Literature and Azadi: Northeast and Its Freedom Songs (August 2022)

⪻ Articles ⪼

The struggle for freedom movement for the Northeastern regions of India began when British had started occupying the present-day Northeast since the Treaty of Yandabo, signed with the Burmese invaders in 1826.

Northeast and Its Freedom Songs

  • The Burmese had invaded Assam and Manipur thrice in 1817,1819 and 1821, and occupied both which were then independent countries.
  • The British, who had entered Assam with a promise of going back after expelling the Burmese, however stayed on after discovering tea and petroleum.
  • Due to low literacy rate, for most people across the hills and plains of the region, the spoken word-oral literature was the only mode of transmitting social messages.
  • 1920՚s to 1940՚s was the period when many songs and poems were composed in Assam as part of the freedom movement.
  • With Raichaudhury pioneering this movement using songs and poems to add Karmavir momentum to the movement, other prominent leaders who contributed to this genre included Nabin Chandra Bordoloi, Umesh Chandra Dev Choudhary, Parvati Prasad Baruva, Nalini Bala Devi, Prasannalal Choudhury, Padmadhar Chaliha, Agni-kavi Kamalakanta Bhattacharyya, Ganesh Gogoi, Sankar Barua, Anandiram Das, Bishnu Prasad Rabha and Jyoti Prasad Agarwala.
  • One of the several of Nabin Chandra Bordoloi՚s songs which was highly popular was ‘Aahbaan’ (Invocation) , which opened with the lines- Deka-gabharur dal/Veer veeranganar dal/Natun tejere rangoli rupah/kar-hi dharani tal (Groups of young men and women, groups of courageous young people/Come, turn red this land of ours with your fresh blood.)

The Patharughat Massacre (28 January 1894)

  • In Darrang district, in which anywhere between 36 and 140 peasants and other persons were believed to have been killed in police firing, leading to the composition of several folk songs.
  • The most significant among them is a 132-line ballad called ‘Doli Puran’ , which was composed in the style of the puranas, and attributed to Narottam Das, a local villager who was a witness to the massacre.
  • A sizeable number of songs and poems, including oral lyrics and folk songs were lost in time due to non-documentation of the same when people who had composed and sung them were alive.
  • A few, some in bits and pieces, however have been collected and preserved by a couple of scholars.

Songs and Poems Preserved

Khamti, Nagati, Garo, Khasiati,

Lagate Dafala Miri,

Ranga-chila habite bar-mel patisse,

Firingik dharongoi buli.

Bar-noir paniye patharkhan burale,

Kharali ahudhaan baam,

Firingi khedonte maro jadi marime,

Kalaloi khiyati paam.

The Khamti, Naga, Garo, Khasi, Daffla and Miri various tribal communities of the region have organized a big meeting inside the Rangachila forest to trap the foreigners. Floods of the big river have submerged the paddy fields.

Donot worry, we will sow ahu-paddy (upland rice paddy) in the winter. In case we die ousting the foreigners, we will remain immortal forever.

Twentieth Century

  • Saw an upsurge in literary activities related to the freedom movement in Assam.
  • The earliest recorded song is from 1916, when Ambikagiri Raichoudhary (Assam Kesari) composed a song, sung as the opening chorus, at the annual conference of Assam Association in Guwahati.
  • Assam Association was the first political platform of the province which became the provincial Congress in 1921.

Ei-he tomar bani-Bharat,

Ei-he tomar daan,

Tomar hokey jiwan-dharan,

Tomar hokey pran.

(This is your message, Bharat, this is your gift/We live for you, for you we give our lives) .

E-Je Agni-Beenar Taan

  • In 1917, Raichoudhary wrote and sang, E-je agni beenar taan (Tune of the veena of fire) , at the Assam Association conference at Barpeta, in which he said, “This is not a song of laughter, mirth and relaxation/This is a tune of the veena of fire which has made life and death one.”
  • The impact of Raichoudhary՚s songs was so strong across Assam that the government confiscated his book ‘Shatadha’ in 1924 because of its strong revolutionary content.

Jyoti Prasad Agarwala (1903 - 1951)

  • His songs and poems set a million hearts on fire across Assam and his lyrics continue to inspire the people even after 75 years of India attaining Independence.
  • He was a poet, lyricist, singer, musician, playwright, and pioneer Assamese filmmaker, said to be the father of modern Assamese culture.
  • He was a fire-band leader of the freedom movement who also held charge of the Congress volunteer force during the crucial Quit India Movement.
  • He had composed around 400 poems and lyrics, of which at least 40 were directly related to the freedom movement.
  • One of his most famous lyrics goes like this:

Biswa-bijayi nava-jawan,

Biswa-bijayi nava-jawan,

Shaktishali Bharatar

Olai anha, olai anha,

Santan tumi biplabar.

Samukh samar sanmukhate

Mukti-junjaru hoshiar,

Mrityu bijay kariba lagiba

Swadhinatar khuli duwar …

(World-conquering young soldiers of powerful Bharat/Come out, you sons of the revolution, /Beware, the battle is just in front/You′ll have to conquer death/By opening the door to freedom …)

1921 and 1926

  • When Mahatma Gandhi made his first visit to Assam, Raichaudhury and Karmavir Nabin Chandra Bordoloi spent a session with him to explain in detail how several songs composed by the two were spreading the message of freedom and non-violence in the province for several years.
  • In 1926, the 41st session of the Indian National Congress opened with a chorus, Aji bando ki chandare/samagata virata/naranarayana roopa, how do we welcome you, this supreme incarnation of humanity? We′re a humiliated and dependent lot with a shrinking mind and heart/We have no flowers, sandalwood paste, and incense sticks … / With our voice, strangulated by shackles of slavery/We cannot produce a melody … composed by Raichoudhury.

Bishnu Prasad Rabha (1909 - 1969)

  • Another great cultural icon who is fondly referred to as Kalaguru, whose poems and lyrics too had an electrifying effect on the masses of Assam during the freedom struggle.
  • One such lyric of Rabha goes this way:

Aai mor Bharati Janani,

Lakhimi dukhuni

Bharatbashir hridayar rani

Mor paranar

Mor jivanar

Senehi gosani

Paranar aai

Jivanar aai

Kiyan bandini?

Bharat, my mother, my motherland,

Resourceful, yet poor

Queen of the people՚s hearts

Goddess of my life, my heart.

Mother of my life,

Why is she imprisoned?

Jiba Kanta Gogoi՚s ‘Swadhinta Sangramar Geet’ and Nirmal Prabha Bardoloi՚s ‘Swadhinata Sangramar Asimya Geet aur Kabita’ have together documented a little over 200 songs and poems which were composed and sing/recited in Assam during the freedom movement.

Assamese biya-naam (wedding songs) , always composed extempore, too had reflected the freedom movement, many mentioning Gandhi, Tilak, Nehru, Sarojini Naidu and provincial leaders like Nabin Chandra Bordoloi and Gopinath Bordoloi.

Bhupen Hazarika

  • Had written a special song on India attaining independence.
  • Sung by one of his younger brothers immediately after the hoisting of the national flag at Tezpur on 15 August 1947, it was short 10-line song which goes like this:

Bharat akashat hanhe

Swadhinatar ushar pratik

Chik mik swadhinata

Bharatar buku natun uchah,

Natun pratigya loi

Purna swadhinata amaro lakshya,

Aagbarhi jaon, shata shaheedar kamya,

Chik mik swadhinata

Jik mik swadhinata.

(In India՚s sky, smiles/the symbol of the morning of freedom/glittering freedom, sparkling freedom/A new enthusiasm in the heart of India/To attain total freedom with a fresh resolve in our goal/the martyrs tell us, forge ahead/glittering freedom, sparkling freedom.)

Examrace Team at