Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bishnu Prasad Rabha:An iconic cult figure from Assam

“Tejore Komalapati porobhate Nindo
Teri chando Mukho Pekhno,
Uthore Gobinda,
Porobhate Nindo !
Rojani Bidur dixo dhoboli boron
timiro phariya baze robiro kiron
Soto patro bikoshito bhromor uraei
Brojo badhu dodhi mothe
Tuwa Guno gaei ”
This was a Bargeet (a great devotional song) by Srimanta MadhavDev and was favourite of Bishnuprasad Rabha. To some he was ideologically a communist (indeed he was member of RCPI once) but we feel he was more of a great social activist and an iconic reformer. Unlike most communist he was not an atheist. He was indeed a spiritual person. In the year 1937 he sung this song in Calcutta and a disc was cut in this city when he was only 28 year old. This Bargeet sung by him is not easily available today. Perhaps it would be appropriate to begin this presentation with his song sung 72 years ago in this city of culture:

(The song can be played here)
An icon of Universal Brotherhood:
Bishnu Prasad Rabha, was a genius born in Dhaka of undivided Bengal of an Assamese parenthood in 1909. He was initially raised in Dhaka till primary school stage but later settled in Assam. His persona could not be limited to a particular territorial segment. Though he belongs to Assam , loved Assam but he was a world citizen. During the time when he was raised every educated persons of India was referring to the territorial culture and Heritage. Rabha Dangoria broke open the conservative mould and talked of “Rhythm of World”.
He sang: (Biswar Chande Chande Mahanande…Anande Nacha…
Nacha Tomohoro deu Nacha .
Bonde Bonde aji Xoto bhokoto Brinde
Bonde Tobo Chorono Kamolo Bonde )
This reflected his mentality of Universal brotherhood. Many describe him as revolutionary, some felt he was a great singer, musicians and actor per excellence yet some described him as a social & anthropological philosopher. But to our generation he was an iconic cult figure who loved his state, country and the world. His philosophy was universal brotherhood and emancipation of Noro Naryan ( Human GOD) through all round developments of society. To us he was an iconic cult figure who wanted to emancipate society from suffering. The Art, dance, music and acting were really means to achieve this end only. He died in his 60th year in 1969, but created a spirit of Universal brotherhood all around .
Mission of emancipation from poverty:
His Sole mission of life was emancipation of people below the poverty level. He was rightly compared, by a few intellectual, with that Che Guevara of Argentine revolutionary. Like Guevara he stood up against any kind of oppression on humanity. He raised his voice long ago against Human right violation by state machinery.
He lived and was raised in a tumultus time when country was fighting for its freedom. In his younger days he took part in freedom movement influenced by Gandhi ji ( never was a member of congress)but later turned a revolutionary ( was a member of Revolutionary CPI). He was a freedom fighter not in narrow sense of the term. He fought for freedom of timing millions. To Him freedom did not mean political power but emancipation from poverty and education of mass. He renounced a big estate of 1500 bigha land, bequeathed to him by his father Gopal Rabha in favour of the tenant farmers and went on wandering from one place to another like a nomad. He was a true organiser of the people. His service in mobilising the rural masses during the freedom movement was really matchless

Direct communication with Mass:
Bishnu Prasad was an exemplary person. He always parasitized what he felt correct and preached There was no dichotomy in his philosophy of life .Bishnu Prasad was a true revolutionary and dedicated his life for the persons below poverty level. He was kind and compassionate and helped poorer section of society always. People also responded to his love , affection and magnanimity in great measures. In fact it was the people who celebrated his wedding after selecting a bride once He was truly the Soul of humanity. Bishnu Prasad did not believe in narrow power politics. He was beyond corruption. He was once a member of Assam Legislative Assembly but left politics as he found it too difficult to adjust to the system of running Government from the confine of Assembly. He felt confined parliamentary politics was not suitable for him. He rather broke open the barriers and started communicating directly with poor people of the society He devoted his life for social emancipation through social and cultural empowerment of people.. His strong stand on the unconventional principle of social developments made him enemy of the power that be. It was only at the instance of the Tezpur citizens towards the fag end of his life that he decided to fight from within the system. By then his health had deteriorated a lot. Rabha Dangoria , during his life time was darling of mass not of class. Infact intellectual realized his great philosophy rather too late.

Dance, Art and culture were tools of his philosophy:
BishnuPrasad was a versatile genius. His dancing prowess mesmerised the audience and even great artist like Uday Shankar was an admirer of his. He was bestowed the title Kalaguru by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan at Varanashi following a recital of the Tandava dance there. He was the embodiment of Nataraja, the heritage of Assam. I am told that the concept of Nataraja was a contribution of Assam to Indian civilisation. Till date there has not been a better exponent than Bishnu Prasad of the Tandava dance. Even Uday Shankar was fascinated by his recital and wanted to learn the same from him. The concept of Tandava was as if ingrained in Bishnu Prasad. He wanted to demolish everything bad in the society, which was the message of Tandava dance.
Bishnu Prasad was rally marvellous as an actor. I met Bishnu Prasad Rabha, through the countesy of Bhupen Hazarka when he was making his legendary film “Era Bator Sur”. His rustic personality impressed me so much that I became fan of his. His music influenced me a lot. Unknowingly his concept found expression in our writings. I also saw his acting when as a yong boy I visited Tezpur to my Aunty’s place.The Baan theatre of Tezpur saw his genius aplenty. He ably assisted Jyoti Prasad in the making of the first ever Assamese film Joymoti. He started painting during his youth. He did not take painting as his profession. It was an weapon in his armoury to spread his p-hilosphy of life. He had choosen the medium of art only as a tool for spreading this message. ( A few paintings can be displayed here) .His paining of Saraswati was a class by itself even when compared with Raja Ravi Verma and M.F Hussain. The painiting not only reflected the natural beauty but the intellectual prowess through the shuttle stroke of his brush
His relations with Bengal and his seeds of spiritualism :
Bishnu Prasad was Born in Dacca when his father was working there as a police officer. He started his education in Bengali and learnt Assamese after his family shifted to Tezpur. He started his highschool education in Assam and again his college education was in Calcutta. He completed his intermediate sceience examination from St. Paul mission College and studied for Bachler degree in Rippon College. He friends from Bengal were great artists, singers, dancers and revolutionaries too.
Calcutta was his favourite place for art and culture. He was a good singer. He was a revolutionary but at the same time he was drawn to vaishnavite culture indeed. He learnt bargeet composed by saint Srimanta Sankaradeva when he was staying at Barpeta with his sister.
He was not an atheist like fellow communists. He was a believer in God, Whom he saw in the heart of timing millions. The philosophy of Vedanta was reflected in his vision. Like Swami Vivekananda he also felt that religion is the expression of divinity in the heart of humanity.

Ethnic culture and his book:
He was a serious academician too. In fact he was the first anthropologist of Assam. His book Bano-Kobang is a nice work of anthropological study based on field work. The observations as well as materials compiled therein remain invaluable source of information about the ethnic groups in this State. He wrote several books of great values. This aspect of Bishnu Prasad has largely been ignored by the conventional scholars and the public get to know him only as a performing artiste. This is because most of his writings were published only posthumously and they were ignored by the mainstream critics of Assam. But ultimately Bishnu Prasad, along with Jouti Prasad are remembered as the symbol of Assamese culture though during their life time they were ignore by intellegencia! His other works include Mising Coneng, Sonpahi, Axomiya Kristir Samuh Abhash, and Atit Asom.
Apart from being a well-known poet, dramatist, musician, dancer and actor from Assam, Bishnuprasad Rabha owns great pride in fact in being an eminent fighter of Assam too. Sonpahi, Asomiya Krishtir Somu Aabhas, Mishing Koneng, etc are some of his literary works displaying his extreme talent and calibre. A genius, with revolutionary ideas and a bohemian lifestyle, constantly mingling with the people at the grassroots is how Bishnuprasad can be ideally described. Bishnuprasad also composed a number of songs which are now known as ‘Rabha Sangeet’ and have become popular as ‘Kalaguru’. It is indeed worth mentioning that most of the cultural music competitions of Assam feature Rabha Sangeet that is related to Bishnuprasad’s compositions, lyrics and verse. He is deeply respected for his work in that the state government of India has also instituted an award in his honour for achievements in the cultural/music world of Assam

An indomitable cult figure of modern India:
Bishnu Prasad had a revolutionary concept that greater Assamese culture was a product of tribal heritage instead of Aryan heritage. It is because of this basic difference of approach to cultural study that Bishnu Prasad was once ignored by the so-called intelligentia of Assam till the other day. The revival of interest in him since the last three decades is Praiseworthy.. He encouraged the citizens of Tezpur to face the Chinese aggressors in 1962, whereupon he was taken into custody by the then government t! Bishnu Prasad was not just a man from tezpur, an Assamese or Indian as many puts it. Infact to me he was a world citizen with the concept of universal brotherhood. I feel , along with many others, that Rabha Dangoria had some similarity with Dr Ernesto Che Guaverra. I must congratulate Assam Sahitya Sabha for celebrating the day as measure of respect to his genius. The sabha would do well if a fullfledged biography of the great genius could be compiled, after full and detailed research work, with the help of corporate sector of the State .(Conclude with O mor Apunar Desh-1937 sung by Rabha Dangoria)


sabkush said...

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Anonymous said...

"is this the only piece of heritage that you can show off to the world? Seriously there are better things to latch onto :)

tanSEN was bengali my dear friend, so were a lot of other people! want to see the entire list as it stands today? so was subash chandra bose and sri aurobindo :)

and i can name a million others and i am proud to say our greateness can be exerted beyond our national borders.

we bengalis have won pretty much every award in the world stage

you name it we have it and we are damn proud of what we have :) "

MBA, IMT Ghaziabad
Bengaluru, Karnataka, India