Songs He Sing

  A brief about Bhatiali

The songs of the countryside of deltaic Bengal are the voice of the river.

Bengal is a country of rivers. Like tendrils of a creeper, or like the ornaments hanging on a woman’s limbs, the sweeping curves and half curves and straight lines of innumerable Rivers have traced a network over fields. The songs of the countryside are the voice of the river. Who is he? The unknown, invisible maker of the village tunes, stroking the rivers with his soft-fingered wavy-hands as a player strokes the strings of an instrument, creating the many-coloured songs of Bengal in the Bhatiali tunes. There is no village where the river is not within two miles. For more than six months of the year the floods are out, and, in the rainy season there is no work to be done. The cultivators fill up their leisure with an endless variety of folk-songs, and singing parities tour by boat from village to village.

In this season number of people take their boats and ferry goods from place to place, from one country to another. Far away from kith and kin they sail their boats down the swift wild waterways; before them are the everlasting waves, above them is the vast limitless sky. Subconsciously they are filled with the mystery of the eternal, and thousands of question rise in their minds. The everlasting waters become the path of life, and the small boat is the man’s own life as he floats on his endless journey. As the river changes, so do the tunes change that rise to his lips. Here he is launching his boat with a song:

Nao ano re bai nao ano re
Rajani prbhat holo rebhai
Nao ano re.

It calls :
Bring the boat, dear friend, bring the boat
The night is passing out
Bring the boat, dear friend, bring the boat.

Now the boat is floating down the river. He is now searching the bank, the shore.. Which bank shall he leave and to reach which? Who will show him the way? The questions pass through his mind, and the tune mingles with the lazy movement of the boat under sail: (here the meaning is dual…it reflects his own life also- searching the end).

Nadir kul nai kinara nai re
O ami kon kul hote kon kule jabo
Kahare sudhai re
Opare megher ghata kanak bijuli chhata
Majhe nadhi bahe sai sai re
Ami ai horilam sonar chhabi
Abar theki nai re.

It sings:

The river has no bank, no shore
Which bank shall I leave, to which I go?
From whom this shall I know;
The cloud arrays itself on the other bank, golden flashes paint,
The river speeds along under the pressure of rain.
I see a picture golden I see it no more again.

He begins to sing again. In our river-tangled country we call across the water to a man on the far bank:

O rangila nayer manjhi
It calls:
Boatman of the colored craft, O!

Hear, how this cry has mingled with the next tune:
O Rangila naer manjhi
O tumi ai ghate lagaiya nao
Nighum katha kaiya jao suni.

It entreats: Boatman of the coloured craft, O!
(You) touch at this place to open mind to me.

The boat is passing slowly. Listen to the tune:
Unur jhunur baye nao
Amar ni haila batase re
Murshid ruilum tor ashe.

The storm comes, One boatman is shouting to warn another. “The storm is coming.
“Pashime sajilo megh re
Deyay delore dak
Amar chirilo hailer panas
Noukai khailo pak.

It warns:
A cloud gathers in the west
There roars it out, Rope of my boat’s helm breaks
And goes reeling the boat.

Then the rain descends and attacks the boat; he must rescue his boat from the strom.
“Hail, the seven Preceptors!
Hail, God and the Prophet!”
He pulls on the oar with all his force:

Omajhi re
Jhar tuphane chulao tari husiar
husiar ho
kato hangor kurnir parshi moder
kalopanir dhau
Darer ghaye phanil phona gutia chole sao
Meghe agun dianache kar pagli meye
Se je chira joyer path dekhaya
chalchhe age dheye
kato hangor kurnir parshi moder
kalopanir dhau
Darer ghaye phanil phona gutia chole sao
Meghe agun dianache kar pagli meye
Se je chira joyer path dekhaya
chalchhe age dheye

It alerts:
Boatmen O!
Be on guard as you row in high wind adn storms,
Sharks and crocodiles our neighbours;
And black water’s billows
Hold frothy crests down beaten by oars.
In the midst of cloud whose wild girl dances?
She leads, she guides us to success.

Then the storm has gone by and the boat is saved. Journey’s end comes dimly into sight. Listen to that moment:
Amar lauka re bai
Dole lauka re bhai
Dole lauka Allajir batashe bai re.

It rejoices :
My boat, dear friend,
It rolls, dear friend,
Rolls in God’s wind, friend,

So the journey goes on, and life goes on, and each song is a change in the river, in the emotion of the songs.

Song: Amay bhasaili rey-

amay bhasaili rey
amay dubaili rey
akul dariyar bujhi kul nairey
kul nai kinar nai naiko nadir padi
tumi sabdhanetey chalaiyo majhi
amar bhang tari rey

(You’ve set me adrift
You’ve sunk me
The endless waters have no shore
Limitless, with no shores, the waters have no banks
O row with care boatman, my riven boat.).

Song: Rongila Rongila Rongila rey-

Rongila rongila rongila re’
leaving me along where have you gone
where have you gone my love
whereare you now.

You would be the moon my love
I will be the wave of river
on the ebb andtide we’ll meet.

You would be the flower my love
I would be the wind
I will move around countries as insane.

All these songs are the illegitimate children of a Bengali folk song.

Song: Allah megh dey pani dey-

Allah megh de pani de chhaya de re tui
Allah megh de

O God Give us cloud over our head.
Give us water, bestow shade.

Song: Nishte Jaio Phul bane, O Bhomora
“Come to Garden by Night”
Come to the garden by night.
My bee.
I shall stay up the night
Lighting the lamp of moon
And talking to the dew drops
My bee.
Come to the garden by night
should I fall asleep
Tread softly my bee,
Do not break the branch
Or crush my flowers.
Or awaken the flower that is asleep
Come to the garden by night.
My bee.

The earliest kind of songs originate in the cries of men at work on a common task-pulling about ashore, or rolling legs, or doing something else that needs concerted rhythmical effort.

Haio joan haio
Jore maro haio
Ara jore haio
Delhi chalo haio
Delhi jaite haio
Samuddur haio
Samuddure haio
Hatoo pani haio.

It spurs :
Exert yourselves, sturdy fellows
Put in force, fellows
Harder still, fellows
Make for Delhi fellows
To Delhi, fellows
To the ocean, fellows
To the ocean, fellows
Knee-deep water, fellows…

The word Bhatiyali comes from Bhata meaning ebb or downstream.
Boatmen sings this traditional boatsongs(Bhatiali) while going down streams of the river.

The tune of the songs changes with the course of the river, with the tempo of each song connoting the pace of flowing water. In this way a slow tempo Bhatiyali song of northern Bengal (where flow of the water is slow) transforms into a fast tempo Shaari song (fast boat rowing song) in the southern Bengal where river current is high.

Bhaitaili lyrics are traditionally about boating, fishing, life and rivers. Among the 14 subject of folk music in Bengal, that includes Deha-tatva (about the body) and Murshid-tatva (about the guru), Bhatiali deals with Prakriti-tatva (about nature).

Saurav Moni.