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Dr. Sushil Kumar Rudra
“The song of a thousand birds in the voice of a single man.”
“You gave the song to the bird, it sings that song,
He does not create more than that
You gave me voice, I give more than that,
When the greatest poet-personality of the country writes the above stanzas, we feel, indeed, how much we know about the singer Rabindranath! By combining words and music, he introduced the extraordinary creation of singing art in the golden songs of Gitanjali-Gitimalya and Geethali.
Moreover, he has used many songs in plays and novels. He has appeared many times as a singer within the act during the staging of his own plays. But I don’t see much discussion about Rabindranath as that singer. So, in this article we will shed some light on that.
What Rabindranath himself was deeply aware of this being, is reflected in his confession. His first appearance as an artist was probably as a singer. In the first manuscript of Jeevansmriti, he wrote: “We have been brought up in our family with music from childhood. I do not remember a time when I could not sing.”
From the age of 10-12, Ravi was loved by his family not for his poetry, not for his good looks, but for his charm. “I was Srikanthababu’s favorite disciple about music” – admitted it himself. Said: “He had a song – ‘May Chodo Brajki Bansari’. He used to drag me from house to house to sing that song in my mouth. I would sing, he would play the sitar…”
However, in the 19th century, Jorasankor Thakur Bari was not only an avid center for music practice, but there was a constant stream of music also that merged with religious practice and lifestyle.
Ravi, the youngest, lonely, and neglected child of the family. He was growing up in the creation and practice of music. So music became his best friend in his life. And he was able to say in his autobiography, ‘I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t sing.’
In fact, the talent, power and joy of singing was the poet’s innate nature, a source of eternal pride. Rabindranath accompanied his father Devendranath Tagore on many journeys for the sake of music. By the middle age, the poet Rabindranath was repeatedly defeated by the singer Rabindranath because of his singing talent.
Undoubtedly, Rabindranath was an undisputed popular singer in any public meeting, domestic gathering, even political or religious gathering. Even though he traveled abroad several times before receiving the Nobel Prize, his recognition and fame was not as a poet or philosopher or writer, but as a singer.
It can be assumed that Rabindranath got the environment suitable to grow as a singer in Jorasanko’s house. In their house, Hindu-Muslim masters used to host high music gatherings. Naturally, he had the opportunity to listen to music at those events. Music artists from Delhi, Agra, Gwalior, Baroda, Moradabad and other places used to come to Jorasanko’s Thakurbari.
Rabindranath received inspiration in his musical education from childhood through the singing of two musicians, one of whom I already know the name of, the second being Vishnu Chakraborty. Rabindra biographer Prabhatkumar Mukhopadhyay says about Vishnu Chakraborty: “Vishnuchandra Chakraborty, a singer of the early Brahmo society, was their home hymn teacher…. Rabindranath’s first musical guru.”
Rabindranath himself introduced Vishnu Chakraborty in the book ‘Chelebela’. “Vishnu Chakraborty’s songs were not lacking in tone, there was beauty of voice and the appeal of soul and expression.” It seems that Rabindranath’s mind was influenced and attracted by the fluency and simple and beautiful style of Vishnu Chakraborty’s singing and expression.
The beginning of the poet’s musical practice was with Vishnu Chakraborty during his childhood. Rabindranath himself also praised Sukantha of Srikantha Singh. Said: “Sri Kantha Babu, our friend, used to be immersed in music day and night. ….. He did not teach music, he gave music, I could not know when he would pick it up.”
There is controversy over whether Rabindranath wrote the songs for Jadu Bhatt, but there is no doubt that he had heard the music of this famous Indian artist many times in his childhood and that the melodious and solemn dhruvapadas and bhajans left a deep impression on his heart.
It was not in Rabindranath’s mind to learn anything systematically. In fact he was born with a beautiful deep poetic mind, – a mind that is liberated and developed in unfettered freedom; – It is not possible within the bounds of any restrictive rules. But those who are common, how will they understand all this, – while Rabindranath understood himself. So I heard him say: “As a boy I saw a Bengali virtuoso, whose heart’s throne of song was kingly. Not like a Bhojpuri porter at a wooden door, did he knock the rhythm…. Yadubhatta, our master of music, our householder, – made a grave mistake, He insists on teaching me music. But I have one quality – I run whenever I see a mastery pose. Behind the scenes, what I have heard – that is all I have learned.
In Memoirs, Rabindranath mentions the first song he sang in his life, the song “Dekhile Tomar Se Atul Prem-Anne” composed by Maharishi Devendranath’s nephew Ganendranath Tagore. Published in 1790’s Ashada issue of Tattvabodhini magazine. Rabindranath was only seven years old.
Singer Rabindranath’s identity will be gradually revealed, perhaps in this song the footstep of that first light. The poet wrote: “I remember, in childhood, we used to decorate the house with marigolds and play in imitation of Maghatsav. That game and all the parts of imitation were completely meaningless but the song was not fake.
In this game, sitting on a table decorated with flowers, I loudly said ‘Dekhile Tomar Seie Atul Prem Anone’. I remember singing ‘Prem Anone’.
Maharishi Devendranath took him on a tour of the Himalayas after the upanayanam due to Sukantha. There in the evening sitting in front of Pitrudev was the daily routine of the boy Rabindranath. While reminiscing, Rabindranath wrote:
‘When the evening came, the father used to come and sit on the balcony in front of the garden. Then I called him to sing Brahma sangit . The moon is rising, the light of the soothsayer falls on the porch through the shadows of the trees, I am singing in the air –
You are the Lord who can solve the crisis
Who helps in darkness.
He is listening silently with both hands folded on his lap.’
Maharshidev’s fondness for voice, which he acquired in his childhood, his singing was very dear to his father even in his adulthood. Soudamini Devi wrote about this in her book ‘Pitrismriti’:
‘He did not like to listen to music unless it was particularly good. He loved Pratibha’s piano playing and listening to Ravi’s music. He used to say, Ravi is our bulbul of Bangladesh.
Let’s listen to Rabindranath’s voice in the mouth of Abanindranath, who is ten years younger than the poet, next door – ‘But yes, there was music at home, in the new uncle’s house on the roof of 2nd floor. Jyotikakamashai is playing the piano on one side, while Rabika is singing on the other. That young Robika’s voice, she is like melody and song. He used to defeat the surroundings. I would listen from this house to get an ear.’
After the death of his mother Saradasundari Devi, Rabindranath stopped going to school. Jyotindranath’s wife, ‘Natun Bouthan’ took over. At that time, Sejda Jyotirindranath was the poet’s main helper in literary practice and exchange of ideas.
In ‘Chelebela’ he wrote: ‘The piano came to the attic. — This time the fountain of my song ran.— Bouthakrun used to wash his body, tie his hair and get ready. Jyotidada used to fly a thin sheet on his body, put a stick on the violin, I would play a high-pitched song. — My song used to spread from roof to roof in the sun-set sky.’
In fact, the sweetness of the poet’s voice fills the surrounding environment with such a heavenly harmony, the listener’s mind sinks into the abyss, those who have heard the song in his voice have testified to that experience in various places.
It’s the incident of 1878. Before leaving for the first time, elder brother Satyendranath Tagore kept Rabindranath in a homestay, first in Ahmedabad, then in Bombay, to teach him ethics. There was a conversation with ‘one of the educated girls of that house’. At the request of that girl Anna Tarkhar gave her a name – Nalini.
Rabindranath wrote: ‘Bendhe Dilum'( composed it) it in the knot of poetry, heard it in the morning Bhairavi’s melody.’ The song is ‘Shuno Nalini, Kholo Go Ankhi'( Hear me, Nalini , open your eyes) Nalini was happy, – having heard the first hearty deep applause on her face. Ana’s words contain the most intimate, blissful and contented maxim of Rabindranath’s entire lyrical work: ‘If the poet hears your song, I may perhaps wake up alive from my dying day.’
Rabindranath’s music practice continued even after going to the theater. He practiced some European music at this time. Indira Devi writes: ‘From that time he was introduced to Bilithi music, and heard his melodious strong voice of the tarsaptak, also called ‘tenor’ in the country. I remember that he used to sing the popular songs of that time like ‘Won’t you tell me, Molly darling’ Good bye Sweetheart, goodbye’.
Surendranath, Indira was very young then. Rabindranath used to sing these songs to make them forget, to laugh, to have fun. With the courtesy of Indira Devi, we know that Rabindranath used to sing many popular songs. After returning to the country, he played these songs to his relatives. The modern genius of Valmiki was born in the practice of these desi and foreign melodies. Rabindranath’s acting and singing in this ballad enthralled the audience. Hearing Rabindranath’s music at a meeting, President imminent Rev. Krishnamohan Bandopadhyay called the singer Rabindranath ‘Bande Valmikikokilong’.
Singer Rabindranath’s fame gradually spread outside the house. While Rabindranath, as the speaker or essayist, was not only freed by speeches, he also had to sing at the end of the meeting.
The poet was forever proud of this. In a private conversation a couple of years before he left the mortal world, Rabindranath narrated the history of that glory: ‘The throat was once there; I could also sing like to be proud. At that time, when I went to any meeting, everyone would shout, ‘Rabithakur’s song, Ravithakur’s song’.
Veteran educationist, respected Atul Gupta praised of Rabindranath’s sweet voice and as a great singer. He told : “In the meeting where Rabindranath used to read an article, the crowd of students demanded Tagore’s Songs.
But that crowd was not only to listen to his article, but to hear him read. And Rabindranath in the meeting “Let’s stay as readers, and stay as president, we have repeatedly said the demand to listen to his song at the end of the meeting.” Rabindranath was forced to end the meeting by singing. He also sang many times in the Congress session. Kakima Tripurasundari sang at her wedding –
Aa Mori Lavanyamayi
Who is Steady Soudamini…
Yeats and Rotenstein organized a dinner in Rabindranath’s honor on the eve of his return to India in 1923, at their request Rabindranath sang part of the song ‘Bande Mataram’: ‘After dinner we asked Tagore to sing Bande Mataram, the nationalist Song. He hummed the tune but after the first words broke down; he couldn’t remember the rest.’
Singer Rabindranath in the News
A report in the ‘Statesman’ newspaper dated 5th May 1883 AD published the news of singer Rabindranath singing before the devotees of Tagore Sri Ramakrishna and Brahmo Samaj.
– “In the afternoon Ramkristo Paramhansa, the sage of Duckhineswar, discoursed on morality and religion. The evening service commenced at 7:30 … The choir was led by Baboo Rabindranath Tagore.”
Rabindranath composed many songs on the occasion of Maghotsava of Brahmo Samaj. Some of his famous songs are ‘Nayan Tomare Paya Na dekhite, Raecho Nayone Nayone’, ‘Sometimes I See You / but why not for ever – Chirkal Keno pai Na He’, ‘Dao He Hriday Bhore Dao’ etc.
Indira Devi : The Instrumentalist of Singer Rabindranath
Indira Devi Chaudhurani was the instrumentalist of Kabir’s songs. He wrote: ‘The harmonium was played with his songs in the monthly worship of the early Brahmo Samaj. Those who heard his music at that time know what a high, open, deep voice he had. The midrange was natural to him, and his voice rose effortlessly to the high seven of his seventh.’
Now let’s listen to the poet himself, where his father Devendranath’s fondness for his musical career is revealed. In his autobiography he writes: ‘Once on Maghotsva [ Magh 1293] I composed many songs in the morning and in the afternoon. One of them is a song – ‘Nayan Tomare Pai Na Dakhite Roecho Nayane Nayane.’The 3 Greatest Super Souls of The World: Vivekananda – Leo Tolstoy – and – Gandhi
His father, Debendranath was in Chunchura. Jyotidada and I were called there. Sitting Jyotidada on the harmonium, he asked me to sing all the new songs one by one. I have sung some songs twice. — He said, ‘If the king of the country knew the language of the country and understood the love of literature, then he would have given a prize to the poet. When there is no possibility of him from the king’s side, then I will have to do it.’ Saying this, he handed me a check of five hundred rupees.’
Maghotsav & Singer Rabindranath: The Dream Of Rabindranath Tagore ” Shantiniketan”
The poet used to sing regularly in the Maghotsav of early Brahmin society, he also used to sing regularly in Maharshidev’s birthday. Professor Sushovan Sarkar said in his memoirs that he used to go to the Maghotsav of the early Brahmo Samaj just to listen to Rabindranath’s music. Writer Prastha Devi listened to the poet’s song at Maghotsav. Two songs were memorable to him – ‘Ohe Jibanvallabh’ and ‘If Toka Tokar Na Prabhu.’
Rabindranath’s second tour of Europe earned him great fame as a singer. At that time a musician named Miss Mool became a fan of Kabir’s music. It was he who told Rabindranath that if he practiced music, he might get an opportunity to sing at St. James’s Concert Hall.
So being impressed by the song ‘Oli comes back’, the foreigner commented: ‘It is so sweetly preety, so quaintly beautiful and it sounds so pathetic with its minor tones.’
Rabindranath was the only singer on the long journey back home by ship. He sang in concerts on ships. He got praised . After returning, he went to Shilaidaha and Odisha for zamindari work. There he stayed for a long time. At that time music gave him companionship, comfort and peace. Then he thought –
‘ When I see Bhubankhani through the song
I know him then, I know him then.’
Or, with devoted soul can sing – ‘I live here only/ To sing your song.’
Give me this place in your world.’
Rabindranath in Shilaidaha & Songs: Rabindranath Tagore As A Doctor
In the desolate atmosphere of Shilaidaha or Patisar, sometimes the poet used to stay immersed in the starry night of Padma, he wanted to stay immersed in music. This state of the poet’s mind is revealed in his song –
Now no noise
Now the word is ear to ear.
Now there will be a talk of life
Just sing and sing.
Who did not listen to Rabindranath’s song at that time! Famous personalities among them are Bankim Chandra, Navin Chandra Sen, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Gurudas Banerjee, Loken Palit, Rolland, Mahatma Gandhi, Charuchandra Banerjee, Jawaharlal Nehru and many other geniuses. A very favorite song of friend Jagadish Chandra was ‘SS Back.’ Rabindranath has sung this song to him many times. Rabindranath sang at the funeral after Bankimchandra’s death.
In fact he had to sing on every occasion. Singing without the help of any instrument was not a luxury dear to Rabindranath, it was part of his daily routine. Perhaps because of these reasons, his habit of singing in a loud voice stood out. This damaged the poet’s throat in middle age.
Independence of India & Tagore’s Songs
In the era of Swadeshi movement, Rabindranath inspired the people of the country by singing. Rabindranath led the nationwide protest against the proposal of partition of Bengal. His composition and voice became prominent in this movement. ‘Banglar Mati, Banglar Jal’ – composed this song and sang it himself in a great procession around Kolkata.
Besides, after laying the foundation stone of the Federation Hall, Rabindranath took a procession around North Kolkata. At that time, the songs ‘Bidhir Bandhan Katbe Tui Amoni Shaktiman’ and ‘Amar Sonar Bangla Ami Tomai Bhalobashi’ are two songs. By this time H Bose Company released Rabindranath’s first record.
The song is ‘Bande Mataram’ by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay. You can see more recordings of the poet in Volume II of the 1906 H Bose Company catalogue. At that time Rabindranath’s voice was sweet and alive.
During this time, the Swadeshi songs ‘Jodi Tor Dak Shune Kew Na Ase’ and ‘Ebar Tor Mara Gange Baan Aseche’ became very popular. Amala Das, sister of Chittaranjan Das, plays the organ with Kabir’s music, at Jagadish Chandra Bose’s house.
4. Singer & Dancer Tagore
Many songs of ‘Gitanjali’ were recited by the poet in his own voice at Santiniketan. Dinendranath sat on Esraj’s hand, and Ajith Kumar on the harmonium. The poet used to sing song after song continuously.
As mentioned earlier, he acted in various dramas and also sang himself. He was the director of the satirical drama ‘Goray Galad’. He also sang. In 1909 – 1910 the play ‘Prayashchitta’ was staged three times.
Rabindranath played the role of Bairagi twice. Besides, he sang and danced in that role. ‘Ore, Agun Amar Bhai’, ‘Amare Paray Paray Khepiye Berai’, ‘Gram Chara oi Rangamatir Path’ – Rabindranath sang these songs and these are evidence of the wonderful sweetness of his voice.
Tagore Drama ‘Dakghar’ & Singer & Dancer Tagore
Tagore played the role of Thakurda in the play ‘Raja’, or its adaptation ‘Aruparatan’. And in the role of the king in the background. Besides, he sang and acted in the same role for the last time in 1935 at the New Empire Theater (Kolkata).
It is to be noted that he himself has played the role of director, producer, actor, singer in many dramas, dance dramas, ballads etc. in the country and abroad. Remember, in ‘Achalayatan’, the poet took the role of ‘guru’. In this drama, the poet sings in a collective voice.
In the play ‘Falguni’, he played the role of Andha Baul and won over the audience with his singing and acting. Rabindranath had a complete mastery of the forceful swarapshas required in drama songs. ‘Dheere Bandhu Go Dheere’ – the song kept the hearts and minds of the listeners warm.
Rabindranath wrote and acted ‘Dakghar’ in 1917. First at Santiniketan, then at Jorasanko in Kolkata. There was no song in the play, but Rabindranath once danced and sang the song ‘Gramchhara Oi Rangamati Path Amar Mann Bhulaya Re’ in a bowl. And from behind he sang another song ‘Bela Galo Tomar Path Chee.
In 1927, the play ‘Natir Puja’ was performed at Santiniketan. The poet acted as a Buddhist monk Upali. Upali’s voice heard the song of sixty-six years of Kabikantha: ‘Poorgagan Bhaga.’ In October 1935, the poet played the role of a monk in the play ‘Shardotsava’ at Santiniketan.
Besides , Rabindranath’s last performance was in the role of Thakurda in the play ‘Aruparatan’ at the New Empire in Kolkata. At that time the poet was seventy-four years old. His voice was still alive, – as evidenced by the December 22, 1935 issue of the Statesman.
The famous English singer Dame Clara Butt came to Santiniketan in 1927 to sing to the poet, and the poet sang two or three songs on her request. Clara Butt became overwhelmed by the poet’s melodious voice. Therefore, she commented:
“Rarely have I been so moved by anybody’s singing as by that of the stately and venerable poet; he sang with exquisite feeling, and his voice though quite untrained, had a natural silvery sweetness.”
Finally, we can conclude by saying that Rabindranath’s music was his intimate companion in life’s joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, wealth and danger. He saw ‘Bhubankhani’ ( the whole world) through the song. He himself said:
“There are many things that people are proud of. Like my song. … How it floats in the heart – how much it idealises truth, happiness, sorrow. Where the root of all world harmony – reach there in my song.” –
This is the words of singer Rabindranath’s heart. The poet has sung the song of thousands of birds in the same voice. It is surprising to think!