If human being is the greatest creation of god then music is the greatest creation of human being. Music breaks all divisions of race religion, cast and creed. Mythology refers to music being brought to the people of Assam from a place of celestial beings. Assamese music is as ancient as the Puranas, Mahabharata etc .It started its maiden journey in the days of King Baana, when princess Usha and her friend Chitralekha sang and danced together at Agnigarh (currently located in Tzpur, Assam). Chitralekha is said to be the first artist of Martyaloka (earth). So the music of Assamese people which is so grand and special in its origin, thus dates back to the time which history can hardly reach. The music of Assam is said to have been inspired by the beauty and magical touch of nature of its land and from its highly cultured and resourceful people. The present form of music of this state can be said to have acquired as a result of the historical development. Along its journey through the sands of time, music of Assam adopted and assimilated the cultural sentiment and aspiration of different small and large ethnic societies that inhabited Assam from time to time. The entire class of songs possesses many kinds of melodic variations. The vibrant festivals of the state are the prime occasions of singing these songs. This write up is just a humble endeavor to explore some variety of songs which are found in different form of Assamese language. Here some of the varieties are verbal and run from mouth to mouth by common people and renders day to day life chores a strain of folk feeling. On the other hand some of varieties are preserved in manuscripts and some of them have the classical characteristic.
The domain of Assamese music is as vast and deep as an ocean. This article has been delving only an inch of it and has presented just a few elements of it. The famous songs from our different tribes are not included here.
Assamese songs can be divided into three categories:
Folk: “The folk song has been well defined as a lyric poem with melody originating anonymously in times past among unlettered folk and remaining in currency for a considerable time, usually centuries.” (Cassel’s Encyclopedia of literature, vol.1.p.225). Assamese folk song is very rich in the sense of literature, varieties and an esthetic value. The seasonal festivals are the most vibrant occasions for singing these songs. According to Prof. Hemanta Kr Sarmah, Assamese folk song can be divided into four different divisions. These are as follows:
1. Song of Festivity
2. Work song
3. Ballad or Malita
1.Songs of festivity can be divided in to two parts; these are ‘mythological and profane’. Mythological songs are sung by both male and female in different festivals. The songs that are sung by women are likely in praise of Goddesses to get rid of diseases and epidemics, long life for husband, for good wealth etc. These are Sheetala Aair Naam, Chora Brator Geet, Mansha Pujar Geet, Tuashi Geet, Lakhimi Aadorar Geet, Dihanaam etc. Some of the songs are singing by male called Bhakat .These songs are sung by playing khanjori to beg for food and money. These are called Dehbisaror Geet, Tokari geet etc. Haidang Geet of Kasari tribe also a kind of devotional song of Assam. Songs of Krishna Janmastami and Goshai Naam ( Ghor Andhokare Shila Boroxile e…) are some mythological songs which are very famous in entire Assam. Jikir and Jari are also famous devotional songs of Assamese Muslim community with esthetic value. The famous Holi geet; (Gunjore Madhukare….) of Barpeta can be considered as devotional song of festival Holi.
Village elders move from household to households singing carols, also in the style of bihu geets, called husoris. The singers are traditionally Welcomed into the courtyard where they sing the husori songs and perform a ring dance. At the end of the performance they are thanked with an offering dakshina (contribution) of paan (betel leaf) tamol (bettle nut) in a xorai (brass dish with stand), whereupon the singers bless the household for the coming year. These devotional songs are playing a crucial part in Assamese music.
In Profane part the heart throb of Assamese music Bihu geet and dance can be included. Bihugeet is sung in spring festivals.The Bihu songs are very close to the heart of Assamese people. It is seasonal and is sung by young boys and girls. Basically juvenility is expressed by the young boys and girls in Bihu. Bihu songs are accompanied by the musical instruments like dhol, taal , pepa , gogona etc. The young girls wear golden muga mekhela-chadar and boys were white dhoti and chapkon (shirt) to dance in bihu songs. The dance is also known as Bihu dance. Bihu is the most popular form of music in Assam.
The marriage ceremony is also a renowned occasion of singing. The marriage is known as Biya in Assamese, and the songs of this occasion are known as Biyanaam. There are three kinds of Biyanaam found in Assam. One is for the universal ceremony marriage .Here all the aayati (singers) flourish every step of the ceremony and give advices, make fun, pour the emotions and make the ceremony culturally rich. Other two kinds of Biyanaam are singing on the occasion of first maturation period of a girl child and the other one is in the marriage ceremony of a frog. A frog marriage ceremony is celebrated when there is drought in an area. Through these songs, singer prays to god for rain and proper harvest.
2. Work songs: – from Cassells’s Encyclopedia we get “any activity, in fact in which rhythmic movement was called for, might readily and easily give rise to melody and song, as it still does amongst the laboring classes in many part of the world”. Similarly in the Assamese community the manual labours sounds some rhythmic words like ‘hei joor, o’ heiya’ etc to improve the strength of workers. There are some other work songs like songs of cowboy, songs of fisher men, songs of boat race, lullaby, nangeli geet, shaktula geet, kuhiyar pera geet, mohohogeet, songs of elephant catching, ranuwar geet etc. These songs work as catalyst of the work by incising the spirit of the worker. The famous Assamese lullaby is ‘aamaare moina xuboye, barite bogori ruboye…’
3. Ballad or Malita :-A ballad is a lyrical poem usually sung to accompany music. It is usually a short poem which could be sung or simply narrated and read. Assamese music is flourished by uncountable ballads. It is running from prehistoric period. The Assamese ballads popularly known as Malitas are based on historic and prehistoric stories. The pathos (birah) is its main essence. Ballads of Nahar, Janagavoru, Moniram Dewan, Joymoti, Mulagabhoru, Lachit etc are “Historic Ballads”.
Ballads of Phulkonwar – Monikanwar, Dushmanta – Sakuntala, etc are pre-historic. The birth story of different Ragas which are applied in Oja-pali, Lookgeet, Borgeet etc also found in the form of beautiful Ballads.
Miscellaneous: – In this section Bongeet , Kamrupi lokgeet, Goalporiya lok geet can be included .These Folk songs are very famous in both upper and lower part of Assam. Seasonal songs (Baramahi geet),Kuchan geet ,Juna or Dhemeliya geet etc are also part of Assamese folk songs. Bongeets are outcome of some spontaneous feeling of young boys towards the opposite sex. The pathos or Birah is the main theme of Goalpariya lokgeet .The bonding of a married woman generally expressed here. In Kamrupi lokageet singers express natural sceneries, day to day life, the bonding of woman with the family, story of Ramayana – Mahabharata etc. Chah mojdur (tea garden labour) is a big branch of Assamese family. Their dance and song is called Jhumur. In it both men and women participate of the ages. It involves the community and performs as a group dance. It is also a seasonal art form. Durgabor was a great lyricist of 15th century. His songs are known by his name as Durgabori’s geet. E joya raghura nandana … , Moiu bone jaw swami hei .. etc are his famous songs.
The classical form of Assamese songs can be divided in to two categories:
2. Sankari Sangeet
Oja-pali :- Ojapali is an ancient musical art of Assam, which consists of song, drama and dance. Here the Ojha(the lead artist) perform the art form with the help of some Pali(team of performers).The performance is based on tales from Ramayana , Mahabharata, Padmapurana etc.The songs are based on raga which are similar with the Chajya Pada.At a time Oja-pali was the main source of entertainment in different ceremonial functions and festivals of lower Assam. The Ojha and Pali(s) must be expert in entertaining the audience and sometimes they even involve the audience to make the performance more interesting. Performers infuse Hara-Gauri (Lord Shiva and Parvati) as common Assamese couple; who work at paddy fields, weave cloths, go to river to bring drinking water etc.
Many shades of the Indian classical dances, like hasta, gati, bhramari and asana, can be seen in Oja-Pali classical dance of Assam. There is a typical pattern of dressing for the Ojas as well. He has to wear a pag-jama or a ghuri, along with bangles, unti, ring and nupur and also has to tie a tangali. The Oja-Pali dance is again subdivided into three types – Vyasageet Oja, Suknarayani Oja and Ramayani Oja
This dance and singing form is mainly a preaching of the Vaishnava culture of Assam. The themes for this music have been adopted from the epic stories of Bhagavata, Mahabharata and Harivamsa and the attire for the chief is slightly different from that of the other Ojas. The leader here wears a long white skirt, a tight fitting jacket, a turban, anklets, and various gold ornaments in the neck, hands and ears.
The hymns for this form of music were composed by an ancient Assamese poet, Sukabi Narayan Dev and are dedicated to the worship of the snake goddess, Manasa. The subject for this dance is the story of Beula and Lakhindar, which mainly deals with the tales of Goddess Manasa. In this case, the attire for the Oja consists of a long skirt (Chapkan), a white Dhoti, a pointed turban and various gold ornaments.
Ramayani :- The costume for this form of dance is similar to that of the Vyasa Oja and the songs sung here actually relate tales from the Ramayana.
This way, though the tales were taken from the great epics the performer mingle the lyrics with Assam’s folk life. The songs of Oja-pali are based on different ragas and many of them similar to the Buddhist charyapada, which is claimed to be the common musical property of east India. But the performance of Oja-pali is flourished by Assamese folk essence. That is the reason of the popularity of Oja-pali in Assamese villages.
Sankari Sangeet:- It is the most systematic and grammatical musical art of Assam. The creator of this music form is Srimanta Sankaradeva and his work is further enriched by his disciples Madhavadeva, Gopal Ata etc. Borgeet, Ankiageet, Naamprasanga, Kirtan-Ghosha are main singing elements of Sankari Sangeet.
Some scholars compare the Borgeet with ancient Prabhandha gayan . According to scholar Golap Mahanta the Astapadi of Gita-Govinda were perhaps the creation of fully developed stage of the prabhanda type of music. Being possessed of five Dhatus and six angas, they may rightly be categorized as salagasuda prabhandhas of the Medini Jati. Written in Sanskrit the Astapadis were the last and probably the best specimens of prabandha sangita in the general Indian context. No other musical composition is available today anywhere in India comparable to the tradition of music represented by the austapadis of Gita Govinda save the Borgeet by Sankara – Madhava. More than that, the musical practice Astapadis being no more seen anywhere, the Borgeet of Assam may with justification be projected as the only leaving reminiscence today of the ancient probhanda type of music in entire India.
The uniqueness of Borgeet is also corroborated by its accompanying Talas. Both in structure and in rhythmic pattern, the Talas of Borgeet display more complexity than those of Hindustani and Karnataki music. There are Talas of ten to twenty eight matras(sometimes even more) comprising of three parts viz. Gaman, Ghat and Chok. In the traditional style of singing, Borgeet is sung in more than one tala. The special instrument that is played to keep the rhythm in Borgeet is Khol.
Borgeet and Kirtan-Ghosha are sung without definite beats. Prasangiya, Borgeet, Kirtan, Naam Prasanga are used to sing in three different speed of rhythm. There are very slow (vilamvit laya), medium (madhy laya), high (drut laya). But the rhythm for Ankia geet remains fixed. The strength of Sankari Sangeet is its close relation with the devotees of the lord Krishna. Bogeet, Kirtana-Ghosha and Naam Prasanga are basically used for spiritual & devotional functions. On the other hand Ankiageet is the are major ingredient of Ankia Naat. Now a day Borgeet(s) and Ankiageets are popularly used for stage performance and used in different form of Satriya Dance.
Almost all borgeets were written in the Brajavali language. Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankardeva and Madhabdeva accepted this language in Ankia geet and Ankia naat also. This language is not the spoken language of Assam.
Modern: – The modern era of Assamese music had started from the period of gramophone record. Prafulla Baruah, Umesh Choudhary, Anandiram Das, , Kirti Nath Sarma Bordoloi , Ambikagiri Roychowdhury, Purushutam Das , Joytiprasad Agarwala, Bishnu Prasad Rabha are the pioneers of the modern Assamese songs. The modern lyricists at first composed the songs on folk base like Biya Naam, Borgeet , Goalporia Lokgeet, Kamrupi Lokgeet etc. These are considered as modern because they are found in Gramophone in recorded form and also in printed form. Here we get definite lyricists and the songs are known by the name of the writer. The theme or the subjects of the songs are varying by progress of the modern civilization. Now it is flowing with its rich varieties by adding new elements from entire world. But the new lyricist and composer should remember what Muktinath Bordoloi said,” In creation of tune in music, there should always be the presence of holy water of classical and folk music, otherwise it will not touch the hearts of the people .”
1. Axomiya Lokgeeti Sansayan by Hemantakumar Sarmah
2. Vyaas Sangeetor Ruprekha by Durgeswar nath oja
3. Sankari Sangeetar Adhar Grantha by Golap Mahanta
4. Asamiya Sangitar Aitijhya by Dr. Birendranath Datta
* My heartiest thanks to Dr. Anil Saikia, Principal Moran college*
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