Rabindra Sangeet – The Genius of One Man, the Heartbeat of Hundreds!

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Rabindra Sangeet
Rabindranath Tagore – Wikimedia

Rabindra Sangeet or Rabindro Songit, as pronounced in Bengali is the soul of Bengal. Written by Rabindranath Tagore, the legendary literary personality, these collections of over 2000 songs, are not only wonderful play of words and music, but also, touch human emotions unlike others. Gitabitan is the name of the book or collection of the 2233 songs written by Rabindranath Tagore, which form the repository of Rabindra Sangeet.

The 1913 Nobel Prize laureate for literature, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore is unmatched by very few in the history of world literature with his sheer volume and depth of writing. However, with Rabindra Sangeet what Rabindranath Tagore manages to do is mind boggling. The artistry flows not only in the poetry of words, but also in the rhythm of the songs which are heavily influenced from classical Indian, folk, as well as, international music.

Songs- Themes and Language

Rabindra Sangeet
Image – Wikimedia

The lyrics of the songs are based on myriad themes. However, the basic classification can be done on first, songs written about being human, the emotions and secondly, about nature in all her different forms. Though Tagore never really felt the need to classify his songs, after his death, the themes of his songs and poetry are generally classified as the following:

  1. Pooja Porjaay or devotional songs
  2. Prem Porjaay that are songs on love
  3. Prakrati Porjaay which are songs devoted to seasons
  4. Swadesh Porjaay are songs about the motherland and patriotism. These also include songs before and after the partition of Bengal
  5. Bichitra Porjaay or miscellaneous compositions
  6. Aanushthanik Porjaay are compositions relating to specific occasions, such as death, marriage or festivals
  7. Nritya Naatya are the acclaimed dance dramas

Yet, the classifications sometimes get mixed up. Some songs that might fall under Pooja Porjaay can also be interchanged with Prem Porjaay. In other words, the meaning and interpretation of many songs can be left to the admirer or listener.

Image – Wikimedia

Tagore’s lyrics are not just about words. They are about a depth in thinking and a panoramic emotional landscape that one finds hard to escape when lost in the rhythm of its beats. The words go beyond the literal explanation and connect with the human heart and understanding at various levels. In fact, many experts find it hard to exude the same emotional wavelength while translating his songs. It is believed without much argument, that those who know Bengali understand the nuances and feel of the songs better than anyone else who listens to its translated version.

Though many songs are written in Bengali, Tagore with his extensive knowledge and education in the Upanishads and Puranas does not refrain from using multiple different languages in his songs. His earliest works were written in Brajabuli, a derivative language from the Vaishnav hymns, writings of Jayadeva and Sanskrit influences from Kalidasa’s writings, Upanishads and Puranas.

The Music

The genre of Rabindra Sangeet is versatile and vast. Kabiguru Rabindranath was well travelled and he encountered different types of music during his travels and interactions. His songs thus do not fit into a single genre. Tagore created about six new taals or rhythms because he was not satisfied with the existing taals doing justice to his poetry. Rabindra Sangeet is hence an amalgamation influenced by Hindustani and Carnatic classical music, Western music and Folk music of Bengal.  The Baul genre of Bengal, Keertanang, tunes of Lalon Fakir and Sadhak Ramprasad Sen are included in the compositions besides the influence of Indian classical music, such as Hindustani thumri. Western music also finds place in Rabindra Sangeet with influences from Scottish ballads and Christmas carols. The musical instruments used for Rabindra Sangeet are the flute, esraj, ektaaraa, taanpura, sitar, dotaara, tabla, khol, piano, pump organ.

Paban Das Baul - Rabindra Sangeet
Paban Das Baul – Wikimedia

Some of the most notable songs from Rabindra Sangeet, include Amar Porano Jaha Chay, Amar Hiyar Majhe, Bhalobashi Bhalobashi, Ei Korechho Bhalo, Elem Natun Deshey, Sokhi Bhabana Kahare Bole, Purano Shei Diner Kotha and many more. In fact, the influences of Rabindra Sangeet are also seen in Bollywood with hits, such as Tere mera Milan ki yeh raina (Jodi tare nai chini go shey ki) and Chhukar mere man ko (Tomar holo shuru, amar holo shara)

Rabindra Sangeet is an important part of the Bengali culture. In practically almost all Bengali homes, Rabindra Sangeet is sung and learned. The love for poetry and music, heightened by the Kabi Guru, Tagore himself finds expression and a deep connection with all Bengalis no matter where they reside. The sweetness of the language, the efficiency and proficiency of use of words and the seamless flow of emotions and feelings that sometimes float, sometimes sink deep into the perfectly carved rhythm of music make Rabindra Sangeet a blissful experience.  A fulfilling, intuitive experience that resonates with the singer and listeners at all levels. If you haven’t already been mesmerized by the magic of Rabindra Sangeet, wait no longer. Plug into Youtube or download the songs on Saregama which has digitized more than 7000 Rabindra Sangeet songs. 

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