Hason Raja---in his mystical element
Akramul Islam stepped into the spotlight at the age of 22 with the famous song “Shona bondhey amarey deewana korilo, Na jani ki montro pori jadu korilo,” written by the mystic poet Hason Raja. It was Islam who had composed the tune for the song and it has stuck to the listener's heart ever since.
Islam had been involved in music even prior to his prominence. He was a regular performer of adhunik songs on radio from the late '60s, even though it was no secret that his heart was set on taking the stage through the rich melodious folk music that seemed to have cast a spell on him ever since he first came across to the deeply philosophical lyrics of Hason Raja.
Hason Raja, was born in 1854 into a Zamindar family near Sunamganj, Sylhet. History suggests that much of his youth was spent in materialistic pursuits. After the death of his father Dewan Ali Raja, Hason became responsible for overseeing his family's vast property at an early age. Despite his age, he proved to be a very successful Zamindar, not only in administering the estate but also setting up a number of local schools, religious organisations, and providing for the needy in his community. At this stage, Hason Raja started to shun his worldly pleasures and went into a soul-searching phase. He started to question and search for answers to deeply rooted spiritual ideology. It was this mental awakening that drove him to compose philosophical works of literature that opened a whole new dimension in contemporary thinking.
Akramul Islam stumbled upon Hason Raja's work almost by fate. It was during the Liberation War in 1971, when Islam met Taimur Raja, the grandson of Hason Raja. The timing coincided with Islam's search for a new dimension in music that he could perform on the radio. Islam's encounter with Taimur Raja seemed almost heaven sent. The mutual respect for folk songs brought the two together, and at one point Taimur Raja lent Islam a book, which contained 191 rare songs written by his grandfather. It was no surprise that Islam found the kind of expressionism he was long searching for and in the time that followed, Islam found his new dimension in music through the works of Hason Raja.
Armed with Hason Raja's literature, Islam wholeheartedly started working to popularise this form of music. He used his new position as programme producer at the Sylhet radio station in 1974 as a launch pad for his work. The songs, including Lokey boley boley rey ghor bari balanai amar; Shona bondhey amare deewana korilo; Ankhi mudia dekho roop; Nesha lagilo rer banka dui noyone nesha lagilo rey, quickly became very popular across the country even though they were composed in traditional Sylheti dialect. These and many more of the works based on mysticism and spiritual romanticism came to form the bedrock of Hason Raja's folk songs and were subsequently published in his book Hason Udas.
Later, when Islam joined the Transcription Service of Radio Bangladesh Dhaka, the erstwhile Director, Shahidul Islam, also a great enthusiast of folk melodies, took interest in collecting the original songs that were fading fast. Akramul Islam in the latter part of his career also travelled to several countries in Europe and UAE singing his favourite Hason Raja songs. But all the effort to recover and preserve the songs went in vain since the spools simply decayed over the years due to negligence by the authority at the radio stations.
“It's a pity that Hason Raja's work was allowed to deteriorate from the heights in the early '70s when it seemed the songs were on everyone's lips. However we must credit the performers who helped spread Hason Raja's work such as noted singers Ujir Mian, Bidit Lal Das and Aarati Dhar.
“Bangladesh Loko Sangeet Parishad, established a decade ago, has been relentlessly carrying out programmes to draw the enthusiasts towards the folk genre. Under the able leadership of Indramohon Rajbonshi, (the founding president), several programmes such as songs of 100 poets, participated by 80 folk artistes was held recently,” he adds.
Despite the success of several programmes, Islam is frustrated at the lack of sponsorship needed to fully support the work of Hason Raja. “As our media sector continues to flourish both nationally and internationally, now is the opportune time to dedicate time and resources into reviving the work of the great poet,” according to Islam.
“It's a matter of concern for me that currently in the name of popularising the traditional songs, the use of contemporary beat and orchestration has modified the melody and taken away the original essence of Hason Raja's work. This not only detracts the audience but also weakens the original feel of the songs. Similarly, of the several books published so far on the great poet, not all appear authentic,” says Islam.
Hason Raja died in 1922, years before his contribution to the Bengali poetry was mentioned in lectures at Oxford University by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
In this age of global media, if we want Hason Raja to be once more the topic of discussions, it is up to the current generation of artistes and patrons to respect the work of the legendary poet and properly nurture it for posterity.
The article is a reprint.