Rabindrasangeet and the Seasons
Rituranga-the colour of the seasons
Rabindrasangeet is very attuned to the different seasons.There are six seasons in India. According to Hindu Bengali tradition, the year starts around the 15th of April, with summer. This continues for two months when it is raging hot.The first month of summer is called Baisakha and the second, Jaishtha. After summer, comes the monsoon season, when there are torrential rains. These two months are called Ashada and Shravana. Then comes the first autumn which is called Sharat, when the rains die down and the harvesting season begins. The relevant months are called Bhadra and Ashwin. The month of Ashwin is a time of rejoicing and Bengalis usually take part in a five day festival when the goddess Durga is worshipped with much fanfare and ceremony in the festival called Durga Puja. Today Durga Puja has spread all over the world and is celebrated by local communities of Bengalis and of course, all others who want to participate, whether they are Bengalis or not. Durga Puja is a time for the younger generations to showcase their artistic talents, especially in music, dance and theatre. A good deal of the accomplishments featured during these artistic displays involve Rabindrasangeet. Rabindrasangeet is something that can be appreciated and practised truly by people from all age groups.
The next season is called Hemanta.Now the days are getting cooler and the nights longer as the sun continues its round across the zodiac.These two months are called Kartik and Aghrayan.The festival of lights, Diwali is celebrated on the night of the new moon in the month of Kartik which ranges between 15th of October to the 15th of November, after which the month of Aghrayan begins. After Aghrayan, it is time for the winter season which ranges from mid December till mid February, the relevant months being called Posh and Magha. The last season is spring and this period ranges over the last two months of the year, which are called Phalguna and Chaitra.
Rabindrasangeet is deeply rooted in Nature. The moods of the seasons are the backdrop against which a gigantic repertoire of different moods and emotions are played out. An example is the line in which the poet says to his flute "In stealth, you took from me much that I would have preferred to have lkept locked in my heart". This line is from the song "Amar raat pohalo". As I see it, this deep rooting in Nature is a deliberate ploy to evoke the holographic nature of the song itself by using characteristic elements of the various seasons and in linking it with seasonal festivities, thus making it a living entity that rarely fails to move the listener. This is the reason why Tagore's compositions have passed the test of time.
A Song of Summer Heat
As mentioned, the Bengali New Year begins around the 15th April and marks the onset of the hot season. The song given below highlights the welcome given to a new year and a new start, where the fiery heat of the summer sun is asked to destroy all that is old and superfluous as humanity awakens to a new consciousness, forged in the sacred summer heat.
A rough translation
Come O Baisakha,come,come
With your fiery ascetic breath
Disperse instantly all vestiges of the bygone year
Let them go, go...
Let all old memories go away
Let forgotten songs go away
Let tears fall away far into the distance
Come O Baisakha, come, come..
Let sorrows be wiped away
Let sloth disappear
Let the earth be purified by your bath of fire
Let the fire dry out all surplus fluids
Bring, bring out the conch shell for your war cries
Let the deluding nets of maya (illusion) fade away.
Come O Baisakha, come, come...
The dance given below is at a gathering of local Bengalis to welcome the Bengali New Year. It is one of the many occasions where young children have an opportunity of showcasing their extra curricular talents
Another song on the heat of an Indian summer - Daruno agni bane re (Your mighty arrow of fire)
This song is an ode to the heat of summer, seeing its fiery form as just another face of the beloved, albeit one which strikes terror. The translation goes like this:
Stricken with your mighty arrow of fire
My heart is parched with thirst
The nights are sleepless,
The days are long and sizzling
Comfort is not in sight.
In the dry branches of the trees in the garden
A weary kapot (a bird) sings.
A moving song begging for relief
Fear not Fear not Fear not
As I watch the sky
I know that within this terrifying form
It is you who comes to me
To tend to my parched and dry heart.
FInally, the monsoon
The rains are obviously very welcome after the sweltering heat of the summer months. In what follows, I present two of my favorite songs by Tagore that have been written for this season. One can literally hear the rain pitter-pattering away, and its many forms and moods while listening to these songs.
Dark heavy blue tinted clouds cover the sky O Grave One
The body of the earth goddess trembles with anticipation
The hum of fireflies sound like the rhythm of castanets playing, O Grave One
The patter of falling rain makes pleasing accompaniment to the rhythm of the thundering clouds
The Kadamba groves seem deeply engrossed in the joyous new scents prevailing everywhere.
All of Nature rejoices in these glorious festivities.
In torrid slumber lay the dried earth, parched with thirst
To her you sent from the heavens of Indra (God of the Gods)
The streams of the elixir of Life
Hardened mud gives way to cracks here and there
New emerging shoots stand up like victorious flagpoles on the levelled earth
The bonds of boundary have been broken, O Grave One.
Another favorite song on the rainy season
This song is another of my absolute favoriites, having heard it sung many, many times as a little girl. Here it is presented as an Odissi dance form by Debamitra Sengupta.
A rough translation goes like this
My mind flies in unison with the clouds
It flows way into the distance, into the Infinite
To the rhythm of the Shravan rains.
My mind flies away on the wings of swans
Flapping their wings and crying out in wonder as lightning lights up the sky
The rumbles of thunder call out to rivulets of water
as they ripple forth forming streams and cascades in vicious glee.
Winds blow from the Eastern seas
Free flowing waves ripple by on the running streams
My mind revels in their unrestrained, uninhibited flow
In the Tala and tamala groves
And in the rhythm of the swaying trees.
Sharat or Autumn- the festive season starts
The monsoons have done their bit and the sun comes out of hiding from behind the monsoon clouds. Characteristic of this season is the play of light and shadow, which combined with the mild weather, makes the onset of autumn very welcome. An important flower that blossoms in this season is called shewli.The very sight of a shewli flower,evokes the presence of sharat and Tagore mentions it particularly in this song below.
I liked paricularly the choreography of the dance presented below. It is one of the most well known of Tagore's songs commemmorating this season and the advent of the Goddess Durga. Preparations for the Durga puja festivities start well before the end of the monsoon and there is hectic activity as children meet in the evenings to rehearse for their performances during the five day Puja celebrations.
Here is a makeshift translation of this song
Sharat, the entrancing offering of sunlight that you bestow
Spills over, it spills over, spills over leaving behind exquisite fingerprints
Sharat, the sight of your dew washed hair
That is the grass surrounding the wooded pathways
Makes my heart beat faster this autumn morning
Bedecked witl jewels your armlets
Shimmer on your dark, earthy body
The play of light and shadow to the music of humming bees
Appears as a veil drawn back and forth to an exotic dance
A dance to which the shewli groves resonate in rhythm.
Hemanta and Diwali, the Festival of Lights
The days are getting shorter now and the morning sun is covered with fog. This is the season for the Festival of Lights, also called Diwali. Here is a dance welcoming this wonderful season full of secrets hiding behind the mists.
This foggy night all the lights in the sky
Were hidden away by the goddess of autumn
Within the folds of her garments
The call went out to every household,
Light the lamps, the lamps of your soul
Decorate the earth with the lights of your lamps
The flower gardens are empty, the cuckoo sings no more
The Kash flowers fade away on the riverbanks
Let all despairing thoughts go away
Light your lamps, the lamps of your souls, sing out the lamps of your victory song.
Gods are watching us today,
Wake up, boys and girls and light up the night sky
As darkness falls with the setting sun
Light up your lamps the lamps of your own hearts and win over darkness.
And at last, Winter
Contrary to Northern Europe and North America, winter is a time of rejoicing. It is also harvest time for the Rabi crop and the mood is beautifully captured by the song and dance below.
Posh is calling you, come, come, come
Baskets are to be filled with the ripe harvest
The swelling winds play on the reverberating rice fields
The golden rays of sunlight spill over.
The sky hears the flute of the earth and rejoices,
Who will stay at home today, open the doors, open the doors, open the doors
Rays of light smile on ripe grains of rice
The joy of the earth spills gladness everywhere.
Springtime and the end of the Bengali year
Now it is time for the king of the seasons, springtime. After the winter chills, the air is balmy and a thousand flowers bloom, filling the world with colour. The song below illustrates the fleeting and temporary nature of the springtime experience.
Here I come, a lost wayfarer
O chameli, who blooms in the evening,
O mallika morning flower,
Do you recognize me?
We know you, we know you, new traveller
Your essence has spread out over the woods
Eager to communicate on phalgun mornings,
More subdued in Chaitra evenings
We have been drifted in your path.
Who is calling this homeless madman
With such a heartfelt song
As I walk alone along the woods playing my veena?
I have called you, dear empathic traveller,
I am the mango blossom
Before I saw you with my eyes,
I could feel your dreams and empathize with them,
Without knowing you, I loved you
When at the end of the day, when my toil is done
As I tread the heated dusty pathways, covered with fallen blossoms,
Who will be my companion?
I, the madhabi flower will.
When farewell notes play on my flute
When dried leaves blow away,
Who will be by my side?
I will be, I will be sad with you, o dear friend
I am the young karabi blossom
The sense enthhralling beauty of springtime wakes up long hidden tears of parting
I smile a tearful smile.
Springtime is the season of Love. Here is a song that beautifully expresses the pain of unrequited love, born in the magic of spring, the king of seasons.
I leave for you this springtime song
This year will pass, you will forget
You will forget, I know you will forget
Even so, on a Phalgun night
The longing and pain expressed in this song
Will, I believe, call forth, your tears.
I do not wish to stay, time passes by,
I go away, the act is over.
There will come a new Phalgun
Then you can hear once again
The strains of a new wayfarer's song.
In a world where technology is growing exponentially by the day and newer apps flooding the market, it is easy to forget our inherent link to Mother Nature whose Love supports our very existence. We breathe in polluted air, drink contaminated water and our food is loaded with chemicals and toxins of all kinds. Our children watch films on vampires and zombies and play all kinds of wargamees on the computer. Providing a nourishing environment (mentally) for our children, (our future) is less of a priority today than it used to be when the rules governing society are changing and downsizing the order of the day. It is no coincidence that the physical maladies that we deal with reflect this monumental disconnect that we have allowed into our lives, our lost connection with Nature.
For me, listening to Rabindrasangeet has helped me to re-member. Just the act of listening to this music, while busy with other activities and without paying conscious attention, helps me attain a state of calm that is very healing. As a bonus, the lyrics get subliminally etched into my memory and pretty soon, I find myself humming the tunes. I also realize that willy nilly, I have learnt the words and the meaning of the lyrics as well. And then, there is a moment when time stands still, a moment of Now as I get what the poet wished to convey.
This lens is my prayer offering to the purpose of realizing the need for recovery of our lost connection with that power which sustains us with every breath that we take, the awesome consciousness that is Mother Nature. I truly hope that one day this connection will come back to us. And in the process, Rabindrasangeet will be one of the vehicles that will show the way. The way back to our hearts, where all wisdom resides.