Saturday, May 6, 2017

Rasoolan Bai: Jaawe Man Najar Nahin Aaye

Rasoolan Bai (1902 – 1974) was a classical tawaif of the Benaras gharana. She specialized in the romantic Purabi Ang  - Eastern Arm - of the Thumri and Tappa musical genres.

The Tappa is a form of Indian semi-classical vocal music. Its specialties are its rolling pace and its knotty construction. The tunes are melodious; intended to mimic the emotions of a forlorn - perhaps God-obsessed - lover.

Tappas originated in folk songs of camel riders of Punjab. The style was refined and introduced to the imperial court of the Mughal Emperor Mohammad Shah 'Rangeela' in the 1720s; and thence to the court of Asaf-ud-Daulah, Nawab of Awadh. It then spread to Benaras and Bengal. In Bengal, Ramnidhi Gupta's compositions form a genre called Nidhu Babu's Tappas. Tappa gayaki took new shape in Bengal, and, over the decades, became puratani, a popular semi-classical form of Bengali vocal music.

Rasoolan Bai was born in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, in a poor family, of a musical mother - Adalat. At the age of five, her prodigy was recognized and she was sent to learn music from Ustad Shammu Khan, and later from the sarangiyas Ashiq Khan and Ustad Najju Khan. She became an expert in tappa singing and went on to dominate the Hindustani classical music genre for next five decades, basing herself in Varanasi and becoming the doyenne of Benaras gharana. In 1948, she stopped performing mujra, moved out of her kotha, married a sari dealer, and moved into a bylane.

Below, Rasoolan Bai sings a tappa in Raga Gaud Sarang. The lyrics are very simple:

Jaawe man, najar nahin aaye -
(Dhhondhata phirat nisi-din, sun Miyo.)

My mind goes (to Him), my eyes do not see (Him)
I look (for Him) night-and-day; listen, Master.

This material was morphed by Sachin-karta into his Ghum Bhulechhi Nijhhum,  and from there into Hum Bekhudi Mein Tumko Pukare Chale Gaye, where it is sung in a cousin-raga, the Chhayanat. The ragas Kedar, Gaud Sarang, and Chhayanat have very similar melodic movements.

Rasoolan Bai was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in Hindustani music Vocal in 1957 by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy of Music, Dance and Theatre. Despite an illustrious musical career, she died in penury, running a small tea shop out of a hovel next to the radio station from where she had often broadcast in her heyday.

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