Retelling the Ramayana
"Kushan Gaan”, the story of king Rama's life, as narrated by his sons Lava and Kush, is enacted in villages of Kurigram. It is one of the many forms in which the Ramayana is retold. Written in Sanskrit by Valmiki the poet, the ramayana is an epic tale dating back to 400 BC The book is divided into seven chapters and contains about 24,000 verses. The seven chapters of the poem present the major events of King Rama's life chronologically, the chapters are: Bala kanda, Ajodhya Kanda, Aranya Kanda, Kishkinda Kanda, Sundara Kanda, Juddha Kanda, and Uttara Kanda.
The Bala Kanda describes the birth of Rama, his childhood and marriage to Sita. The Ayodhya Kanda describes the preparations for Rama's coronation and his exile into forest. The third part, Aranya Kanda, describes the forest life of Rama and the kidnapping of Sita by the demon king Ravana (the villain of the story). The fourth book Kishkinda Kanda describes the meeting of Hanuman with Rama, destruction of vanara king Vali and the coronation of his younger brother Sugriva on the throne of kingdom Kishkindha. The fifth book is Sundara Kanda, which narrates the heroism of Hanuman, his flight to Lanka and meeting with Sita. The sixth book, Yuddha Kanda, describes the battle between Rama's and Ravana's armies, Ravana's retreat and consequent death. The last book, Uttara Kanda, describes the birth of Lava and Kusha to Sita, their coronation to the throne of Ayodhya, Sita's proof of innocence and Rama's death. It is from Kusha, the son of Rama, that the name "Kushan Gaan" has been derived.
The Ramayana was translated to Bangla for the first time by Krittibas Ojha in the fifteenth century. Other than Krittibas Ozha, Mymenshing's poet Chandrabati 'Ramayan' had also translated it in the sixteenth century. Various other poets have translated parts of the epic tale and written commentaries on it, for example, translated verses of the Ramayana by poet Bijoy Sarkar can still be found in Khulna. Stage plays of the Ramayana are quite popular in Bangladesh, mainly because it depicts the duties of relationships, portraying ideal characters like the ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal wife and the ideal statesman. At the same time, the Ramayana combines complications of greed, power and kingdom into the same mythological landscape. In Bangladesh, the popular verses of the Ramayana are performed under various names: Ramlila, Ramkirton, Rammongol, Ramjatra, Kushan Gaan, etc. The common stage play of the Ramayana in Bangladesh has the following popular acts: the birth of Rama and Sita, their marriage, Rama's exile and Sita's kidnapping, bali bodh, sagar bondhon, mohi ravan, toronisen bodh, ravan bodh, powerful Laxman, Rescuing Sita and her proof of innocence, and horse sacrifice. Such acts are quite popular in the Kurigram-Lalmonirhat localities.
In the "Kushan Gaan" adaptation of the Ramayana, two male teenagers or actors in their twenties perform as Lava and Kusha. Although it is commonly believed that the word "Kushan" has originated from Kusha, some specialists also consider the word "Kushilob" to be the genesis. According to the Ramayana, Sita gave birth to Lava and Kusha at Valmiki's ashram. The two sons learned and practiced the verses of the ramayana under Valmiki. In the chain of events, they performed these rhythmic verses as songs at Ramchandra's gathering in front of King Rama. Today's "Kushan Gaan" is simply an adaptation of this performance - the story of which has been carried forward through the pages of time.
In the Kurigram area, the acts are staged in the frontyards of temples and ordinary houses. The stage is a designated circle at the centre (usually 20 feet in diameter), with four equidistant bamboos at four points of the circumference. The bamboos act as pillars to support the temporary tin roof of the stage. The act is performeed on simple floor mats. Usually all the actors and musicians sit in the middle of the stage together and get up to act depending on whose scene it is. The audience surrounds the circular stage to enjoy the “Kushan Gaan”, a performance that is likely to last the night. The main singer of “Kushan Gaan” usually wears a white dhuti and panjabi. Lava and Kusha usually also wear white dhutis but with a white half sleeve t-shirt. The character playing Sita is usually dressed in a bright and colourful saree.
The main musical instrument used in the acts is called bena, which is a string-based instrument. This is why, sometimes, locales also refer to the play and its acts as “Bena Kushan”. Others instruments which are also used include harmonium, khol, kortal, flute, dotara, and behala. The team staging the play is usually made up of 20 actors/singers and musicians altogether. Although the dialogue of the acts are musical and in specific metres, there can be a few dialogues in between the songs as well. The main singer, also the narrator/host of the show who connects one song to another, plays the bena. He continues to plays the bena throughout the entire show, except for a few minutes here and there when he himself is playing a character in a scene.
A few selected dialogues and songs (excerpt) from “Horse Sacrifice… as told by Valmiki” staged by Kripashindhu Ray Sarkar's team in Rotigram village of Kurigram, are presented here:
Noteworthy singers who had acted out “Kushan Gaan” in Kurigram are Narayanchandra Das, Hiralal Goshay, Mehendro Goshay, Bhojendro Gidal, Joggeshor Gidal and Shaymol Kushani Promukh. This stage act is being performed in this region since before the Liberation War of Bangladesh. There are even Muslim actors/singers of “Kushan Gaan” here, such as Nandu Gidal, Mokbul Gidal and Bonde Ali Gidal. Out of these renowned “Kushan Gaan” artists, although Bonde Ali Gidal is still alive, he no longer involved in singing or stage acting.
At the moment, Kripashindhu Ray's team of Rotigram (in Kurigram) has gained widespread fame through stage performances of “Kushan Gaan”. Also, Rabindra Shadu of Lalmonirhat, Amal Gidal of Kurul, Chandradhar Promukh's team of Habiganj regularly organize “Kushan Gaan” in their respective areas.
Translated by Zahidul Naim Zakaria
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