Vol. 5 Num 692 Thu. May 11, 2006  

Impact of Bangladesh on Tagore's creativity
In conversation with Sadi Mohammed

Rabindranath Tagore spent the prime of his life at Patishar of Rajshahi, Shilaidah of Kustia and Shahjadpur of Pabna in Bangladesh. Though he came here to oversee his zamindari, these visits had immense impact on his thought, philosophy and creativity. The Tagore songs composed in this tradition are treasures of our music.

He spent most of the time watching the unique natural beauty, interacting with the bauls and rural bards as well as writing and composing. Most of his popular writings -- from Chhinnapatra to Nobel Prize-winning book Geetanjali -- have spontaneously overflowed through powerful emotions recollected from tranquility of these regions, especially in his poems and songs.

Eminent Tagore singer Sadi Mohammed, who after completing a Master's in Music in Rabindra Sangeet from Shantiniketan is currently teaching as the head of the department of Rabindra Sangeet at Government Music College, said, “Tagore claimed himself as 'Rabi Baul'. All of his devotional songs are based on Sufism. The philosophy and tune of 'baul songs' had an immense impact on Tagore songs. However, folk music of Bengal has been presented uniquely by Tagore like the other music genres, western music, north Indian raga and more, which have been followed in his songs. And the mastery of Tagore is that when he fused the folk music genres of Bengal in his songs, it was quite distinct from the original form. He extensively used tunes and styles from baul, kirtan, shyamasangeet, sari, bhatiali and even kathakata to give his songs a unique flavour and beauty."

Rabindranath was an adherent of 'Brahmo Samaj', to whom music is a kind of devotion. This is similar to 'doctrines of bauls', as the latter also offer the mystic songs as prayer for the supreme God. Tagore's intimacy with bauls such as Gagan Harkara, a disciple of great baul Lalon Shah, Khepa baul and others generated interest in Tagore about baul songs.

And like the bauls' quest for moner manush (urge for reunification of the soul and God), Tagore has also wandered in search of the supreme creator in his devotional songs. Sadi said, "After visiting the then East Bengal in the early 20th century, Tagore was greatly influenced by the bauls, who believe that the mystic creator lives in the soul of human beings. Tagore believed that love is devotion and nature is its background. That is why love, devotion and nature are interwoven in Tagore's songs.

"For example, Tagore heard Gagan Harkara rendering Ami kothay pabo tare amar moner manushere. The tune and lyrics of the song attracted Tagore so much he instantly composed Amar shonar bangla ami tomay bhalobashi, which later became the national anthem of Bangladesh. Tagore composed Ebar tor morar aagey being influenced by Khepa baul's bhatiali song Mon majhi samal sama. In fact, Tagore's familiarity with the folk tunes, and kirtan, shyamasangeet and ramprasadi is found in the songs he composed between 1884 and 1886. The use of baul tunes became noticeable since 1905 onwards. "

Not only the tune but also the unique natural beauty Bangladesh -- especially monsoon and spring, boating on river Padma, the beauty of the rivers, diversified landscape, have appeared repeatedly in his writings. Lyrics of many of his 2,232 songs, especially devotional songs, love songs and songs on seasons as well as many poems have been influenced by his visit to this region. The thematic variety of these songs reflect the rich emotional life of the Bangalees. This has made Tagore songs an essential part of life of the Bangalees -- in happiness, sorrow, and at work.

Sadi Mohammed