Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Moujuddin Khan: Bajawa Re Baar Baar Baje

The defeat of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 led to the collapse of centers of cultural patronage in Awadh, Agra and Delhi. The famous courtesans of the age moved around in search of benefactors to Benares or Kolkata. Victoria Hemmings - the famous Maika Jaan - and her daughter (by one dry-ice engineer named William Yeoward) Angelina better known as Gauhar Jaan - are two famous singers who followed this trajectory.

Between the 1870s and 1930s, Benares came into its own as a center for classical or semi-classical music. This was the age of Rasoolan Bai, Siddeshwari, Moti Bai; the thumri in Eastern-style or Purbi-ang reached its zenith. Veshya-Stotra written by Babu Bacchu Singh in the 1890s lists over 100 tawaifs or courtesans, each of whom would conduct a mehfil every few days.

Compared to the teentaal based regular beats of the courts of Oudh, Benares preferred the irregular 1-2-3/1-2-3-4 deepchandi. The lyrics and melodic span were simple, the goal was a contemplative depth of emotion. Boating parties carrying the singers and their patrons would ply the Ganges all night. A music lover was to lament in 1979:

Ah - at 2 in the night - Siddeshwari in one boat, Kashi Bai in another, Rasoolan in a third. Each singing different ragas - one a chaiti in Jogiya. Sometimes all three boats would come together, sometimes they would all float separately. People would forget where they were going. Where are those days now?

Below, Reba Muhury (who sang Mohey Lagi Lagan in Satyajit Ray's Benares-based Jai Baba Felunath) revives a thumri from that era. The composition is attributed by Smt. Muhury to Moujuddin Khan Saheb, the guru of the Elder Moti Bai. The simple - even rustic - lyrics describe the wedding procession of Rama and Sita in Awadh. It is sung with an artlessness that is the art, and contrasts with the sensual histrionics of the other styles of singing.

Bajawa re baar baar baje
Awadh mein
Ram Lakshman Bharat Shatrughn
Pragat char bhaiyya
Ram Lakshman Bharat Shatrughn
Behak saaj saaje.
Raja Dasarath ati sukhat bhayo
Kanchan roupya det lutaiyyan.
Puranari sab harash bhar
Abir gulal det udaiyyan.

The strings and pipes they play and play
O - in Awadh
Ram Lakshman Bharat Shatrughn
Proceed the brothers four
Ram Lakshman Bharat Shatrughn
Beguilingly decked all o'er.
King Dasarath, so happy is
Of gold and silver he the strewer.
Women-folk of town in joy
Let colors fly in the air.

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