Panchali a genre of narrative folk songs. The word, panchali, originates from pavchal or pavchalika, meaning puppet. Others believe that the word refers to the five elements of this genre: song, music, extempore versifying, poetic contests, and dance. In earlier times, it also included a puppet dance. In the 18th-19th centuries, the puppet dance was dropped. Instead, the main singer would dance, wearing nupur (anklet bells), and holding a flywhisk and cymbals. At times he would act the part of different characters. The ramayana, mahabharata, mangalkavya and similar narrative verses were often recited in the style of panchali. Some legends also used to be recited in a similar fashion.
Panchali subjects include ancient legends and folk tales as well as contemporary topics. One principal singer would enact the main story with recitation, rhymes and songs. In course of the evolution of the panchali, more singers joined the principal singer to play such instruments as mrdabga (tabor), dhol (drum) and kanshi (bell-metal gong).
The panchali underwent some changes towards the close of the 18th century when poetic contests, physical gestures and acting were introduced. In the 19th century dialogue for the principal singer was added as was the character of a clown who used to generate laughter by mimicking different social oddities through songs, recitation of rhymes or dances. Most popular among the social issues were remarriage of women, income tax problems, and the members of Young Bengal who were opposed to idol worship. The panchali later gave birth to the popular jatra songs.
dasharathi roy was a famous panchali composer. He used to be a professional kaviyal or versifier. Dasharathi Roy's panchali helped make the common people interested in education, literature and religion as well as to become socially conscious. The influence of kavigan may be noticed in the panchali of manomohan bose. Some other famous panchali composers of the time were Thakurdas Dutta (1801-1876), Rasikchandra Ray (1820-1892), Brajamohan Ray (1831-1876), Rasikchandra Goswami, Nandalal Ray and Krishnakamal Goswami. Famous panchali include Shitalar Panchali and Satyanarayan or Satyapirer Panchali. [Sambaru Chandra Mohanta]