Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Flavours of North Bengal

Two recent events in Kolkata showcased several folk forms from North Bengal. Well known folk artists from Uttar Dinajpur, Madhumangal Malakar and Ganesh Rabidas organised a 2-day folk festival at the Jorasanko Thakur Dalan, Kolkata in association with West Bengal State Akademi of Dance, Drama, Music and Arts on October 20 & 21st. Featured were the ritual dance Gomira and the folk drama, Khon. A few days later, in celebration of the famous folk singer Abbasuddin's 113th birth anniversary, another 2-day program was organized by the Abbasuddin Smaran Samiti in association with the Bangladesh High Commission at Kolkata, on October 26th & 27th.  

Gomira dancer in a Shyama Kali mask
While the Gomira ritual is practised both in the villages of Jalpaiguri and Uttar (North) and Dakshin (South) Dinajpur, during the Bengali month of Choitro (March-April),  the form showcased at the festival was peculiar to Dinajpur alone. Also known as Mukha Khel, the Kali-centric rite comprises a ritual dance by men wearing fabulous masks which represent various aspects of Kali. After worshipping the masks in a Gomira shrine, they dance around an open space, to the accompaniment of pulsating drums and gongs, in worship of the deities. The form is mainly practised by the Rajbongshis of Dinajpur  who believe that the power of the goddess is transmitted to the dancer, who often goes into a trance. The traditional masks used to be made of wood, but masks made of papier mache with sholapith decorations also go back several hundred years and are today more commonly used than the wooden masks.
Wearing a mask of Phuleswari Chamundi, the fearsome
aspect of Kali, the dancer has gone into a trance 
Though the ritual is practised only at a certain time of the year, the performance at the proscenium in Jorasanko also witnessed several dancers going into a trance and possessed by the spirit of Kali.

Khon owes its existence to village gossip. Traditionally, a salacious tale would do the rounds and at some point during the evening, when members of the community got together for a leisurely chat or to discuss  the day's events, it got converted into the theme for a folk drama/opera or pala gaan expressed though music, dance and dialogue. The word Khon is an abrreviation of Khon-doh in the Rajbongshi language, which translates to Kando in Bengali.  The theme presented on the 21st evening was a traditional story about how the scheming Hariya Mahajon was brought to his knees. It was directed by Khon artist, Ganesh Rabidas.
Final scene from Khon pala, Hariya Mahajon.

The inimitable Abbasuddin Ahmed was a Bengali folk singer par excellence who was particularly known for his Bhawaiya renditions. In the 24th year of its existence, the Abbasuddin Smaran Samiti organized an Abbasuddin Smaran Sandhya showcasing singers of Bhawaiya and other genres from West Bengal and Bangladesh. The 2-day event was a fabulous musical treat for the audience with the artists from Bangladesh being Bhupati Bhushan Barma and Dr Nashid Kamal, the granddaughter of Abbasuddin, while the artists from West Bengal included the famous Bhawaiya singer and MLA, Dr Sukhbilas Barma (who is  also president of the Abbasuddin Smaran Samiti); Siddheswar and Sumitra Roy, Bhawaiya singers from Jalpaiguri; Kalikaprasad Bhattacharya from the folk band Dohar; Bauls Shyam Sundar Das  and Goutam Das; the nonagenarian, Amar Pal, who rendered a Bhatiali; and many others. 

Bhupati Bhushan Barma  
Dr Nashid Kamal

Kalikaprasad Bhattacharya & Dohar

Sumitra Roy, Jalpaiguri

Dr Sukhbilas Barma

Dr Barma introduces Amar Pal who sang a Bhatiali

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