'Pujor gaan', that is, songs published on the occasion of Durga Puja, is a much-awaited aspect of the autumnal festival. Hundreds of memorable songs have been sung over the decades, which we hum all the time. 2014 marks the 100th year that songs have been released officially as ‘Pujor gaan’ or Puja songs.
It was in 1914 that Gramophone Company Ltd. released records (those were the days of the vinyl record) that were advertised as ‘Sharodiya Puja Upolokkhe,’ that is, ‘on the occasion of Sharodiya Puja,’ as Durga Puja is also known, being held in the Bengali season of Sharat. The advertisement or ‘Sharadabali’ had the picture of a sari-clad woman in the pose of offering pushpanjali, with kash flowers on the background and a lake in the foreground, at the foot of a mountain range, between whose peaks a rising sun can be seen. Three of the records were ‘10-inch violet double sided 78 RPM disc’ priced at 3 Rupaiyah 12 annas, not a small amount in those days, featuring Manada Sundari Dasi, Narayan Chandra Mukherjee and K Mullick. The advertisement also announced the release of 13 'Krishnabarna double-sided records' at 3 Rupaiyah each; the artistes included Bedana Dasi, Miss Das, Krishna Dhamini, Malati Mala Dasi, Sarala Bai, Chandi Charan Bandopadhyay, Abhayapada Chattopadhyay and a few others. Even before 1914, songs were released around the time of Durga Puja, that is, September-October, but they were not marketed as Puja songs.
The singer Miss Das (Amala Das), incidentally, was the first Bengali female singer hailing from a 'respectable' family. She was the sister of 'Deshabandhu' Chittaranjan Das; all other female singers of those times were baijis.
Initially the songs produced for Puja albums had a primarily religious character. Gradually, as Puja songs became popular, all types of songs began to be recorded. Hence, a lot of newer artistes with different styles of singing began to get a chance to record their songs.
The 1920s. 30s and 40s saw the advent of artistes like MN Ghosh, Angurbala Devi, Indubala Devi, Krishna Chandra Dey (better known as KC Dey, the famous uncle and mentor of another stalwart Manna Dey), Pankaj Kumar Mallick, Kamala Jharia, etc. Songs composed by Rabindranath Tagore also began to be published as Puja numbers, Harendranath Dutta’s ‘Desh Desh Nandito Kori’ in 1922 being one of the first such.
Soon, Kazi Nazrul soon got into the fray too. Probably the first recorded Nazrulgeeti was a Puja number – Harendranath Dutta’s ‘Jater Naam Bajjati’ in 1925. Some of the notable Nazrulgeeti singers of that pre-independence era who recorded Puja numbers include Angurbala Devi, Indubala Devi, Dhirendra Nath Das, Hari Moti, Mrinal Kanti Das, Juthika Roy and Jnanendranath Goswami. Songs written and composed by Dwijendralal Roy (called ‘Dwijendrageeti’) and Atulprasad Sen (called ‘Atulprasader gaan’) too became popular.
L to R: Manada Sundari Dasi, Indubala Devi, KC Dey, Kamala Jharia, Pankaj Mullick
The type of Puja numbers that we associate more with the golden age of Bengali music (1950s, 60s and 70s) is mostly what is called ‘Adhunik’ in Bengali, or modern or basic numbers. Its era began in the 30s, though. In 1934, Juthika Roy recorded two numbers – ‘Ami Bhorer Juthika’ and ‘Sanjher Taraka Ami’ – composed by Kamal Dasgupta. These numbers created a storm of positive appeal among the Bengali music-loving public because, music-wise, singing-wise as well as lyric-wise, they were so different from the popular songs of the day sung by the likes of Angurbala Devi and Indubala Devi, which were more religious in nature – Bhaktigeeti, Agamani and other such songs. As a result, a genre was born.
The golden age of Bengali music, we all know, produced great singers, composers and lyricists. Many singers from the Mumbai film industry also tried their hands, rather voices, at Bengali music, and many became quite successful too. Even some Bengali actors with good voices achieved some amount of success with Puja numbers, for example, Biswajit.
After almost a century, Puja numbers are still going strong. So many artistes still record albums to be released before Durga Puja every year. They all know that Bengalis wait for this time of the year every year for their annual quota of songs. Songs released during this time are always guaranteed a ready audience and hence artistes keep their best for ‘Sharodiya Puja Upolokkhe.’
Written by Anushtup Haldar for Team M3.tv
Lead image: Courtesy easyvivek
Manada Sundari Dasi (Source: Archive of Indian Music)
Indubala Devi (Source: National University of Singapore)
KC Dey (Source: The Telegraph)
Kamala Jharia (Source: The Friday Times)
Pankaj Mullick (Source: Veethi)