On music and celebration of life; a tale from Canberra
Music is the elixir of human soul. Eons and eons ago, when human species had not yet arrived on earth, there still sounded on earth rustles of autumn leaves, swirling sounds of falling water in waterfalls, birds were still chirping in the evenings in that human-less nature, and wild animals howled in the wild at night. In that time spread over millions of years, there was sound and fury in nature, but alas, there was no music. Spanning a thousand years a chronicle of music in the Bengal delta began the details of which are now in everybody’s recent memory in Canberra. Like quicksand of time this evening too has now become memory, will remain so, writes Abed Chaudhury
A recent event in Canberra celebrating one thousand years of music in the Bengal Delta got me thinking about our own musical culture and how it relates to the unique musical heritage of the whole humanity.
Music is the elixir of human soul. Eons and eons ago, when human species had not yet arrived on earth, there still sounded on earth rustles of autumn leaves, swirling sounds of falling water in waterfalls, birds were still chirping in the evenings in that human-less nature, and wild animals howled in the wild at night. In that time spread over millions of years, there was sound and fury in nature, but alas, there was no music.
For sound to become music a human soul is needed. To be scientific, human ears are needed to listen and to transmit that sound to the human brain, where sound is converted into not just the listened natural sound, but the distilled essence of all sounds, known as music.
In the beginning of the Canberra program of the musical group Dhrupad respect was paid to that unique natural history of music; one heard sounds of cloud and thunder, cacophony of birds, and sound of waves as water fell cascading.
And like magic a musical journey had began.
Spanning a thousand years a chronicle of music in the Bengal delta began the details of which are now in everybody’s recent memory in Canberra. Like quicksand of time this evening too has now become memory, will remain so.
What did it have in it? Let us recapitulate.
Like any musical evening it had a variety of good songs, Charhapodo songs, Kirtan, Jarigan, Tappa; Baul songs, Tagore songs, Songs of Nazrul and DL Roy. And then the program had the whole gamut of modern songs in urban settings.
But important as those songs are, the program was not remarkable because of presentation of just many songs, but rather for opening the listener’s ears to the chronology of the musical journey of Bengal encompassing numerous songs of many genre and traditions.
For us Bangalis music is not just the abstract eternal tunes, rather it is poetic words of heart mixed in the pitch of the octave and parcelled into our soul, it is poetry melodiously transformed into something greater.
So the journey started with the most ancient lyrical text of Bangla, the Chorja Giti. And so it continued covering devotional songs, songs of five great lyric writers led by Tagore and Nazrul. It was songs galore, bringing into every heart longing and nostalgia, sense of loss, love and vibrant warmth of patriotism.
Songs that ripples with folk pathos of giants such as Radharaman, Hason and Lalon, great Bauls of Sylheti uplands and our riverine delta.
Songs of the great cities, and modern songs that mixed different heritages. Songs whose influence came from Central Asia as Vedic Aryans brought to South Asia worship of fire, and as Muslim Sufis brought in sounds of Persia, Turkey and Arabian Peninsula. And finally as Europe came to our doors causing Rabindranath to say “দিবে আর নিবে, মিলাবে মিলিবে, যাবে না ফিরে”
If one listened to the progress of the songs one felt the great sweep of this journey as something novel was being created by the human migrations, and the culture that people carried across continents.
It is a unique journey spread over a millennium or more as religion, trade, invasions, and sheer human love for new lands and culture conjoined together to create something new and superbly creative. We can call it the grand creation of Bangla Music.
That so many decades later such a journey and its musical components have been put together by a group that calls itself “Dhrupad” is a sheer miracle.
Dhrupad name carries in it the legacy of Mia Tansen, one of the greatest musicians of all times and the court musician of Emperor Akbar. I grew up hearing about his legendary status, how he could bring rain on earth through music.
But now time has changed and here in this globalised times the group called “Dhrupad” is more eclectic, mixing youth with experience, modernity with sound classical traditions and participants from western tradition of music.
The auditorium of a church where Dhrupad performed was full, electric with eager human nerve as people kept coming in. 250 people sat with rapt attention for more than 3 hours to follow this journey.
In the end was there a realization that musically we are a powerful cultural entity of global scale? I hope there was.
Did people notice that starting from Chorjapodo to Satya Saha; we span a huge scale of time and tradition, creating a synthetic and powerful entity of culture whose time has come? I hope they did.
The Church was humming. In the end it was also a social, friendly evening in Canberra, a congregation of 250 plus people of common bonding and heritage. In the end it was an event where music is a pretext for good old human interactions. But beyond such camaraderie a cultural step of huge length has been taken and its impact should last for a long time.
We must tell our young ones of this remarkable journey. How we are not just an ethnic entity of a fixed place, but that we are an accumulated product of many religions, many spiritual ideas, of many tunes and poems as they mingled and settled in the long vista of time. We must tell them that we carry in us vital and heterogenous elements of the whole humanity. Indeed, we are the ones.
As a wintry night moved into mysterious darkness shrouded in fog, the 250, now content in music, went home. Organizers of Dhrupad now fatigued after a long travail of preparations and rehearsals went home too. For months, a participant in this preparation, I have observed this group put this show together, and have felt their pulse as they grouped into a long time of protracted rehearsals.
In their preparation for this collective celebration of music of Bengal, I saw an uplifting human enterprise, a combination of poetry, memory, nostalgia and music all coming together; and finally the act of sharing it during the performance galvanized a significant part of the Canberra community.
To live with happiness and peace in this world of strife and human divisions, we need music. Nature has put music in us for a purpose. A glue and tonic for the soul, extracted from sound of Nature, and distilled in the essence of human laughter and cry, music, more than we realise, holds us together and gives us a form of therapy against strife, grief and loneliness.
As the program ended with a rousing song of our ancestors domestication of Gourd or লাউ as food as well as instrument of music, the program told the tale of the whole humanity not just in music but the entire gamut of human emotions.
We wish Dhrupad well; Let all our words be Dhruba Pada, (ধ্রব পদ) or true eternal poetry.
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