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Baijee


Baijee professional dancing girl and singer of olden times. Bai means a specially groomed artist girl and jee is the honorific suffix. Baijees arrange cultural parties at their own households or are invited to darbar-mehfils (courts) on different festive occasions to entertain audiences with dances and songs for remuneration. In the past, emperors, nawabs, kings, princes, zamindars and high officials were patrons of baijees who were invited to their family parties, garden house parties, private pleasure cottages, and pleasure trips. Baijees started coming to Bengal, especially to calcutta, in the second half of the eighteenth century. Nawab Wazed Ali Shah (1822-1897), after being ousted from Audh, lived in Metia Buruz area of Calcutta and his residence became a centre of musicians attended by many baijees from different places.

Most baijees had to learn classical songs and scriptural dances, especially the kathak dance. A soiree organised by baijees to perform dances and songs is called mujro. Many also call it the mehfil or mahfil. Besides periodical earnings from the mujro or mehfil, some baijees used to get monthly salaries from the darbars of kings and nawabs. Excessive attachment to baijees marred the family life of many elite people. They drained their wealth on them. Till the first half of the twentieth century, places like Luckhnow, Allahabad, Benaras, Kanpur, Patna, Agra, Baroda, Calcutta and Delhi were famous for baijee performances. Noted among the baijees of that time were Niki, Asron, Zinnat, Begumjan, Hingula, Mirjajan, Nannijan and Supanjan. In 1823, Niki Baijee drew attention of people from home and abroad by performing dances and songs at the garden house of Raja rammohun roy. Other baijees earning fame included Sreejan, Mushtari, Maskajan, Gaharjan, Jaddan Bai, Janaki or Chappanna Chhuri, Joro Bai, Abdan Bai, Nasmi Bai, Neelam, Roshnara, Ashtari, Rasulun, Kali Bai, Hira Bai, Keshor Bai, Swaraswati, Munni, Kanijan, Amirjan, Gangu, Bidyadhari and Siddheswari.

In Dhaka, performance of dances and of songs by baijees began during the Mughal rule. Baijees performing dances and songs in the court of Subahdar Islam Khan were called kanchani.'

Baijees used to perform at the Rangmahal of ahsan manzil, Ishrat Manzil of Shahbagh, and garden house of Dilkusha. One of the baijees who earned fame in the social and cultural arena of Dhaka was Suponjan, wife of Swapan Khan, grandson of the eminent singer and tabla player Mithan Khan. She lived in Dhaka in the last part of the nineteenth century. In the 1870s, Mushtari Bai, while performing in a function at Shahbagh arranged by Nawab Abdul Gani, drew the attention of eminent litterateur Abdul Gafur Naskhan. hakim habibur rahman described the glory of the dance performance of another baijee named Elahijan at Shahbag.'

Baijees who performed in the court of Nawab Abdul Gani included Piyari Bai, Heera Bai, Wamu Bai, Abedi Bai, Annu Nannu and Nawabin Bai, the last three of whom were sisters, and were also involved in staging of dramas at Dhaka in the 1880s. Batani, Jamurad, Panna, Himani, Amirjan, Rajlaksmi, Kani and Absan were among the other famous baijees of Dhaka. Malkajan Bulbuli, Malkajan Agrawali, Janaki Bai, Gaharjan, Jaddan Bai, Harimati and others also used to come to Dhaka from Calcutta occasionally with mujro. Among them, Gaharjan (1873-1929) took part in a marriage ceremony at Kazi Bari of Dhaka in the 1890s. She was the first artiste in the subcontinent to record her voice in a gramophone record. The record was given the number P-1 (His Masters' Voice). Jaddan Bai was involved in films. Nargis, the famous film actress of India, is her daughter. In the 1920s and 1930s, another baijee named Devi Bai was an actress in the first voiceless film of Dhaka The Last Kiss (1931). Harimati Baijee won the hearts of the audience by rendering songs, particularly nazrul songs in gramophone records in the 1930s and 1940s. Many of them were involved in social welfare activities. Baijee culture got extinct from the late 1940s. [Anupam Hayat]