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Folklorists

Asutosh Bhattacharya

Asutosh Bhattacharya (1909-1984) was a professor of Bengali at Calcutta University and the Head of the Department (1971) before he retired in 1977. He also worked in the Anthropological Survey of India for seven years as Research Associate to the famous anthropologist, Verrier Elwin. As a folklorist, he participated at the conferences of Lok Sanskriti Parisad (Folk Cultural Council), Nikhil Banga Sahitya Sammelan, etc and delivered speeches on folk literature in the USA, USSR and UK. He "discovered" the Chho dance of Purulia and popularised it internationally. He also established the Research Institute of Folk Culture (1960) and edited a magazine on folk culture, Lokshruti (1968).

His writings include Bangla Mangalkavyer Itihas (1939), Bangla Natya Sahityer Itihas (1st and 2nd Part; 1955 and 1961) and Bangla Samajik Nataker Vivartan (1964), Banglar Lokasahitya (6 vols, 1954-1972), Banglar Lokashruti (1960), Bangiya Lokasangit Ratnakar (4 vols, 1966-67), Banglar Lokanrtya (2 vols, 1976, 1982), Banglar Lokasangskrti (1979), Chhau Dance of Purulia (1972), The Sun and the Serpent Lore of Bengal (1977), Folklore of Bengal (1978), etc.

In recognition of his contributions, Bhattacharya received a number of awards: the Sarojini Basu Gold Medal (1950) of Calcutta University, the Shishir Memorial Gold Medal (1961), and the BCL Gold Medal (1983) of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta. In 1967 he was made a fellow of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Delhi.

Hemango Biswas

Hemango Biswas (1912-1987) was a singer, composer and musician whose immense contribution to folk culture was the collection and preservation of folk music.

Hailing from a family of zamindars in Sylhet, he became involved in the Swadeshi movement for which he was imprisoned. Later, he joined the communist movement and played a key role in the formation of trade unions in the tea gardens of Assam. There he was so inspired by the songs of the workers and peasants that he popularized the rural people’s songs through the Indian People`s Theatrical Association (IPTA) movement. The Assam chapter of IPTA was formed in 1947 with Biswas as its founder secretary.

In the 1970s, he wrote a few articles analyzing the relevance of folk music and culture of Eastern India from a Marxist standpoint. He was an exponent of Bengali folk music (Lokgeet), including Bhatiali, the songs of the fishermen of Bangladesh.

Biswas died on November 22, 1987 in Kolkata.

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (1903-1988), the doyenne of the craft renaissance movement in India was responsible for changing the cultural perspective of post-Independence India and resurrecting its disappearing art, craft and theatre forms. As a fearless freedom fighter, a champion of women`s rights, a social reformer and an author she left her mark on every sphere that she touched.

Her vision resulted in the setting up of several cultural institutions in India like the National School of Drama, Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Indian Council of Cultural Relations. She was the first chairperson of the All India Handicrafts Board, helped set up the Central Cottage Industries Emporia throughout the country and instituted the National Awards for Master Craftsmen.

Kamaladevi was the Founder Patron of the Crafts Council of India (1976)  and  the first president of the World Crafts Council, Asia Pacific Region and a member of UNESCO. She set up a series of Crafts Museums as a storehouse for India`s indigenous arts and crafts. This included the Theatre Crafts Museum in Delhi and the Museum of Theatre Crafts in Mangalore for which she had to sell her immovable property.

Tribalism in India, Handicrafts of India, Indian embroidery, India`s Craft Tradition, Indian Handicrafts and Traditions of Indian Folk Dance are some of the books authored by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan (1955), Ramon Magsaysay Award (1966) for her contribution to community work, UNESCO award for crafts promotion, Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship (1974) and the Padma Vibhushan (1987).

Khaled Choudhury

A man of incredible creativity, Khaled Choudhury was a living legend in the field of theatre and folk music in West Bengal. He had worked with  renowned  directors of both Bengali and Hindi theatre, including Shombhu Mitra, Tripti Mitra, and Shyamanand Jalan in various capacities - creating stupendous set designs and costumes and later as Music Director as well. He also worked with the legendary film maker Mrinal Sen on his film, Chorus. A wearer of many hats, he was equally renowned for his book covers and illustrations.

Khaled Choudhury was born on December 20, 1919 in Karimganj, which was then in undivided Assam, a State of British India. Named Chiraranjan by his father, he deliberately changed his name to Khaled in 1943 (though he did not change his religion). He moved to Calcutta in 1945 to join the Bharatiya Gananatya Sangha (Indian People`s Theatre Association) and joined the theatre group Bohurupee in 1953 and continued to work actively in theatre for the next half a century. 

His tryst with folk music and folklore research began in the 1960s. Together with his friends Hemango Biswas, Ranajit Sinha, Nihar Barua and others, he set up the Folk Music and Folklore Research Institute of Calcutta and scoured all of Eastern India, recording rural music  in  villages and at fairs with the minimum equipment they had. They would later transcribe the songs and write out details of the recording sessions. Choudhury was Secretary of the Institute at its inception in 1965 and this entire collection was subsequently donated to the Lok Sanskriti o Adibasi Sanskriti Kendra (Centre for Folk and Adivasi Culture), Govt. of West Bengal.

The numerous awards he received included the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1986), Sangeet Natak Akademi Ratna (2008), Nandikar Puraskar (1987), D.Litt (Honoris Causa) from Rabindra Bharati University (2000), Dinabandhu Puraskar from Pashchimbanga Natya Akademi, Govt. of West Bengal (2005); and the prestigious Padma Bhushan from the government  of India (2012) for his contribution to theatre.  

Khaled Choudhury passed away on April 30, 2014.

Gurusaday Dutt

Gurusaday Dutt (1882-1941) was the leader of the Bratachari movement, a writer and a folklorist. A brilliant student, he went to England for further studies in 1903 and returned to India in 1905 as an ICS officer. During his various postings in the districts, he collected several specimens of folk art and craft. This journey which began with collecting visual and performing traditional art heritage of undivided India in 1929 became the storehouse that we now know as the Gurusaday Museum of Folk Arts and Crafts established in Calcutta in 1963.

Gurusaday’s abiding interest in folk dance, and literature led to the formation of organisations and societies for their preservation like the Mymensingh Folk Dance and Folk Music Society (1929), Palli  Sampad Raksha Samiti (1931), Bratachari Loknritya Samiti (1932), South India Bratachari Society (1932), Sarbabharatiya Bratachari Society etc. In 1941 he set up a Bratachari village and the Bratachari Janashiksha Pratishthan University near Kolkata. He participated in an international folk dance festival in London as a member of the Calcutta University delegation and set up a Bratachari Samiti there.

The Bratachari movement for spiritual and social improvement in India was initiated by Gurusaday Dutt in 1932. Irrespective of religion, caste, sex or age it was a comprehensive programme for the physical, mental, and intellectual development based on the best folk traditions of physical exercise, art, dance, drama, music, singing and social service.

He was among the first writers on the Nakshi Kantha, publishing one of the first serious articles on this folk art in JISOA in 1929. Gurusaday also wrote about the Bratachari movement and village development. Among his books are Palli Sangskar (1925), Village Reconstruction (1925), Ganer Saji (1932), Indian Folk Dance and Folklore Movement (1933), Bratachari Synthesis (1937), Patuya Sangit (1939), A Woman of India (1941), Bratacharir Marmakatha (1940), The Folk Dance of Bengal (1954), Shrihatter Lokasangit (1966), and Folk Arts and Crafts of Bengal (1990) and Bhajar Banshi (1922) a book of rhymes for children. In 1936 he started publishing a monthly magazine named Banglar Shakti (The Force of Bengal).

Benoy Ghose

Benoy Ghose, (1917-1980) was a journalist, sociologist, writer, literary critic and researcher, who also wrote under the pseudonym `Kalpencha`. A marxist in thought, he was a political journalist till 1948. Moving away from the Communist Party of India along with other intellectuals, he acquired a master`s degree  in Ancient Indian History and Anthropology from Calcutta University. He now turned into a serious research worker in History, Sociology and Anthropology. He wrote many books based on his tours and field surveys in West Bengal.

These include the voluminous Pashchimbanger Sanskriti (Culture of West Bengal, 1957) - presenting the evolutionary cultural  history of West Bengal;  Shilpa Sanskriti O Samaj (Industry, Culture and Society, 1940, Banglar Nabajagriti (Bengal Renaissance, 1948), Vidyasagar O Bangali Samaj (Vidyasagar and Bengali Society, 1957), Bidrohi Derozio (Rebel Derozio, 1961) and many others. The city of Calcutta seemed to hold an irresistible fascination for him and he wrote several books on the different aspects of the city, eventually amalgamating them all under the title Kolkata Shaharer Itibritta (History of Kolkata Town, 1975). He was also the author of interesting satirical pieces like Kalpenchar Naksa (Portrait of the Screech-Owl), Kalpenchar Baithak etc.  

Benoy Ghose gave the first ‘Vidyasagar Lecture’ (1957) at Calcutta University. He was also a Rockefeller Research Scholar from 1958 to 1960. He was honoured with the Rabindra Award (1959) for his Pashchimbanger Sanskriti. He died in July 1980.


Jasimuddin

Jasimuddin (1903 –1976) popularly known in Bangladesh as Polli Kobi (The Rural Poet), was a Bengali poet, songwriter, prose writer and folklore collector, who was born in Faridpur in present day Bangladesh. After his master`s degree in Bengali from the University of Calcutta in 1931, Jasimuddin worked with Dinesh Chandra Sen as a collector of folk literature from 1931-1937 and is one of the compilers of Purbo-Bongo Gitika (Ballads of East Bengal). He collected over 10,000 folk songs,some of which form part of his song compilations Jari Gaan and Murshida Gaan. He wrote extensively on the interpretation and philosophy of Bengali folklore which greatly influenced his poetry too. His Nakshi Kanthar Maath (Field of the Embroidered Quilt) a dramatized Bengali verse narrative based on the tragic love story of Shaju and Rupai, portrays the traditions and tribulations of rural Bengal presenting a vivid picture of Bangladesh life.

Jasimuddin also composed numerous songs in the tradition of rural Bengal and his music books include Rangila Nayer Majhi, Padmapar (1950), Gangerpar, Jari Gan, Murshida Gan, Rakhali Gan and Baul. His collaboration with Abbasuddin, the most popular folk singer of Bengal, produced some of the gems of Bengali folk music, especially of the Bhatiali genre.

Mansuruddin, Muhammad

Mansuruddin, Muhammad (1904-1987) educationist and folklorist, was born in Pabna district in present day Bangladesh. In 1928 he obtained his master`s degree in Bengali from Calcutta University and was head of the Bengali department in Dhaka college till his retirement in 1959. In 1952, he attended an International Folk Song Conference London as a government delegate where he presented a paper on Bengali folk songs. He was elected a member of the International Folk Song Council. His abiding interest in the folklore of Bengal since his student days led to a personal collection of folk writings from the rural areas of Pabna, Faridpur and Kushtia.

Mansuruddin worked as advisor and patron of Bangladesh Folklore Council, Lalon Parishad, Lalon Academy (Kushtia), Harishpur Lalon Academy and Panju Shah Seba Sanskriti Sangha. His essays on folklore were published in Bharati, Prabasi, Bharatvarsa, Bangiya Sahitya Parisat Patrika, Bichitra and Masik Mohammadi. His enduring work is Haramoni (1930-1989), a collection of folk songs in thirteen volumes.

Tarapada Santra

Tarapada Santra was born on 14th January 1931 in Nabasan, an obscure village of Howrah District in West Bengal. He joined Scottish Church College in Calcutta for studying Intermediate Arts, but his studies were interrupted and eventually suspended when he started writing for Kishore, a newspaper for the young generation and also became deeply involved in political movements. His writing assignments took Tarapada to far-flung villages of Bengal where he took keen interest in learning about the lifestyle, culture and the past history of the rural population which he then reproduced in his articles. Even at that early age, Tarapada possessed a flair for writing and he soon launched a magazine of his own which he named Pather Alo. Side by side, he also became actively involved in the publication of two other journals, Dak and Ispat,which were inspired by the ideals of Marxism.

Tarapada came across a  three hundred year temple of Madangopal in Mellak village on the banks of the Rupnarayan river, while roaming around the neighboring villages. He was captivated by the exquisite terracotta work on the walls of the temple. That was the beginning of an important chapter of Tarapada’s life. He started travelling all over Bengal studying the architecture of ancient edifices and collecting information on the simple lifestyle, culture and religious practices of the rural population and their traditional arts and crafts handed down through many generations. The State Government announced a grant of five thousand rupees to Tarapada for research and publication of books. He promptly wrote his first book, The Folk Festivals of Howrah District, which was published many years later. Folk Rhymes and Proverbs in Bengal’s Rural Society (1981) and Portrayal of Bengal’s Social Identity in Temple Inscriptions (1983), Medinipur: People and Culture was published in 1987.

Tarapada Santra had discovered an immense treasure trove in rural Bengal. Most of his adult life was spent in studying the lifestyle of people living in different districts, their history, culture, occupation and festivals.

He had chosen a single line from the writings of Rabindranath Tagore as his motto: ‘Let your love  for your country find expression in hard work after day without wages, reward or recognition’. It was a maxim which had perhaps helped him to live, toil and succeed amidst dire poverty, shocking deceptions and shattered hopes all through his life.

Tarapada Santra died on 22nd April, 2003. His twenty-first book , Woodwork of Bengal, was released at a condolence meeting held a week after his death.

Dinesh Chandra Sen

Dinesh Chandra Sen (1866-1939) was an eminent scholar, writer and a pioneer in collecting and collating the rich treasury of folk songs, ballads and literature of Bengal. Born in the village of Bogjuri in the district of Manikgunj (present day Bangladesh), he graduated with Honours in English in 1889 and subsequently became Headmaster of the Comilla Victoria School  in 1891. It was at this time that Sen turned into an enthusiastic collector of the surviving fragments of Bengal`s past. He moved from village to village – his pioneering mission unearthing a bulk of old Bengali manuscripts, folk songs and ballads, folk myths and legends and folk language. 

Based on his empirical research, in 1896, he published his magnum opus Banga Bhasa O Sahitya (Bengali Language and Literature), the first comprehensive and scientific study by any Bengali scholar so far. This work fetched him instant recognition as a scholar of rare ability. This was followed by a large number of works on the epics, old Bengali literature and Vaishnav Literature. He also edited the famed Purba Banga Gitika, a  compilation of folk ballads collected by folklorists including Chandra Kumar De, Ashutosh Choudhury, Jasimuddin and himself and published by Calcutta University in four volumes.

Sen wrote and edited about 70 books in Bengali and English in addition to a large number of research articles published in various academic journals. His works include Ramayani Katha (Tales of Ramayana), 1904; Behula (a folk tale), 1907; Vaidik Bharat (Vedic India: based on stories from the Vedas), 1922; Pauraniki (Tales from the Puranas), 1934; and Brihat Banga (Greater Bengal: a social history) in two volumes, 1935. His major English works include History of Bengali Language and Literature based on a series of lectures delivered at the University of Calcutta (1911), Sati (1916), The Vaishnava Literature of Medieval Bengal (1917), The Folk-Literature of Bengal (1920), Bengali Prose Style, Chaitanya and His Age (1922), and Glimpses of Bengal Life (1925). He also brought out an English translation of the folk ballads in Eastern Bengal Ballads of Mymensingh in four volumes (1923-1932).  
    
On an invitation from Asutosh Mukherjee, the famed educator of Bengal, he joined the Department of Bengali Language and Literature of Calcutta University as a  Reader in 1909 and was entrusted with the responsibility of building and developing the new faculty. He was made Ramtanu Lahiri Professor in 1913. Calcutta University conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Literature in 1921 in recognition of his work and the Jagattarini Gold Medal in 1931. He received many other honours including the title of Rai Bahadur from the Indian government.