Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Robindra-Shongeet......the 'songs of Rabindranath Tagore' - (Part I)

'Rabindra-Sangeet' / 'Robindra-Shongeet' or the 'Songs of Rabindranath Tagore' holds sway over the hearts of the people, on both sides of the frontier in Bengal. The beauty and depth of these songs are immeasurable. They have secured a unique place in the 'musical culture' of Bengal, again on both sides of the border of Bengal. 'Robindra-shongeet' embodies a breathtaking fusion of Tagore's musicianship and poetic genius. Even the depth of his visual genius. These songs have withstood the test of time for over a century now and will continue to hold their appeal for years to come.

There is an influence of Classical music on Robindra-shongeet and Robindra-shongeet, in turn, has influenced the more traditional forms of music and its exponents. In particular, there has been a pronounced influence of Robindra-shongeet on some of the noted classical instrumentalists of North India. It is a known fact that classical musicians over all ages and centuries have derived musical ideas from classical as well as non-classical sources. In a sense, therefore, this example of Robindra-shongeet inspiring creation of classical compositions may be interpreted as a repetition of history. Also, this endeavour has encouraged an interesting cross-influence. Some of the classical musicians have come down from their ivory towers and given Robindra-shongeet its long overdue recognition. Naturally, the exponents of Robindra-shongeet have, by and large, welcomed this dialogue between these two islands of India's musical culture, which were so far largely isolated from each other. For classical instrumentalists, it opened up an extremely potent resource to excavate for newer ideas which are applicable to their own realm. Finally, the subtle yet long-term consequence could be to motivate future generations of musicians to enrich the realm of Classical Music from similar sources beyond the boundary their own domain. This will only prove to be symbiotic.

Attempts have been made and are still underway to translate some of these timeless songs into hindi so as to reach a wider audiance (please visit my previous blog 'Where the Mind is Without Fear' for some of these links).

Here are some more links to such translations:

1) Kavita Krishnamurthy sings 'Mere Chit Mein', a hindi translation of the poem ('Momo Chitte Niti Nritye') by Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore:

.........and below is the link to the bengali version of 'Momo Chitte Niti Nritye':

2) The hindi version of the bengali song 'Phule Phule Dhole Dhole' is as below:

and here is the bengali version of the song 'Phule Phule Dhole Dhole' (The Swing Scene) from the movie 'Charulata':

This is a memorable scene from Satyajit Ray's 'Charulata' which is an adaption of the story 'Nastanirh' by Rabindranath Tagore. In this scene, the main character, Charu aka Charulata, sings a song written by Tagore (robindra-shongeet), 'Phule Phule Dhole Dhole.'

Newer translations are still being attempted. e.g., Here is the song 'Phoole Phoole...soona mann ka' from the hit hindi movie 'Parineeta' (2005):

3) This is the link for the popular bengali song 'Tumi Kemon Kore Gaan Karo Hee Guni':

The link for the hindi version of the above song is as follows:

4) - Suresh Wadkar sings 'Mere Hriday Mein', hindi translation of a Rabindranath Tagore poem from his Noble prize winning work 'Gitanjali.' - 'Amar Praner Pore Chole Galo ke' the original bengali version of the above.

5) - This is the link for the bengali song 'Na Mono Lage Na' sung by Lata Mangeshkar, Salil Chowdhury being the music director. - This is the hindi version 'Na Jiya Lage Na' from the movie (hindi) 'Anand' starring: Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. Lata's melodious voice mesmerises in both!

In the past too, some translations had been undertaken/attempted and in some cases the tunes of a few of these songs (robindra-shongeet) had been used to create altogether different songs in hindi. Needless to say, that these 'new songs' too have and continue to have a mesmerising impact on the listeners!

1) - 'Na Jeo Na' sung by Lata Mangeshkar with the musical genius Salil Chowdhury as the music director. - 'O Sajana Barkha Bahar Aayi' from the hindi movie 'Parakh'. Salil Chowdhury, Lata Mangeshkar and Shailendra together created this haunting 'Bollywood' song. What a composition! Eastern melody, western feel and overall a work of unsurpassed genius!

2) - The song 'Bandhan Khula Panchhi Uda' from the hindi movie 'Yugpurush' (1998). Singers: Preeti Uttam , Ravindra Sathe. Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri.

Note on Majrooh Sultanpuri (c. 1919 - May 24, 2000), was an Urdu poet, lyricist and songwriter. He was one of the dominating musical forces in Indian Cinema in the 1950s and early 1960s. Along with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Majrooh was considered the most notable ghazal writer. He was also awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1993. He was the first lyricist to win the prestigious award named after Dadasaheb Phalke. Majrooh also was instrumental in introducing R.D. Burman to Nasir Hussain for the movie 'Teesri Manzil'. - 'Pagla Hawa Badol Dine' - the original bengali song - robindra-shongeet - which inspired the above song. - 'Pagla Hawa Badol Dine' - this is the bengali remix version, with some english translations/sub-titles as well.

All the three versions of this song have their own appeal. The words and meanings may have changed but the flavour lingers on and on and on...........

3) - 'Amai Proshno Kore Nil Dhrubo Tara' the original bengali song. - 'Kahin Door Jab Din' sung by Mukesh - from the hindi movie 'Anand' [1970]. The musical score for the film was composed by Salil Chaudhary. The lyrics were written by Gulzar.

Note on Gulzar: Born as Sampooran Singh Kalra (born 18 August, 1936), better known by his pen name 'Gulzar', is a noted Indian poet, lyricist, director, and playwright. 'Gulzaar Saab', as he is affectionately known, primarily works in Hindi and Urdu, but has also written in Punjabi, and several dialects of Hindustani, including Marwari (Rajasthani) and Bhojpuri. Gulzar was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2004 for his contribution to the arts, and the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2002. He has also won several National Film Awards and Filmfare Awards in various categories. In 2009, he was nominated for an Academy Award in the 'Best Original Song' category for the song 'Jai Ho' in the film 'Slumdog Millionaire' (2008).

4) The song 'Koi Jaise Mere Dil Ka Dar Khatkaye' from the hindi film 'Yugpurush' (1998). Singer: Asha Bhosle. Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri:

5) The song 'Yeh Jeevan Path Mera' from the movie 'Yugpurush' (1998). Singer: Ravindra Sathe. Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri:

6) - The song 'Piu Bole' from the hindi film 'Parineeta' (2005)

The tune of the last three songs mentioned above have been inspired by robindra-shongeet. We can see that 'Bollywood' has played no small part in increasing the appeal of the 'Songs of Tagore' and introducing them to a wider audiance over the past several decades. The bengali film industry too have played their part and deserves kudos.

The poems/songs of Tagore cannot be confined to one particular or specific genre. He was not just a romantic poet, his poems covered a whole gamut of emotions - from the romantic to the hauntingly romantic, to the ones filled with patriotic fervour and love for the motherland, from the dramatic to the mournful pangs of separation, of the joys of re-union to the soulful swan song. All aptly conveying the emotions in a way that one can actually visualise the songs.

I have compiled a list of Tagore's songs conveying various emotions/moods. These popular 'Robindra-shongeets were used in various popular bengali films as well:

1) - 'Ami Path Vola Ek Pothik' - from the film 'Moon Niye' - starring: Uttam Kumar, Supriya. Singers: Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Asha Bhosle. (Romantic song.)

2) - 'Tumi Robe Nirobe' - from the movie 'Kuheli'. Sung by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay and Lata Mangeskar. Music director - Hemanta Mukhopadhyay. (Hauntingly romantic song.)

3) - 'Amar Hridoy Tomar Apon.' (Romantic song.)

4) - 'Ektuku Choa Lage' sung by Aniruddha Sen Gupta. (Romantic song.)

5) - 'Sokhi Bhabona Kahare Bole'. Rabindra Sangeet from the film 'Shriman Priththiraj'. Sung by Lata Mangeshkar. (This song is both romantic as well as conveys the pangs of separation - in the film sung by the 'child bride'.)

6) - 'Ami Chini Go Chine Tomare' from the movie 'Charulata' (1964) - starring: Soumitra Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee. Singer: Kishore Kumar. A Satyajit Ray film based on Rabindranath Tagore's story 'Nastoneer.' (A song conveying both friendship and admiration.)

(this link has english sub-titles.)

7) - 'Praan Chai Chokku Na Chai'. Robindra-shongeet from the movie 'Alo'. (Another romantic song.)

8) - Robindra-shongeet 'Esho Shyamolo Shundaro'. Rendered by Bhaskar Bagchi. (Captures the love and appreciation for the motherland.)

9) - 'O Aamar Desher Maati'. (Yet another song conveying the love and appreciation for the motherland.)

10) - 'Akash Bhora'...a new age robindra-shongeet sung by Srikanto Acharya. (Expressing the poet's wonderment at the vastness of nature and ultimately feeling one with nature.)

11) - 'Aaloker Ei Jharna Dharay'. Rendered by Bhaskar Bagchi. (Seeking enlightenment for the soul and removal of all negativity and prejudice.)

12) - 'Ogo Nodi Apon Bege' - Robindra-shongeet from the film 'Haatebajare' by Tapan Sinha. Sung by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay. Great song, great film, great picturization. (Appreciating nature and comparing oneself with nature.)

13) Shyama: Gitinatto/Dance drama: - Part 1 - Part 2

(To read Shyama, please log on to: - Srutinatok)

14) - 'Bidhir Badhon Katbe Tumi' - Kishor Kumar sings this robindra-shongeet in the movie 'Ghare Baire,' a Satyajit Ray film based on another of Tagore's works. (Patriotic song)

Synopsis of the plot: The story is set in early 20th century India in the estate of the rich Bengali zamindar Nikhil (Victor Banerjee). He lives happily with his beautiful wife Bimala (Swatilekha Chatterjee) until the appearance of his friend and radical revolutionist, Sandip (Soumitra Chatterjee). Sandip, a passionate and active man, is a contradiction to the peace-loving and somewhat passive Nikhil. He easily attracts the innocent and unsuspecting Bimala, thereby creating a love triangle. Although Nikhil figures out what is happening, he being a mature person, grants Bimala the freedom to choose what she wants in her life (as their marriage was arranged when she was a young girl). Meanwhile Bimala experiences the emotions of love for the first time in a manner which helps her understand that it is indeed her husband Nikhil who really loves her.

15) - 'Jokhon Porbe Na More' - Robindra-shongeet from the movie Bibhas (1964) starring Uttam Kumar, Chhaya Devi. Music Director and Singer: Hemanta Mukhopadhyay. A perennially enthralling song probably written during Tagore's twilight years.

Over the years a whole gamut of singers have rendered these songs in their own inimitable style - Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle, Mukesh, Preeti Uttam, to name a few. And each one of them have left their mark on these songs. Distinct marks, indelible marks, which have enriched these songs no end. In the bengali version of these songs, both Lata and Asha's 'touch' is unmistakable. Yet, their 'touch' has only added to the 'sweetness' of the songs and made them more endearing.

Here are a few poems/songs from Tagore's Noble prize winning work 'Gitanjali'. The English translations in all of these poems do not do justice. They fail to capture the 'essence' of the feelings, the thoughts. They fail to reach the 'core', the 'heart' of these poems/songs.

1) - Gitanjali - Song 1 - 'Amare Tumi Ashesh Korechho'......In the opening line of his translation, Tagore had sanitized the Bengali song's reference to the Vaishnava cult and to the playful dalliance of Lord Krishna with the voluptuous 'gopis' or 'gopikas.' 'Gopi'/'Gopika' is a word of Sanskrit origin meaning 'cow-herd girl'. Tagore had thus misled the Western reader by translating the word 'leela' as 'pleasure', which actually is the English for 'maayaa'. In the current translation, someone has corrected this discrepancy by opting for the word 'amour', instead. This correction is not entirely pedantic. The original Bengali lyrics allude to a 'reincarnation' or 'immortality' theme; whereas, Tagore's translation presents a 'waterfall' or 'top down' view towards life—as was the general Christian consensus in 1912.

Tagore's translation is presented here: "Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life. This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new. At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable. Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill."

2) - Gitanjali - Song 18 - 'Megher Pore Megh Jamechhe' - Although Tagore himself had done a prose translation in English, it has been paraphrased here once again, just to keep the lyrics rhyming to the flow of the music. The song itself is a prime example of how the melody adds colour to Tagore's lyrics, and certainly not the other way around! Tagore had composed this song while on a boat ride and is sung in the raga "miyaan ki maalhaar", in a 'tappaa style' that a contemporary, Nidhu Babu, had borrowed from the vocal music of Punjab. Although the real meaning behind the lyrics is debatable (since the flow of the melody seems to carry us away from Tagore's intricate subtleties), for selecting the graphics someone has interpreted "...andhar kore ashe..." to be a darkening of the mind (instead of light) that brings forth a basal desire in humans. Thus, keeping in line with Tagore's own concept of a Deity with whom he had so often desired corporeal intimacy, this slideshow has been prepared. Not everyone will agree with this revelation, for sure.

Tagore's original translation is presented here: "Clouds heap upon clouds and it darkens. Ah, love, why dost thou let me wait outside at the door all alone? In the busy moments of the noontide work I am with the crowd, but on this dark lonely day it is only for thee that I hope. If thou showest me not thy face, if thou leavest me wholly aside, I know not how I am to pass these long, rainy hours. I keep gazing on the far-away gloom of the sky, and my heart wanders wailing with the restless wind."

3) - Gitanjali - Song 44 - 'Amar Ei Path-Chaoatei Ananda'. The English translation does not do justice. Someone has paraphrased Tagore's 'Amar Ei Path-Chaoatei Ananda' into modern English.

Here is Tagore's own translation: "This is my delight, thus to wait and watch at the wayside where shadow chases light and the rain comes in the wake of the summer. Messengers, with tidings from unknown skies, greet me and speed along the road. My heart is glad within, and the breath of the passing breeze is sweet. From dawn till dusk I sit here before my door, and I know that of a sudden the happy moment will arrive when I shall see. In the meanwhile I smile and I sing all alone. In the meanwhile the air is filling with the perfume of promise."

4) - Gitanjali - 'Song Offerings'. Translations made by Tagore himself from his original Bengali works.

The poems of 'Gitanjali' express a largely metaphysical outlook, talking about a union with the "supreme"; but like much western poetry that explores similar themes, the language suggests the union of two earthly lovers. Much of Tagore's ideology comes from the teaching of the Upahishads and from his own beliefs that God can be found through personal purity and service to others. He stressed the need for a new world order based on transnational values and ideas, the "unity consciousness." "The soil, in return for her service, keeps the tree tied to her; the sky asks nothing and leaves it free."

The following link leads to the song 'Amar Mukti Aloy Aloy' from Tagore's Puja (Prayer) chapter of 'Gitabitan': - 'Amar Mukti Aloy Aloy' sung here by Keya Chatterjee.

This song focuses on the what, where, and hows of attaining salvation. In fairness to Tagore's belief in an unitarian faith, images of Lord Shiva and Christ have been blended in an attempt to show the concept of "self sacrifice". As always Tagore reigns supreme. The song is absolutely enchanting. Very soothing and evokes remembrances and a mellow mood. The translations were not done by Tagore, but is reasonably good.

Here is the link that leads to Tagore's 'swan song' - 'Ei Kathati Mone Rekho': - This is someone's English translation of the Robindra-shongeet 'Ei Kathati Mone Rekho'. The lyrics imply that for Tagore, having lived a full life on Earth, it was time for him to depart. Hence, it has been titled as his 'Swan Song'. A true nationalist at heart, perhaps Tagore had a premonition of his departure before India gained independence from the British. Thus he had lamented that although he had led a full life and had accomplished a lot, he nonetheless was handicapped; ergo, had to "walk the land at night"........

This is the link to the same song 'Ei Kothati mone Rekho' from the film 'Chowringhee' (1968) - starring Uttam Kumar. Singer: Manna Dey.

I am a great admirer of Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore. Infact I would like to take this opportunity and share an incident in my family which has a 'Tagore connection'.

Most bengalis, if not all, are familiar with the names of Shahid Santosh Mitra as well as IIT - Kharagpur.

Santosh Kumar Mitra (1901-1931) was a 'Jugantar' activist. Shot at the Hijli detention camp in 1931 by the camp guards. He was my 'Grand Uncle' (courtesy him being my father's maternal uncle or 'Mama' - the endearing term used in Bengal to address one's mother's brother.)

Note: 'Jugantar' and 'Anushilan' were names of two revolutionary groups who organized under the guise of suburban fitness clubs. Members of these two clubs were volunteer youth groups who committed their lives for the freedom of mother India. 'Jugantar' or 'Yugantar' (meaning: New Era or more literally an Epoch in Transition.) Jugantar carried out many 'terrorist' activities like attempt to murder, murder and looting against the ruling British government of that era. Several Jugantar members were arrested, hanged, or deported for life to the 'Cellular Jail' in Andaman. Due to the amnesty granted after the World War I, most of them were released and gave a new turn to their political career, mainly by joining: (a) Gandhi's Non-cooperation movement (b) Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das' Swarajya Party (c) the Communist Party of India (d) M.N. Roy's Radical Democratic Party and (e) Subhas Chandra Bose's Forward Bloc.

IIT - Kharagpore, India’s oldest IIT, one cannot miss this old-fashioned building, incongruous beside the glassy modernism of the 'Vinod Gupta School of Management' - 'VGSOM'. Now home to the 'Nehru Museum of Science and Technology', this is the site of the once notorious 'Hijli Detention Camp', where the then British Government incarcerated the political under-trials and convicts (freedom-fighters). 'IIT - Kharagpore' was born on the same premises in 1951. Built in 1913, the building was used later as the 'Midnapore District Collector’s Office'. But, on September 16, 1931, two unarmed detainees/freedom fighters, Santosh Kumar Mitra and Tarakeshwar Sengupta were shot dead here by the British police officers — an incident which provoked the outrage of many freedom-fighters and patriots like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Rabindranath Tagore. This was perhaps the only instance when the police fired on convicts inside a jail. Nobody knows the reason for the firing, but the deaths of Sengupta and Mitra became so volatile an issue, it was even raised in the British Parliament. Bose claimed the bodies of the two freedom fighters from the jail on September 17, 1931. The remains were then taken across Calcutta in a procession led by Bose, while Tagore presided over a mass rally at Shahid Minar.

The camp was closed in 1937, re-opened in 1940 to detain freedom-fighters, and closed finally in 1942.

With the legacy of so stirring a history on its own campus, the Kharagpore IIT is not about to let the story fade. Each year, the Institute observes the day the two freedom fighters were shot dead as 'Martyr’s Day'. Since the building is yet to acquire heritage status, it is, for the time being, under the maintainance of the IIT authorities. They are also planning to ask for 'heritage' status for this building, which dates back to 1913. With its impeccable historical lineage, it is something all IITians are proud of, especially since India’s first IIT was set up here, long after the killings were forgotten.

Photograph: A photograph of Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore.


  1. An Awesome Blog!
    Title theke niye content obdi, amar sobkichu legeche.
    I am searching for the translation of "Momo Citte niti Nritte.."
    Would be great if you could translate it for me or guide me to a page which hasa very good translation.


  2. @ ileeshmach: Thanks for stopping by my blog and for those kind words. Appreciate it :)

    I would not dare translate Kabiguru's poems... or even attempt to :) However let me check with folks I know. Will revert shortly...

  3. A friend and I are working on translating Tagore's songs into English...they are available at