April 1, 2021

Bengali Song in the Bengal Renaissance Movement: Education and Practice

Indigenous Art & Culture

Dr. Soma Das Mondal

Music has been practiced in Indian shrines for a long time. For a long time, music has been associated with rituals and social activities in everyday routine of society. Naturally, the role of music in family or domestic life was not less, but the practice of serving music in an alone was rare. There was no separate system of music education. From being involved in daily activities in the social field, children grew up taking part in various family events. Naturally, music education was completed for young boys and girls while they were involved in family and social activities. Education did not have to be arranged separately. However, girls were not allowed to study. Many people believed that if girls learned to read, they would become widows. So, the girls were carefully detached from the place of traditional education with great care. In this context, it has been written in ‘Samakal’ magazine, “Caste system has kept the society stagnant then. There was a fixed idea in the society at that time that if girls learn to read and write, they will become premature widows, adultery will increase and society will be ruined. Girls did not have education system; their essential destiny was child marriage. If a relatively old groom died in a short time, his daughter-in-law would become a widow for life. From then on, his companion was white cloth, forced to be vegetarian and they had to give food once in a day, and fasting on different days of the month. She was forbidden to involve the family rituals and festivals. “1

At that time there was a tradition of performing music alone but there was no system of music education. Originally Baul and Fakirs sang solo songs. In elite society there was no single music for the householders. And the work of the girls was only in the inner house. Outer part of the house (Bahirmahal) was completely unknown to them. The main responsibilities of ordinary girls were to perform the daily activities of domestic life, to perform puja in accordance with the vows, dates and stars, to pay homage to the elders, to serve the husband and father-in-law, to cook, to sew, to tidy the house, to entertain guests. As a result, they could not find any way to save themselves from the various misfortunes of life. If the husband died suddenly for any reason, it was expected to keep away from all family festivities. The rules of the aristocratic middle class in particular were as strict as in the ‘Achalayatan’. If a young married girl became a widow, her life would be miserable. The only way to get rid of the life of constant threatening, beatings, reprimands was to leave home or die.

In the nineteenth century, missionaries and Englishmen were seen taking the initiative to educate their own children. As well as the generosity of some kind people, a new outline was created in this education system. As a result, the children of Bengal and India also saw some lines of light. The newly uneducated youth, seeing the English, took initiative to build some educational institutions in India. Radhakanta Dev, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Derozio and his students, Debendra Nath Tagore and others played an active role in this regard. New schools were established. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar himself built many girls’ schools. At that time the missionaries and British people included music as a subject in educational institutions as part of their children’s education. The British people also set up separate schools to teach music to their own children. At that time the subject of music education and practice in Bengal was not respectable.

Among the cultural programs held in the neighborhoods, festivals and after-hours were Kavigan, Tarja, Akharai, Half-Akharai, Song’s Song, Ramayana Song, Krishna Jatra, Leto, Kheur, Alkap etc. The big zamindars and kings of Kolkata used to hire from outside and organize various ceremonies. Within the confines of their home or in the garden house or in the open space. There were dance, song and performance halls. Running for several days. People from far and wide used to come to enjoy that function.

In the nineteenth century, the Europeans education system gave a new impetus to Bengal as well as to Indians. Indians find new light from them. Music schools were established in Kolkata and various major cities of India. The practice of music began in the house of the king zamindars. Naturally, people from ordinary middle class and poor families also place music in the seat of nobility. At that time Raja Shourindra Mohan Tagore used to practice music. He formed the orchestra with the help of various indigenous musical instruments. Debendra Nath Tagore himself learned to play the piano at Jorasanko Thakur Bari. And he made all arrangements to educate the children of Thakur Bari in Western and Indian education. The practice of native music and European music was appropriately arranged, as was the practice of various languages ​​and sciences. The British women used to teach piano to the girls of Thakurbari. And simultaneously Jaduvatta, Srikantha Singh and Vishnu Chakraborty and some other music teacher used to teach songs and different musical instruments in Thakurbari. Music was practiced regularly. Various gatherings were held inside and outside the Thakurbari to perform literature and music for the members of the Thakurbari. There, besides the male members of the Thakurbari, the girls also took part in the study of literature, music and culture equally. In this case there was no disinterest or veiling.” 1

This Jorasanko Thakurbari became the heart of the renaissance. So, under the inspiration of Jorasanko Thakurbari, many other upper-class houses in Kolkata also took initiative to make all arrangements for the education and culture of their children. The practice of music became very important in the era of Swadeshi movement and religious movement in Jorasanko and in Kolkata. Ever since Rabindranath was five years old, Nilmoni Mitra and Satyendranath Tagore and others organised Chaitra Mela or Hindu Mela at Belgachhi’s garden of Jorasanko Tagore family. Where indigenous art, literature and culture were practiced and various handicrafts made by the common poor were sold and appropriate arrangements were made to encourage them. The main purpose of which was to establish respect and esteem for the indigenous art and culture among the people. Many people from Kolkata took part in the event directly or indirectly. As a result, a sense of nationalism arose among them, and patriotism became one with the religious movement initiated by Debendranath. Jyotirindra Nath Tagore has written, “With the initiation of Brahmism came a wave of knowledge in our home; The fiery discourse of the father, the beautiful Brahma-music of Mejdada, the profound theology of the great-grandfather and the incomparable dream-life spread the light of knowledge.”3

Many people understood that social reform or patriotism was not possible without the religious movement. When the Thakurbari came out of the paganism and rituals of Hinduism, and the Thakurbari was exposed to the new light of Brahmism, the problem was about the rituals and festivals of this new religion. Brahmism had no ritual or religious apart from the meditation. Everyone started to search about that in mind. Debendra Nath tried to solve the problem, the women members of Jorasanko Thakurbari also came forward. Swarna Kumari Devi composed the dance drama for spring festival named ‘Basantotsav’. The practice began. That dance drama was staged in the courtyard of Thakurbari. Those who did not dare to take part in dance, song or music they were also inspired to join the initiative. They jointly arranged Maghotsavsab, Barshamangal, Sharadotsab and many more festivals around nature. Sarala Devi wrote in her book ‘Jharapatar Dinguli’, “A huge crowd used to gather at Jorasanko’s house on the day of Maghotsav. The main reason is the attraction of the songs and specially they had a great attraction of listening to women voiced song. Brahma Sangeet is one of the topics of modern Bengali song. I started singing the song after playing a little bit of the raga or ragini of that song at the beginning of every song in the music program of 11th Magh. Before the song, there was a little bit of music based on western introductory style performed. It was completely new to Bengali song at that time.”3 Pre-Lude and Interlude had no idea then, but there in the Tagore house western-style of instrumentation like pre-lude and inter lude in Bengali song was started with the song of Sarala Devi and other women singers.

After passing through the stages of the renaissance one by one new lights in the courtyard of Thakurbari spread to different parts of Bengal and all over India. The participation of men as well as women in the world of culture continued to grow.  The Brahmo Dharma movement merged with the Reform Liberation Movement and this movement gave new impetus to the Swadeshi movement.  An article published in Anandabazar about this is very important and I think it needs to be mentioned here. “The connection between the Brahmo movement and women’s education, social and cultural renaissance is not unknown to anyone. But in the era of Bengali Renaissance, there was not as much discussion about womens’ writing as there was about women’s songs. Indubala Ghoshal, Sarojini Dutt, Chanchala Ghosh, Sumatibala Devi, Annapurna Chattopadhyay, Hemlata Devi, Bidhumukhi Devi (wife of Upendrakishore Roychowdhury), Matangini Chattopadhyay, Sudevi Mukherjee — these names are not easy to recognize. But they all have songs written in the store of Brahma Sangeet. Along with that there are many songs written by Nirupama Devi, Jyotirmoyee Devi, Kamini Roy and females of Thakurbari. It is difficult to know who else composed the songs, or whether they had other songs outside the Brahma Sangeet collection. [This is mentioned in the eleventh (1931) and sixteenth (2013) editions of the compilation published by the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj.]4

The influence of Western education directly influenced music in different languages ​​of India. Baul and kirtan songs, which were popular throughout Bengal, were very popular in rural and urban areas. Much later, classical and kheyal songs originally came out of the Mughal court and appeared in Bengal. At that time, it was called Kaloati song. Many also called it Mlechcha Sangeet. However, classical and kheyal songs reached almost everywhere in Bengal in the modern era through radio and gramophone.

In addition to teaching and practicing Western music, many people tried to improve the indigenous song and instruments in Western education. As a result, we get modern songs and other brief songs. Where the influence of western melody is very high. Most of these modern songs are influenced by the West, while some of the modern songs are influenced by Bauls, Kirtans and other folk songs. New educated Bengalis in Western thought were interested in getting closer to this modern style of music. As a result, modern music became the most popular music in Bengal. The practice of this modern song started at Jorasanko Thakurbari. Just as Rabindranath wrote many songs, Swarnakumari Devi and other members of the Tagore family went a long way in practicing and composing music. Dr. Prabhat Kumar Goswami writes, “The music practice in the inner courtyard of Thakurbari was going very well. Hemendranath ignored the ancient custom and taught music to his wife. Pratibha Sundari, the first child of Hemendranath, the third son of Devendranath, practiced both Indian and Western music. He took training in country music from Thakurbari’s master Vishnu Chakraborty. He also learned to sing Western song playing piano. In a letter to this effect, Hemendra Nath wrote that if you can learn the music of German scholars such as Beethoven and learn music theory at the same time by learning dance music and a little song, then it is real.”5

Pratibha broke the tradition and sang Brahma Sangeet with her brothers in the public assembly of Maghotsav. The girls of Thakurbari have acted in lyric plays written by Jyotirindranath and Rabindranath. Pratibha established Anandasabha in her home and later Sangeet Sangha. The music association became widely known as the school of music.

Satyendra Nath’s only daughter Indira. He did not practice music less. He has transcribed many songs. His book Triveni Sangam in Rabindra Sangeet is a small but important book in music. Without talent, Hemendra Nath’s other daughter could sing very well. It is known that the songs of Rabindranath’s early life were released in the voice of experience. Manisha, the next sister of the experience, chose foreign instrumental music. Of course, he also practiced Hindustani Marga song in a special way”. 6

Bengali music occupied the most important place in the renaissance of Bengal centered on Jorasanko Thakurbari. These songs were enriched with indigenous tunes and ideas in contact with Western tunes. The women of Bengal got the courage to enter the world of music from Jorasanko Thakurbari. Women in groups also came out of the house to form the society and the country. Jorasanko Thakurbari’s role was one of the main ones in Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s wife education program. In Jorasanko Thakurbari, the relationship between Western and liberal humanity with patriotism and patriotic thought developed from the nineteenth century onwards. The women and wives of the Thakurbari all participated directly in music and cultural activities to develop themselves independently. Seeing them, many women from other educated homes in Kolkata also tried to reach the world of their education and music.

Seeing the English, the music school which was established in Bengal at that time, gradually started the development of music education in different parts of Bengal. Rabindranath has worked for the creation of a healthy and pleasant musical environment for the women of Bengal. It was on his initiative that Brahmacharyashram was established in Santiniketan. There the little ones were educated together. Along with other teachings, Rabindranath comprised songs to life. In this way, the various initiatives of music education in the remote areas of Bengal centered on Jorasanko Thakur Bari are still unchanged.


১। https://samakal.com/bangladesh/article/200938189/অক্ষয়-মনুষ্যত্বের-মনীষী

২। https://www.bengalhour.com/history/jyotirindranath-tagore-biography-in-bengali/

৩। সরলা দেবী – জীবনের ঝরাপাতা

৪। https://www.anandabazar.com/supplementary/patrika/a-short-write-up-on-jyotirindranath-tagore-1.1065545

৫। প্রভাত কুমার গোস্বামী-ভারতীয় সংগীতের কথা

৬। https://golpoboli.com/novel/post-17022