top – between the local of literature and its universal counterpart. That part of the tree with fruits, flowers and branches which is spread out towards the sky is not comparable to the roots of the soil, yet to the theorists their similarity and relationship is not deniable. (“Loksahitya”,Rabindrarachanabali. Volume-. 3.p-794.)
As Folk literature includes all the myths, legends, epics, fables, and folktales passed down by word of mouth through the generations, the authors of traditional literature are usually unknown or unidentifiable.
According to U.N.E.S.C.O. the definition of Folklore signifies thus—
“Folklore(in a broader sense , traditional and popular folk culture)is a group oriented and tradition based creation of groups on in dividends reflecting the expectations of the community as an adequate expression of its cultural and social identity ; its standards and values are transmitted orally , by imitation or by means . Its forms include, among others, language literature, music, dance, games, mythology, rituals, customs, handicrafts, architect and other arts.”(U.N.E.S.C.O. definition).In 1973 All India science congress conference (25th year celebration) Dr. Tusher Chatterjee gave the definition of folklore and it was accepted by all and the definition thus goes—“It is the total creation of life practice and the ideational pursuit of mainly collective spontaneous and anonymous effort of an integrated society.” He goes on to focus that it develops in creative process or disappears in forgetfulness , yet , on the whole , implanting its roots in the past and illuminating the reality of dynamic time in the evolutionary process it extends its continuity in future in the interaction of social relation.
These stories have endured because they are entertaining, they embody the culture’s belief system, and they contain fundamental human truths by which people have lived for centuries. Knowing the characters and situations of folk literature is part of being culturally literate. Folk literature, regardless of its place of origin, seems clearly to have arisen to meet a variety of human needs—to explain the mysteries of the natural world, to articulate our fears and dreams, to impose order on the apparent random, even chaotic, nature of life, to entertain ourselves and each other and their brevity, immediate action, easily understandable characters, recurring features, fantastic elements, and happy endings particularly appeal to children between the ages of 3 and 8.Folk literature can help children begin to develop a sense of morality. It helps children to sort out good and evil in the world and to identify with the good.
As Tagore was Born and nurtured in the enlightened, cultured and religious family of Debendranath Tagore, he inherited faith in the religion of the Vedas the Upanishadas. From his earliest days he “grew up in the one house where all the surging tides of Indian Renaissance could flow round his daily life, and filled the air he breathed with the exhilaration of their fresh air.” The Vedas and the Upanishadas, the medieval mystics and the Vaishnava poets, the folk singers of Bengal, the poetry of Kabir, and the works of Dante, Heine, and Goethe’s Faust greatly influenced him. When Tagore shifted base from Kolkata to Shelidaha, he was exposed to the beauty, varied folk culture, religion and music of East Bengal and also the philosophy of the Bauls. These impressions left an indelible mark that helped him evolve a philosophy that finally matured in “The Religion of Man”.
In Tagore’s writings we have the reflection of folklore in nice fluidity of folk art, tradition and mythical leanings, beliefs, customs and songs of day to day life affairs. In the poetry of “Kari and Komal”s , “Upakatha”, “punarmilan” of “pravatsangeet” poetry, , of “chhabi o gan”s poem “metal”, “Rajar chhle o Rajar meye” of “Sonar Tari”, all are touched with the sweet note of Tagorean folk mastery. In “Balmiki Prativa”, “Rudrachanda”, “Prakitir pratisodh”, we have the smell of folk culture, mythical layer, and life history of folk people. In the plays like “Bisarjan”, “Malini”, “Raja” we have enjoyed the close depiction of folk life and tradition and ideiology. Even Tagore was greatly influenced by Baul songs. And in almost all the literary sphere of his concept of Baul philosophy is portrayed in different levels of understanding and humanism. The “maner manush” of “Raja” play is the king himself. Even in short stories like “Manihara”, “Kankal”, “Nisithey”, “Sampatti –Samarpan” etc are also deeply rooted in folk science and philosophical outlook.
Tagore was a mystic romantic poet like Blake and Wordsworth, but his romanticism has a typical Indian flavour. His romanticism and mysticism was derived from the multiform streams of Upanishadic and Vaishnavic thought of his own country. In Gitanjali mysticism and romanticism have been superbly blended together. It finds expression in the wishful longing for the infinite in highly lyrical and passionate utterances. To quote Rabindranath Tagore–:
“Thou art the sky and thou art the nest as well”. For Tagore “this world is a book with God’s signature on every page, and the thing to decipher is that signature. Man, the world and God interpenetrate in his poems and enter into personal and poignant relations.” Gitanjali and other poems of Tagore are a recordation “of the finest expression of his mystic experience and have a place equally in the mystic literature of the world as the finest poetry of our time.”
Tagore highlights his fascination with Bengali folk music and literature, especially the Bauls. To quote his lecture—(Hibbert Lectures delivered at Oxford University in 1930, later published as The Religion of Man,)
“In my personal experience some songs which I had often heard from wandering village singers, belonging to a popular sect of Bengal, called Bauls, who have no images, temples, scriptures, or ceremonials, who declare in their songs the divinity of Man, and express for him an intense feeling of love. Coming from men who are unsophisticated, living a simple life in obscurity, it gives us a clue to the inner meaning of all religions. For it suggests that these religions are never about a God of cosmic force, but rather about the God of human personality. At the same time it must be admitted that even the even the impersonal aspect of truth dealt with by science belongs to the human universe. (“Man’s Universe: The Religion of Man”, EWRT, III, 89)
Even Tagore expresses from his own personal feelings—“one day I chanced to hear a song from a beggar belonging to the Baul sect of Bengal. We have in the modern Indian Religion deities of different names, forms, and mythology, some Vedic and other aboriginal.They have their special sectarian idioms and associations that give emotional satisfaction to those who are accustomed to their hypnotic influences. Some of them may have their aesthetic value to me and others philosophical significance over cumbered by exuberant distraction of legendary myths. But what struck me in this simple song was a religious expression that was neither grossly concrete, full of crude details,nor metaphysical in its rarified transcendentalism. At the same time it was alive with an emotional sincerity.” (“The Man of my Heart: The Religion of Man”, EWRT, III, 129).
What an intense yearning of the heart for the divine being which is not in the scriptures or temples but in man—
“Temples and mosques obstruct thy path
And I fail to hear thy call or to move ,
When the teachers and priest angrily crowd round me.”
(“The Man of my Heart: The Religion of Man”, EWRT, III, 129).
Rabindranath’s exposure to the Bauls deepened at Silaidaha, where he had come into contact with Gagan Harkara, and he had made arrangements to transcribe the songs of Lalan Fakir (the most celebrated of the Bauls) by Kalimohan Ghosh. Rabindranath was also instrumental with Kshitimohan Sen in translating the Baul songs into English for a wider, global readership.
Folk music can be categorized in terms of love, devotion, occupation, labor, ritual and philosophy. These folk songs have many forms such as Bhatiali, Bhawaiya, Jatra, Kavigan, Palagan, Jhumur, Meyeli geet, Baromasi and Baul. They are mostly sung in accompaniment with some form of musical instruments. The folk tradition of Bengal has immense contribution in keeping the Baul culture alive. The Bauls are an ancient group of wandering minstrels from Bengal who can sing of life, love, spirituality and divinity in an utmost casual fashion on a one-string musical instrument called Ektara. The word Baul usually refers to a category of wandering minstrels, mystical seers and initiates into a system of esoteric practices. They are a heterogeneous community with a range of practices and preach it through their songs. These songs are linked by recurrent themes of a love for man and God, critiques of established religion and caste practices, while retaining deep allusion to cult rites and customs.
So folk culture becomes a repository of an alternative history that was based on lived experience and where day to day living created a deeper bonding across religion and class. To quote Tagore once again—
“Among the Bauls we see the fruit of such endeavour, in a culture that was alike Hindu and Moslem, – in which they came together, but did not hurt each other. This union of theirs did not give rise to platforms of public speech-making, but evoked songs of untutored sweetness in language and melody. In such uniting of the voices of Hindu and Moslem, there was no discord between Koran and Puran. In that union was manifest the true Spirit of India,—not in the barbarism of the latter-day communal rivalry. (“Baul Songs”, EWRT, IV, 805)
Thus the Baul philosophy is deeply spiritual connotation unlike the casual appearance of the Bauls. Baul philosophy has mixed elements of Tantra, Sufi, Vaishnavism and Buddhism. There are Vaishnava bauls as well as Sufi muslims.
The most celebrated poet practitioner of the Baul songs was Lalon Shah (1774-1890) popularly known as Lalon Fakir in Bengal. He was a Baul personified. Lalon had no formal education as such but his songs can educate the most educated of minds throughout the world. So Lalon’s profound thoughts sung beautifully in a Baul song expressed thus–
Ami Kothay Pabo Tare, Amar Moner Manush je Re
Haraye Shei Manushe Kaar Uddeshe, Desh Bideshe Barai Ghure
(Where shall I meet him the Man of my heart? He is lost to me and I seek him
Wandering from land to land.)
So choice of words of Lalon made despite his lack of any formal education is worth appreciation. It is the combination of the language, imagination and the syncretic philosophy of the Bauls that put them in conjunction with the Rabindranath’s own philosophical concerns. For Rabindranath the physical universe was not a brief spell of illusion manifestation of the senses. In this expression it marked the creative soul that was immanent in the whole universe and in all man.
Thus the creative soul was dynamic and creative and the true religion was one that could appreciate this university and variety. Since this joy is immanent, the source is both in the imaginative appreciation of the external world and the own soul of man. Thus Rabindranath’s fascination with the idea of the Moner Manush: “For the sake of this love, Heaven longs to become earth and Gods, to become man. (“The Religion of Man”, EWRT, II, 130)
Rabindranath’s representation of Dhananjay Bairagi in Muktadhara is very striking in the treatment of folk religion.The Waterfall (Muktadhara) is place in an imaginary location Chitrakoot, ruled by the dictatorial King Ranajit.
So, folk literature of Tagore is an approach towards the folk people to encourage them, inspire them, and energize them and to reawaken the whole Indians to realize their own roots and identities to glorify the songs of humanity with the threads of peace and harmony, liberty and integrity. He gives the clarion call to return to nature, to know the origin, to realize the blessings of village life, to harmonize the human folk, to awaken and enlighten the patriotic zeal so that we have the blessings of cosmopolitanism and universal nature science unification with deep ecological philosophy.
*———- “Lokashaitya”, in Rabindra Rachanavali,Vol.3. Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 1914: 749-809). (Translations mine.)
*Kripalani, Krishna. Tagore: A Life. New Delhi: Published by the Author, 1971.
*Openshaw, Jeanne. Seeking Bauls of Bengal. U.K: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print
*Sykes, Marjorie (Trans). Muktadhara in Three Plays of Tagore. New Delhi: Oxford University
*P Sarkar, Rebati Mohan. Bauls of Bengal: In Quest for Man of the Heart. New Delhi: Gian
Publishing House, 1990. Print.
*Tagore, Rabindranath. “The Religion of Man”, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, ed., Sisir Kumar Das. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2012 Vol.III : 83 – 218,. (In brief referred as EWRT.
Sibasis Jana, a bi-lingual poet, critic, educationist, is an Asstt. Professor in English at Panskura Banamali College, Purba Medinipur. He has three books and several research papers to his credit. His areas of interest are Indian English writing, Folk Studies, Rasa Theory, Film studies and Religious studies. He is the life member of Guild of Indian Writers, editors and critics (G.I.W.E.C.), Kerala. He is the Asstt. Secretary of S.P.E.L.L(Society of poetry, Education, language and Literature), Kolkata.
1st Vol, No1 (November2013)
The Bauls of Bengal
The Bauls of Bengal hardly require introduction for many of our readers. This mystic, wandering sect, living nomadic lives and singing songs of devotion, are one of the signatures of the rich cultural traditions and heritages of Bengal. Their songs, written in dual meaning – one for the lay listener and one for those initiated into the sect, are rich in poetic imagery and contain deep mystic connotations. Their songs can be heard in several rural fairs and carnivals, some of which, like the famous Joydeb Mela at Kenduli in Bolpur, West Bengal, have received significant attention from the elite sections of, borrowing from Adorno, the “culture industry” of Bengal. This has led to substantial appropriation and commercial exploitation of this tradition.
Having received significant national attention, largely owing to the attachment of Bauls with Rabindranath Tagore and to the pioneering efforts of Viswa Bharati University to preserve the Baul tradition, the Bauls gained global attention in the 1960s, when, during his nine month stay in Calcutta, Allen Ginsberg was enchanted by the Baul philosophy which he learnt from Nabani Das Baul, a highly respected Baul of whom Tagore was an admirer. On Ginsberg’s recommendation, Albert Grossman, the agent of several folk bands in America, took five Baul singers to perform as an opening act for the band The Byrds. Bob Dylan, who happened to be one of Grossman’s clients, was engrossed by the spirituality behind their songs and two of the fie Bauls, Purna and Lakshman Das, appears with him on the cover jacket of his album John Wesley Harding.
Personally, I owe my meager understanding and wide-eyed appreciation of Baul music to Satyananda Das Baul and his sadhan-sangini Hori Dasi, whom I met during the carnival of Joydeb Mela of 2013 which happens every year in the middle of January to celebrate the birth anniversary of Sanskrit poet Jaydev who wrote the famed poems of Gitagovindam. Culturally speaking, such a confluence of a distinctly marga (Sanskrit, global, mainstream) tradition and a desha (folk, rural, regional) stream of Indian spiritual aesthetics, as represented by the Joydeb Mela of Kenduli, is a rarity in the dialogic space involving these two traditions, which mostly run parallel to one another in the Indian heritago-cultural text.
Two Boat Songs:
Translation of two Baul songs written in original Bengali by Rashik Sarkar
The lyrics of these songs are as they appear in the album Mayanodii (River of Maya) sung by Satyananda Das Baul. These are the seventh and the eight tracks of the album. The lyrics were written in Bengali by Rashik Sarkar. I have taken certain, though minimal, liberties while translating them.
1 . Jeo Na Nodiir Paaney O Mon ShNaaTar Na Jeney (Mind, Do Not Go to the River if You Can’t Swim)
Now the river bends and flows by.
So tell me how will you cross it?
Don’t go to the river
If you can’t swim
There’s only one shore for you to reach
And danger lurks all around
There’s mud all over
And you can slip any time
Thus, if you go there
Without knowing much
You shall drown when the storm arrives
The shore is paved
And there are rules to oblige
Through high and low tides
And through hours when it flows upstream
Don’t go there if you can’t swim
Whom, the One of Essence
Knows how much he needs of the shore.
He resists the tides and the times
And he swims on.
Look at him swimming!
Look at him drowning!
The One of Essence, he drowns them
and he makes them swim at times.
Alas, tough-lucked swimmer
I cry for you,
who had drowned midway
across the curved river.
if you can’t swim,
Do stay away from the river
There’s no way you can cross it.
Essence Rasik/Roshik – One who has Rasa or essence, often referred to as GNoshai or the Wise One in Vaishnava theology.
2. Maya Nodii Kemney Jaabi Baaiya (How Will You Cross the River of Illusions?)
O Boatman of Rainbowland
How will you cross the River of Illusions?
like our thorns of longing,
is eight inches wide.
Do not cross it on four fingers,
And if you start out in oblivion
Be certain that your boat shall capsize.
And at the slippery shores
of the eight-inch River,
six splendid women reside.
Now if their beauty enchants you,
you shall be plundered of all you own.
And on the bends of that River
There lives a crocodile named Desire
And it will feast on your flesh
if it gets to you.
Do paint your body with the yellow of conscience
And bathe in the River .
Boatman, Dear Brother,
How will you cross the River now?
And now the River runs wild,
and water breaks through the shores
to flood your garden of desires
to flood your beloved youth.
Behold, your garden flows by
Behold, your youth flows away
And look at the sages floating around
in the wild, wily River
that bends away.
Now tell me, Dear Boatman
How do you cross the River?
Thematic similarities can be drawn with Eliot’s Phlebas the Phoenician
Yellow Refers to turmeric, a holy crop, the dust of which, other than being used as a spice, is also applied to the body by the members of certain ethnic Bengali speaking groups in sacred rituals such as marriage.
River Applying powdered turmeric on the body and bathing is a custom typical of ethnic marriages of many Bengali speaking groups. The last two lines might be a possible allusion to the link between marriage and sex/sexuality.
Law teacher by profession, Atindriyo Chakrobarty mostly moves around from town to town to pursue his profession and also his twin passions: Writing and archiving folk literary traditions of India. He has extensively collected traditional literary sources comprising of Pala, Yatra, Brotokotha, PaNchali and folk-songs across the traditional literary gamut of Bengal. Poetry, film reviews and essays, penned by him both in Bangla, which is his mother tongue has been published in several journals and blogs. He runs his own blog http://atindriyo.blogspot.com
Has published two collections of poetry:
1) The History of Decadence, Pratishedhak, Kolkata, 2012
2) And Those Other Ghosts of Love, Anti-virus, Liverpool, 2012