By: Dipak Kurmi
Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, widely known as the “Bard of Brahmaputra” and “Sudhakantha” (the Nightingale), was a luminary in the realm of Assamese culture. His talents were diverse and spanned multiple domains, excelling as a singer, musician, poet, lyricist, actor, filmmaker, professor, and politician. His fame and dedicated following reached far beyond the borders of Assam, resonating across the entire nation and even making a significant impact on the global stage.
Bhupen Hazarika was born on September 8, 1926, in the town of Sadiya, Assam, to parents Nilakanta and Shantipriya Hazarika. In 1929, Hazarika’s family relocated to Guwahati in pursuit of better opportunities, subsequently moving to Dhubri and then Tezpur. It was in Tezpur that a pivotal moment occurred in his life when he was discovered by two prominent cultural figures of Assam, Jyotiprasad Agarwala and Bishnu Prasad Rabha, while singing a borgeet, devotional songs composed by Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva. This encounter proved to be transformative as it opened up numerous new avenues for him. In 1936, he accompanied them to Kolkata and recorded his first song at the Aurora Studio for the Selona Company. Additionally, he was given the opportunity to lend his voice to two songs for Jyotiprasad Agarwala’s film, “Indramalati.” These songs were “Kaxote Kolosi Loi” and “Biswo Bijoyi Naujawan.”
Bhupen Hazarika’s talents extended beyond the cultural realm; he was also academically accomplished. He completed his Intermediate Arts education at Cotton College, Guwahati in 1942, followed by earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Political Science from Banaras Hindu University. In 1949, he received a scholarship to pursue his Ph.D. at Columbia University in New York City. In 1952, he successfully earned his Ph.D., with his thesis titled ‘Proposals for Preparing India’s Basic Education to use Audio-Visual Techniques in Adult Education.’ Furthermore, he was honored with the Lisle Fellowship from the University of Chicago, allowing him to explore educational project development through cinema.
Before embarking on his journey to New York, Dr. Hazarika briefly worked at the All India Radio station in Guwahati and taught at Gauhati University. However, he later relocated to Kolkata to kickstart his career, ultimately establishing himself as a successful music director and singer. Notably, Hazarika composed the anthem for Gauhati University, titled “Jilikaba Luitare Paar.” He also forged strong connections with the cultural association IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) and assumed the role of Secretary for the Reception Committee of the third all-Assam Conference of IPTA held in Guwahati in 1955. Adding to his remarkable achievements, he secured a seat in the Assam Legislative Assembly as a member representing the Naoboicha constituency in 1967. Furthermore, in 1993, he was elected as the President of the Asam Sahitya Sabha.
Dr. Hazarika achieved international acclaim for his melodious compositions and singing in multiple languages. His lifelong affinity for music began early, notably through his association with cultural luminaries Jyotiprasad Agarwala and Bishnu Prasad Rabha. His time at Columbia University exposed him to the Afro-American political tradition, and his bond with the renowned American artist and civil rights activist, Paul Robeson, profoundly influenced his musical journey. Notably, his iconic song “Bistorno Parare” was inspired by Robeson’s “Ol’ Man River.” This composition garnered immense popularity and was subsequently translated into Hindi and Bengali, further extending his musical influence.
Dr. Bhupen Hazarika was a humanist, celebrated not just for his melodious compositions but also for the profound and thought-provoking lyrics of his songs. His lyrical themes encompassed communal harmony, optimism, justice, protest, revolutionary spirit, and empathy among people. His songs spanned various topics, including contemporary issues, patriotism, the splendour of nature, matters of human concern, and love, among others. His music drew inspiration from traditional folk melodies, infusing his creations with a rich blend of cultural influences.
(If people don’t think of their fellow people with a little sympathy, then who will? Tell me o friend!)
The lyrics of the song “Manuhe Manuhor Babey” represented a significant artistic intervention in a society and nation marked by tension and divisions. This song, eventually translated into numerous languages, garnered recognition as the song of the millennium by BBC Bengali Service. Several other songs by Dr. Hazarika conveyed similar emotions, including “Bistirno Paarore” and “Sitore Semeka Rati.”
Axom amar rupohi
Gunoru nai xexh
Bharotore purbo dixor
hurjyo utha desh
(“Our Assam, situated in the eastern part of India where the sun rises, is a land of immense beauty and abundant virtues.”) Hazarika’s songs have the remarkable ability to evoke deep feelings of pride and love for one’s homeland in their listeners. His songs delve into the cultural, social, and aesthetic aspects of not only Assam but also other states in North-East India, extending their impact to the entire nation.
Xopun sohoror moromi xorotor
(In an evening in Shillong, the city of dreams; during the lovely autumn, memories are golden)
Bhupen Hazarika’s songs achieved renown for their vivid portrayal of Assam and the North-eastern states, with a particular emphasis on Shillong’s captivating beauty and warmth. Nature served as a recurring motif in his compositions, providing a constant source of inspiration. Additionally, his songs often delved into the theme of love, exploring the depths of this emotion. Examples of such songs include “Xoixobore Dhemalite” and “Tumar Premor Bhogjorati.”
Dr. Bhupen Hazarika stood as a prominent cultural icon, not only in Assam but throughout the entire North-eastern region. He championed the values of brotherhood and unity among the diverse tribes of the region, recognizing the importance of preserving and promoting the languages and cultures of these states to foster camaraderie and goodwill. He actively engaged with local communities in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Meghalaya, immersing himself in their rich cultures. His songs served as a bridge, incorporating various tribes and communities, including the Missing, Karbi, Bodo tribes of Assam, as well as others from Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram. Through his music, he illuminated their cultures, ways of life, traditional attire, and the enchanting beauty of the natural world.
A versatile scholar and musical genius, Dr. Hazarika was a prolific composer in multiple languages, including Bengali and Hindi. Among his famous compositions are “Dil Hoom Hoom Kare,” “Manush Manusher Jonno,” “Oo Ganga Beheti Ho Kyu,” and “Gonga Amar Ma.” Many of his songs found resonance in neighboring Bangladesh, and it’s worth noting that friends and admirers from Nepal presented him with his distinctive black Nepali cap as a symbol of their esteem. Additionally, several of his songs were translated into different languages, extending their reach and impact.
Bhupen Hazarika’s contributions extended to the world of cinema, where he played diverse roles in various films. His journey began with his association with the film “Indramalati” in 1939. Over the years, he ventured into producing, directing, and composing music for numerous films in different languages. In the realm of Assamese cinema, he made his mark as a director, producer, and in various technical capacities for films such as “Era Bator Sur” (1956), “Shakuntala” (1960), “Pratidhwani” (1964), “Lotighoti” (1966), “Swikarikota” (1986), and “Siraj” (1988), among others. His cinematic talents extended to documentaries as well. Notably, he produced and directed the lyrical documentary “Emuthi Saular Kahini,” centered around the cooperative movement of the Government of Assam. In 1977, he crafted the documentary “Through Melody and Rhythm” for Calcutta Doordarshan Kendra, showcasing the folk songs and dances of Northeast India. Furthermore, in 1981, he produced and composed music for a documentary aimed at promoting tourism on behalf of the Government of Assam.
His artistic legacy transcends across a wide spectrum of Hindi, Bengali, and regional films. In Bengali cinema, his musical contributions graced films such as “Mahut Bandhure” (1959), “Ekhane Pinjar” (1971), “Simana Periye” (1978), “Ek Pal” (1986), and “Gajamukta” (1994), among others. In the world of Hindi cinema, his association extended to films like “Rudaali” (1994), “Darmiyaan” (1997), “Gaja Gamini” (2000), “Kyun” (2003), and several more. Beyond these, he also lent his talents to a Bodo movie, “Jiuni Simang” (1987), and a Bhojpuri movie, “Chhath Maiya Ki Mahima” (1979). Dr. Hazarika’s versatility shone as he directed, composed music for, and produced Arunachal Pradesh’s first color Hindi feature film, “Mera Dharam Meri Maa” (1976), featuring the iconic song “Arunachal Humara,” now the de facto state song of Arunachal Pradesh, translated into numerous tribal languages. Prior to this, he directed the documentary “For Whom the Sun Shines” (1974) for the government of Arunachal Pradesh, focusing on tribal dances and songs.
Dr. Bhupen Hazarika garnered numerous prestigious awards throughout his illustrious career. Some of the most notable recognitions include the President’s Medal for his contributions to films like “Shakuntala,” “Pratidhwani,” and “Lotighoti,” the National Film Award for Best Music Direction for “Chameli Memsahab” (1975), and the esteemed Dadasaheb Phalke Award (1992). He was also a recipient of several high-profile civilian honors, including the Padma Shri (1977), Padma Bhushan (2001), Padma Vibhushan (2012), and Bharat Ratna (2019), the latter two conferred posthumously. In 2011, the Government of Bangladesh posthumously honored him with the prestigious “Muktijoddha Padak.” Additionally, various organizations recognized his exceptional contributions, such as the Bengal Journalist’s Association Indira Gandhi Smriti Puraskar (1987), the Best Music award for his film “Rudaali” at the Asia Pacific International Film Festival, Japan (1993), and an Honorary Doctorate from Tezpur University (2001).
In honour of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, India Post issued two commemorative stamps in 2013 and 2016. Additionally, the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge, which stands as the longest road bridge in India built over water and links the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, has been officially named the “Dr. Bhupen Hazarika Setu.”
Dr. Bhupen Hazarika was a remarkable institution unto himself, making substantial contributions to the advancement of Assam and the entire Northeast in various capacities. This cultural icon’s passing on November 5, 2011, in Mumbai, created an immense void in Assam’s music and cultural landscape. His songs resonated with millions worldwide, serving as a unifying thread that transcended communities and borders, forging invisible connections through the universal language of music. His enduring legacy continues to bring joy, instill hope, and inspire people everywhere. (The writer can be reached at email@example.com)