Documenting Tunes: Hegemony of Calcutta Music Schools in Tagore Songs: Towards an archiving for preserving ‘multiple traditions in Rabindrasangeet’

Abstract: Post-Tagore practice-performance of Rabindrasangeet in the city of Calcutta is the main concern of the paper.The paper has tried to focus on the different varieties of Rabindrasangeet which are co-existent, and tried to find out the nature and effect of power relation involved in it.The paper has tried to give a brief account of the emergence of Rabindrasangeet as a brand in 19th century Bengal, establishment of its practice-performance centric institutions etc. Then, with the help of the avialable Akarmatrik notations (published by Viswa Bharatio Music Board and recorded notations from other sources), the power relations involved among the different schoolings have been focused. The claim of ‘originality’ and Santiniketani-gharana versus the popular trend of Rabindrasangeet in the culture industry were seen as the main reasons of the power-game in the domain of Rabindrasangeet.

Bio: Dripta Piplai is a Research student of Linguistics, pursuing an M.Phil. from the University of Delhi, with specialisation in ‘Language in Education’ – especially the language curriculum for children. Independent researcher and performer of Rabindrasangeet, trained from Gitabitan Shikhshayatan, Calcutta. Research interests in Rabindrasangeet includes history of the institutions of Rabindrasangeet, history of notations, stylizations of Rabindrasangeet.

Contact: dripta @


Dripta Piplai, I-Fellow, Sarai I am Dripta, an M.Phil student of Linguistics from University of Delhi. I have research interests in music and musicology-specially in areas like sociology of music, language of music etc. My upcoming work for Sarai is related to the Calcutta Music schools of Tagore songs and their hegemonic traditions in urban culturescape. My work is divided into two parts. At one part, I am trying to make an archive of some Tagore songs which have more than one style, rhythm or tune -and which have never been systematically documented. Visva Bharati, Santiniketan had tried to make an archive of such songs in the year 2003. Some experts and research scholars were appointed for the work, too. But finally, they could not do it. The Akashbani, Kolkata had tried for an archive, also but they concentrated basically on the printed notation forms and neglected the undocumented forms, which can be found in the Calcutta music-schools. There is a striking fact that, though there are variations of the songs, still some particular varieties get preference and recognition (e.g. get approval from the music board, record companies, Critiques, cultural programme committees etc). My work will try to find out the reasons for the dominance of some particular variations of Rabindra Sangit, which is essentially a part of power-game in Calcutta-based Rabindra Sangit circle. My study will include collection of different varieties of notations, course materials of the schools, and interviews with the teachers etc. The work will be presented as an academic paper, and CDs of the documented versions of Rabindra Sangit will also be presented to the Sarai archive.


A major part of my work is the preparation of the archive for the preservation of the multiple traditions in Rabindrasangit in Calcutta Music Schools.The investigation of the different variations of Tagore songs revealed some interesting findings. Variations of Rabindrasangit can be traced from different sources. For example- before Viswa Bharati, Santiniketan had published the notations of Rabindrasangit in Swarabitan, the notations were published in some magazines(e.g., Shatagan, Swaralipi-Gitimala, Bramhasangit Swaralipi etc.).But the published notations in Swarabitan are somehow different in many cases-and the fact is a debated fact, too. Sromona Roychowdhury, in her upcoming research work from Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata has mentioned about some problems regarding the notation-changes. It has also been claimed in many cases that notations were changed deliberately by some persons and authorities in many cases. Different varieties of Rabindrasangit can also be found in records by some eminent artists which are very much different from the documented notations. And though the music schools follow the documented notations only, some institutes follow the recorded versions, which is, no doubt, an interesting fact. As Rajashree Bhattacharya, an eminent Rabindrasangit artist as well as teacher has pointed out, some institutes prefer to follow the recorded versions of some songs by Kanika Bandyapadhyay, instead of the notation-version. There are debates regarding some Muktachanda Rabindrasangit, too. And the centre of the debate is the ‘authentic tune of Santiniketan’. It is interesting that a number of people are trying to establish their Gayan-style as the ‘authentic Santiniketan style’. All these debates centering the issue of ‘authentic variation’ of Rabindrasangit reveals the chaos in the Rabindrasangit Schools of Calcutta-circle. And the chaos, on the other hand, is not allowing further documentation of the non-documented songs as well as the ‘non-authentic’ varieties of Rabindrasangit.


Third Posting, Dripta Piplai, I-fellow: Record Versus Swarabitan : Who wins? When the investigations are being made regarding the songs with more than one gayan-style, it is found that the songs which are sung in more than one gayan-style-are not only Muktachhanda (without any rhythm) Rabindrasangeets, but also some songs sung in tala. E.g. the songs ‘majha majhe tobo dekha pai’, ‘tomarei koriyachi jibonero dhrubotara’ (both documented in Bramhasangeet-2 and Swarabitan-23) etc. But there are some interesting facts regarding the recorded version versus the documented notation version in terms of the teaching-learning practice of Rabindrasangeet in Calcutta. For example, the song ‘odhora madhuri’ (notation is documented in Swarabitan-62) has different styles. The style which can be found in the record of Subinoy Roy is a different style from the documented notation. And the schools will definitely follow the Swarabitan version. So, the question remains- what will happen to the version of Subinoy Roy? The song ‘tobu mone rekho’ (swaralipi documented in Satagan, Gitimala and Shephali) can also be found in different versions in records of some prominent artists. Some major institutions of Rabindrasangeet, in some cases, tend to follow the recorded version instead of the Swarabitan-version. For example- the muktachhanda songs ‘baje koruno sure’ and ‘ami rupe tomay bholabo na’ are taught in institutions following the recorded version- not the swaralipi. So- the question here is why in these cases recorded versions have become norms instead of the Swarabitan? And why these particular songs have notation forms which are documented in Swarabitan but are not taught in the Calcutta music schools? On the contrary, some recorded versions, which are different from the swaralipi, were practically thrown out by the concerned authorities!(It happened with the legendary Tagore song artist Debabrata Biswas actually). The Viswa Bharati Music Board was established in 1944 for the concerns related to, e.g. teaching-learning of Rabindrasangeet etc. Practically, this is the authority who decides the ‘norms’ of the gayan of Rabindrasangeet. Questions can be aroused regarding the role of Music Board in choosing the recorded vs. Swarabitan version. One senior member of Viswa Bharati Music Board remarks, – Muktachhanda Rabindrasangeet gayan are not very much particularly normative, some sort of individual styles may be allowed while performing these. Regarding the same issue, another authority member writes- “It is normal that in Muktachhanda Rabindrasangeet different artists will perform in different styles. But some people take advantage of their institutional gurus which are never questioned. Gharana in Rabindrasangeet!” – The senior authority member, here, has claimed strongly that, ‘gharana’ is an impossible word in the domain of Rabindrasangeet. Can’t we say that the denial of the existence of ‘gharana’ or the multiplicity of tradition itself is a threat towards the practice of Rabindrasangeet? The power game continues. I’ll be starting the recordings of songs by different artists, different schools and collect old records of some songs from next month onwards.


Several little magazines, newspapers, journals have published articles on the debates regarding the changed tunes of Rabindrasangeet, Viswa Bharati’s role in the publication of notations, interviews with the veteran Rabindrasangeet teachers etc. In this posting, I shall try to review some of these articles -which can give some idea about the practice of Tagore songs and different aspects of it. In ‘Viswabharati Sangeet Parsad O Gayoker Shadhinota’ (Viswa Bharati Music Board and the performer’s freedom) published in ‘Kolkata’ (1974, Vol. 12), Anuttam Biswas has mentioned Music Board’s cancellation of two songs, which were sung by Debabrata Biswas-the legendary Rabindrasangeet artist. On 25th July, 1969, two songs sung by him ‘Puspa Diye Maro Jare’ and ‘Tomar Shesher Ganer’ were cancelled by the board for the reason of using ‘excessive Music accompaniment’ and as because the second song was ‘not sung according to notation’. As the most popular artist of Tagore songs were not allowed to record certain songs, investigation about the rules and regulation of the Music board were began at that time, which have been nicely discussed by Biswas in the article. The history of the Music Board has also been mentioned here, which is rarely available. Music Board was established in the year 1942. Initiatives were taken for it by Tagore himself and some other famous teachers like Indira Devi Chaudhurani, Santidev Ghosh, Shailajaranjan Majumdar, Anadi Dastidar etc.

The main aim for establishing the board was to prevent the distortion, and the mastermind behind the establishment of the board was Indira Devi. A local advocate named Nripendrachandra Mitra was a member and a trustee later. Tagore songs were, at first, regarded as personal property and thus, after Rabindranath’s death, Rathindranath owned the copyright. After Tagore’s death, legal fights were started among Pratima Tagore and Mira Chattopadhyay. Viswa Bharati couldn’t declare the songs as their own property as these were private property. Pratima Tagore won the legal fight finally. And after that, the Music Board started functioning. As Biswas has pointed out in the article, the history of Music Board is almost unknown-only some scattered data are available.

Almost nothing can be known about the history of Music Board from 1942 to 1970. For example, who were in charge of the board after Tagore’s death? Why Santidev Ghosh had resigned in the year 1952? These answers were never found. Biswas has said about his own experience in the Music Board, where the Board members had clearly informed him that they don’t want that this secret information will be published. Biswas has also mentioned about the newly designed board of 1970 where honorary teachers of Rabindrasangeet like Sailajaranjan Majumdar and Anadi Dastidar were not included in the board, which is, no doubt a big question. Another important thing Biswas has pointed out is that, Music Board has never given any objection to the artists of Santiniketan even if the have not sung following the notation. (The rule of Music Board was, any song which is not sung according to the notation, cannot be allowed to record). The song ‘Aha Tomar Songe Praner Khela’ by Nilima Sen was approved by the board even if the song does not have any printed notation. But on the other hand, Ritu Guha’s song ‘Din Furalo He Songsari’, in which she followed the tune of Sahana Devi was rejected by the board.

From 1973, Music Board had announced a rule that, the songs which do not have printed notation cannot be recorded. Some more important things were mentioned in the article. For example, why notations of different varieties are not being collected and published in the notation-collections of Viswa Bharati? And why there is a silent fight between Santiniketani and non-Santiniketani artists? The article has pointed out many important issues, like the lack of proper documentation of the history of Music Board, prescription of notations, or Rabindrasangeet as a property which can help to understand the practice of the songs. The article ‘Rabindrasangeeter sur bodle jay kibhabe’ (how the tunes of Rabindrasangeet change) by Kiranshashi Dey which was published in the little magazine ‘Doroja’, Year-4, Vol. 1,1976, is also a very important article. The history of notation documentation by Viswa Bharati has been pointed out in the article. While Tagore was alive, the notations were available in different contemporary journals, e.g. swaralipis done by Jyotirindranath Tagore in “Swaralipi Gitimala’, by Kangali charan sen in ‘Bramhasangeet’, by Sarala Devi in Satagan etc. But the publication of some notations in ‘Swarabitan’ had started before Tagore’s death. But swaralipis were not published for some years after Tagore’s death. A new “Swaralipi Samiti’ was established in 1947.This samiti had changed many parts of the notations, only if they thought that it should be changed. Dey has mentioned that many teachers had argued that the changes are being done without any reason. For example- Shailajaranjan Majumdar hed mentioned the same. This unnecessary change of notation and the fights as a consequence has been discussed by Dey in the article, which is no doubt an important source of research. The article “Swattabihin Rabindranather gan’ ( Tagore’s song without copyright) by Subhash Chowdhury in ‘Surer Bhuban’, Year-1, Vol.-1, 1991 has mentioned that Viswa Bharati Music Board has systematically tried to formulate the rules and tried to give importance to the listener’s views. The notation-dependence of the board has been mentioned by him, too. And it has also been pointed out that, Rabindrasangeet is now a ‘commodity’, which is related to many people’s profession and there are chances of distortion after the copyright is not in use. In the article ‘Santiniketan Ebong Kolkatar Rabindrasangeet ki Alada Ghorana?’ (Are Santiniketan and Kolkata Tagore song schoolings different schoolings?) published in ‘Rabindranath Shudhu Rabindranath’, year-9, 1988, Calcutta based popular artist Dwijen Mukhopadhyay has said that Calcutta-based artists have accepted the dominance of Santineketan artists in a positive way. And he has said that, Dakhhinee, Gitabitan, Rabitirtha, Rabindrabharati, Viswa Bharati -all are same. The articles have discussed a number of important issues. The dominance of Santiniketan over Calcutta-based artists, Copyright and the role of the Music Board, the history of notation documentation and the different varieties-all the issues are important for the proposed research.