Brahma Sangit

Brahma Sangit devotional songs of the brahma samaj, originally composed by Raja rammohun roy (1772-1833), founder of the Brahma Samaj. Brahma sangit harmonised the deism of christianity and islam and the philosophies of the Rg Veda and the upanisad. Both Brahma sangit and Brahma religion evolved out of the desire to reform religion and music, and later, they played a significant role in the cultivation of humanistic and nationalistic feelings. Brahma sangit was also an important step in the development of contemporary urban music of Bengal.

Being a music-lover himself, Rammohun understood the power of music to reach the deepest recesses of the human mind. Hence he used Brahma sangit in his efforts to reform hinduism and promulgate the ideals of deism. By the formation first of atmiya sabha in 1815 and then the establishment of the Brahma Samaj in his own house in 1828, Rammohun enabled the continuous performance of Brahma sangit, which used to be performed at the beginning and end of the devotional service. The two main singers of Brahma sangit were kali mirza (1750-1820) and Bishnu Chakraborty. Their background was in classical music. As a result, Brahma sangit had a classical bent.

Brahma Sangit, an anthology of these songs, contains 44 songs attributed to Rammohun. Rammohun's songs have a noticeably classical beat and are structured like classical music with sthayi, antara, sanchari, abhog, etc, a tradition which was continued by later lyricists. One of his famous songs, composed in the iman kalyan raga, is 'Bhaba se ai eke/ Jale sthale shunye ye samanbhabe thake/ Ye rachila e sangsar adi anta nahi yar/ Se jane sakal, keha nahi jane take' (He is contained in the water, the earth, the sky;/ He who created this world is himself without beginning and end;/ He knows everything but no one knows Him).

The trend of composing Brahma sangit on classical lines started by Rammohun was further refined by debendranath tagore (1817-1905) and continued by Bishnu Chakraborty, Jadu Bhatta, Radhika Prasad Goswami, Shyamsunder Mitra, Ramgoti Bandyopadhyay. A Brahma sangit composed by Debendranath says 'Bhaba tare antare ye biraje/ Anya katha chhad na| Sangsar sankate, tran nahi kona mate/ Bina tar sadhana' (Think of Him who lies within/ Forget all else/ There is no release from earthly bondage/ Without meditating on him).

In 1866 the Brahma Samaj bifurcated into the Adi (ancient) and Naba Vidhan (new) groups. Both groups continued to sing Brahma sangit though their styles were different. The Adi Brahma sangit directed by Debendranath was based on classical music and, in the hands of such talented exponents as Bishnu Chakraborty, Jadu Bhatta, Radhika Prasad, acquired a highly sophisticated style. The Naba Vidhan Brahma Samaj was directed by keshab chandra sen (1838-1884) and its songs were more in the style of kirtan although the classical base was retained.

Others who composed Brahma sangit included dwijendranath tagore (1840-1926), satyendranath tagore (1842-1923), jyotirindranath tagore (1849-1925), Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Trailokya Nath Sanyal, Annada Prasad Chatterjee, Haralal Roy, dwijendralal roy (1863-1913), kangal harinath (Kushtia, 1833-1896), Sundari Mohan Das (Sylhet), Kishori Lal Roy (Bogra), Prasanna Majumdar (Dhaka), rajanikanta sen (Rajshahi, 1865-1910), atulprasad sen (Faridpur (1871-1934), etc. Although the influence of Brahma Samaj as a religion was limited to Kolkata, the songs were appreciated by a much larger audience. This was due to the ideals presented in these songs which were spiritual, non-communal, humanistic and patriotic, and possessed a classical appeal.

It was in the hands of Rabindranath that Brahma sangit acquired perfection. Almost one-fourth of Rabindranath's songs are Brahma sangit, with Rabindranath expanding the themes. Time has defused the appeal of Brahma Samaj as a religion, but its songs have remained as appealing as ever due to the genius of Rabindranath.

Although Brahma sangit followed the classical tradition, Dwijendranath and Satyendranath experimented to create new melodies. Satyendranath introduced the style of Hindi 'Bhanga' songs into it. Dwijendrnath first composed musical notation for Brahma sangit with Jyotirindranath later developing it for Bangla songs. The notation developed by Jyotirindranath continues to be used today. [Khan Md Syeed]

Bibliography Arunkumar Basu, Bangla Kavya Sangeet O Rabindra Sangeet, Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta, 1978; Adhir Bakchi, Bangla Gan: Egarosho Barasho Shatak, Ananda Publishers Ltd, Calcutta, 1988; Karunamay Goswami, Bangla Ganer Bibartan, 1st vol, Bangla Academy, Dhaka, 1993; Sudhir Chakraborty, Bangla Ganer Sandhane, Aruna Prakashani, Calcutta, 1990.