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Jyoti Prasad Agarwala

Jyoti Prasad Agarwala
Jyoti Prasad Agarwala

Rupkonwar Jyotiprasad (1903-1951) belonged to the fourth generation of the affluent and celebrated Agarwala family of Tezpur, which experienced the varied phases of British colonialism, along with the sophistication of western culture. A poet-philosopher, Jyotiprasad was a bustling spirit of eternal dynamism. Anarchitect of transformation and a soulmate of Assamese nationalism, his indomitable spirit constantly strove to give shape to newness, imbued with traditional fragrance.

Jyotiprasad noticed that a sort of stagnation was beginning to cramp the music of his homeland at that time. He visualised that with the access to western music and its structural elements, a base could be prepared for infusing in freshness to the existant music, retarded by its inflexibility. Rabindranath Tagore, too, was of the view that the weakness of Indian music was its inability to incorporate suitable western elements into it. Obvious questions that cropped up were – if in the past, Hindustani music could well retain its intrinsic value even after accommodating elements of Persian, Arabian and other music in a form of synthesis into it, then why couldn’t a similar process be initiated with the amalgamation of western elements for the development of music in India? Again, when in the case of art and literature there could be so much infusion of western components, then why couldn’t it be so in the field of music?

Jyotiprasad believed that Assamese music could be successfully enriched and given a new dimension by the confluence of Assamese folk, Indian classical and western musical forms. His association with cinematography brought about in him the realisation that as a form of art, the multi-dimensional character of a film is very much related to the polyphony of western music. While melody may be thought of as tones moving horizontally, harmony is a sort of virtual stacking of notes. In this aspect, music with simply a melodic characteristic has its limitations and does not fulfil the requirements all by itself.

The songs of Jyotiprasad have been studied and sung in Assam as Jyoti Sangeet. Musicologist Birendra Kumar Phukan appreciated the musical essence of these songs, while poet-lyricist Keshav Mahanta found a distinctiveness, very much pronounced, in the songs of Jyotiprasad. Artiste Dilip Sharma stated: “The songs of Jyotiprasad have certain distinctive elements as in Rabindra Sangeet …they possess a tremendous force of stirring up the Assamese spirit…” The songs from his plays Sonit Kunwari, Karengar Ligiri, Rupalim, Lobhita and Nimati Kanya, numbering 51, form the core of Jyoti Sangeet.

With an evolutionary creative technique, coupled by an intense urge for discovery through the aroma of the native soil, Jyotiprasad gave an uplift to the then prevalent trend of Assamese music. His lyrics and tunes were soft, tender and deeply intimate. The lyrics depicting Nature, patriotism and the concept of beauty were enlivened by tunes that are primarily a fusion of Assamese folk e.g. Ainaam, Biyanaam, Borgeet, Bihu geet, Kirtan tunes, etc, Indian classical and western music, thereby adding a new dimension to Assamese music. Many of his songs were composed to arouse the masses and impel them to join the country’s freedom movement.

The immortal number, (kone) Goshe goshe pati dile… from Sonit Kunwari, is considered a trendsetter in modern Assamese songs. The western essence prevails in the repetition of the line in the sthayi – Phulare sarai (pa-dha-ni-re-sa), as well as in the antara. Similarly, the western influence in the composition of Jyoti Sangeet is readily explicit in a number of songs. Seuji seuji seuji o… from Nimati Koina bears a unique structure with its sthayi and second antara in the trimetric form, but the first antara in the tetrametric form. The song begins in the dadra rhythm, with the tune bearing an Italian flavour, along with traces of the Desh Raga and Assamese folk. But, abruptly, the tune of the song shifts to the kaharva rhythm for the first antara. This is a striking departure from the traditional patterns of Indian music. Moreover, the tune is also very much Italian in essence.

The songs, Biswa bijoyee nava jowan… as well as Saju ho saju ho nava jowan… from Lobhita, break all forms of Indian rhythm styles by their martial characteristic features. The introduction of the vertical rhythm to the songs is a new addition to Assamese music. Bowa bowa dakhin malaya… from Sonit Kunwari is based on the waltz rhythm with a choir-like structure. The features of this song also completely depart from the Indian style both in composition and presentation. Jananir santan… has traces of Raga Bhopali and resembles the song Bowa bowa dakhin malaya… by its waltzy rhythm and choir-like structure. Sapun paror moi… from Sonit Kunwari has an uncommon tetrametric structure.

Despite the western influence and the conspicuous application of western structural forms and strains in his songs, the vast majority of the songs of Jyotiprasad, however, are found to remain unaffected in their retention of purity of the Indian essence. The intrinsic Assamese flavour is the resultant output of his remarkable creative genius. This amply illustrates the affinity and attachment of Jyotiprasad with Assamese folk music. Harmony was applied for the first time in the background scoring of his film Joymoti.

With the songs of Sonit Kunwari, a new phase was ushered into the musical firmament of Assam. It is worthy of note that from this stage onwards, even the educated and elite section of Assamese society began to rediscover the unheeded glory of the treasure trove of Assamese folk culture. The popular Jyoti Sangeet, (Ai) Luitar parore ami deka lora… is based on the Borgeet, Suno suno re suno boiree pramana…

Jyotiprasad underwent a creative evolution of musical forms and the ultimate arrival with compositions as Jano jano jano biphale najai…, Mor raag korobire pata lobi puja…, Tore more alokore jatra…, etc, exemplify the objectives he sought to achieve through the western influence in him. The inner urge for conscious creativity in music, coupled by a strong intellectual awareness, find expression in his approach which has established Jyoti Sangeet as an integral part of the cultural identity of Assam.

Krishna Dulal Barua
Courtesy- The Assam Tritune Feb2009, Panorama.

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