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Folk Media


Folk Media refers to traditional media based on sound, image and sign language. It is expressed in the form of traditional music, drama, dance and puppetry. Bangladesh has inherited several rich, effective popular and powerful folk media forms, which were developed over the ages characterizing cultural norms of the people. Ingredients of folk media are given special projection in the mass media and as such folk media are being used in development communication (to bring about attitudinal and behavioral changes of the people) and advertising. Messages on issues like agricultural development, primary health care and nutrition, environment, education, women and child rights are projected through the folk media. People in Bangladesh, especially the great majority in the rural areas enjoy performances of the folk artists as a relief from the myriad of life. Many of them simply do not have access to modern forms of entertainment.

Music is the most popular folk form in Bangladesh and the various types of folk music include mystic songs (baul, marfati, murshidi), devotional songs (hamd, nat, shyama sangeet, kirtan), ballad (palagan, puthipath), community songs (jari, sari, bhaoaiya) and snake-charmers song. Folk songs on hopes, joys, sorrows, love, and separation composed by ordinary people are still popular. The traditional melodies and lyrics of these songs were enriched by kabials (lyricist and composer of folk songs), gayens (singers), dohars (co-singers) and musicians. Kabigan, a sort of musical debate on a particular topic between two kabials is very popular all over Bangladesh. Gambhira is another this type of song, performed jointly by a typical nana (grandfather) and his nati (grandson). This song is accompanied by dance and is usually performed in the rajshahi and nawabganj areas. Ganasangeet (peoples' songs) is the latest form developed by the cultural activists working for the welfare of the oppressed people. This type of song carries messages on the rights of the oppressed people and a strong sense of patriotism. Ganasangeet had inspired the whole nation during the war of liberation in 1971. Instrumental music has its own glory in folk songs. No one can think of folk music without indigenous instruments like ektara, dotara, sarinda, flute and drum.

Folk media are very effective in communicating messages on important national issues, largely because it needs a small troupe, the costs in instruments, transport and manpower are moderate or low, and the outreach is wide, particularly through performances in hats (market places in rural areas) and bazaars. Patriotic forces during the anti-British movement used to organise such groups to motivate the people in favour of swadeshi movement. Simultaneously, during the Second World War the British Indian government constituted a song publicity unit to mobilise public opinion in their favour. The governments of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh later strengthened the unit. India has created an organisation named the Sangeet-Natak Academy (the Academy of music and drama), the main responsibility of which is to perform motivational programmes throughout the country. In Bangladesh there are branches of the Department of Mass Communication, Shilpakala (fine arts) Academy and Shishu (children) Academy in all the districts headquarters, where cultural shows with specific messages are organised locally.

The most popular form of folk drama in Bangladesh is jatra, an opera type performance in an open stage. The jatra is performed before rural people of all ages and both genders during autumn and winter nights. Jatra, being a product of mass culture and having undergone a process of evolution, represents different trends of the society. In the past, it was performed by the villagers themselves. They used to build and decorate the stage collectively with great enthusiasm and spend their own money for costumes and props. A production of a drama in any village was considered as a great event, especially after the harvesting season. Later, jatradals, folk opera parties began to be formed commercially to present professional performances. People like jatra because of its communicability and the relationship between the performers and the audience. Simplicity and lively and informal presentation are the key features that have made jatra so popular. Nowadays, modern songs and dances, presented as fillers between the acts, are added attractions.

One of the most ancient forms of entertainment prevalent in Bangladesh is the solo performance by a bahurupi, a person well versed in the art of costuming, mimicry and imitation. In the past, he stayed in one place for days together to perform before wealthy patrons, whose courtyards were also open for the ordinary village people, including women who flocked to the performance. At present, however, the traditional bahurupis do not exist but people in the get up of bahurupi are seen in the rural market places performing mainly to promote sales of a particular company's products.

Puppetry is perhaps the most outstanding traditional folk medium that still exists in its original form in Bangladesh. One of the puppetry centres in the country is brahmbaria, from where many troupes of traditional puppeteers travel throughout Bangladesh to perform with their own songs and dances. The puppet shows are used for educational and promotional purposes and are very effective in development communication.

Painting on clothes, particularly Gazir pot and pottery products is a fast diminishing form of folk media in Bangladesh. In the old days, indigenous artists portrayed characters or reflected events of Hindu mythology as well as from folk tales of Muslim origin in their paintings on cloths or Gazir pot and pottery. Gazir pot, a big canvass portrays a message through sequential pictures. It is presented with synchronized songs and words to attract a big gathering. Quacks, village doctors and medicine sellers often use the traditional cloth painting to promote indigenous medicines in the rural markets. Quilts embroidered with the motifs of flowers, leaves and birds are still popular.

Fairs play an important role in the life of Bangladesh people. There are some set occasions and days, when fairs are spontaneously held in different places, both rural and urban. People from all walks of life gather there to enjoy the fanfare and buy things of everyday necessity and toys for the children or handicrafts and fancy products. Occasional or regular fairs as well as hats and bazaars are the common places where folk media are seen in action. The rally is another ancient means of transmitting public information. In the early days, drummers from the court were assigned to announce the venue and the schedule of a rally. Religious functions like milad mehfil, tafsir, waz mehfil are frequently used to inform and motivate people. Gatherings for group prayers like mass congregations and indoor meetings of particular groups, unions or faiths are also effective forums for building up public opinion. Although new forms of print and electronic media are gradually replacing the traditional or folk media, oral communication process being an integral part of folk culture is still very effective in Bangladesh. [Muhammad Hannan and Mahbubul Alam]