Reflection of the Rāmāyana in the Marriage Songs of Assam, Bengal and Orissa

The epic tradition of India upholds an ideal tradition of Indian culture, assimilating the folk culture in it. India is a country of different communities, languages and cultural groups. Inspite of all the diversities it has a basic cultural unity. This unity is cemented firmly by the great epics like the Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata. The Rāmāya¸a remains a perennial source of social functions on the cultural life of India. Rightly does Macdonell observe, “Probably no work of world literature, secular in its origin, has ever produced so exerted an influence on the life and thought of a people as the Ramayan.’ [Macdonell: ERE, X.p. 574, Quoted from the Cultural Heritage of India, VOL. II, P.14].

Before Valmiki’s verse in written tradition Rama story was floating ballads which were lying scattered in the lips of bards, minstrels and singers in the folk society from times immemorial. It exerted impact on the life of individual as well as society. As a result we find so many oral genres such as folk songs, tales, myths, legends, riddles, proverbs, mantras are grow up on Rāma-Kathā (Rāmāya¸a lore). In the course of time, various method of oral transmission of the Rāmāya¸a were adopted by the professional expounder. The kathakas or the professional singers spread the Rāma-kathā (Rāmāya¸a story) amongst the masses orally and the folk mind created songs and stories orally to meet the demand in various situations. In this regard A. Bhattacharyy rightly says: “The people having some creative urge react immediately to what they listen to in the course of kathākata of the Rāmāya¸a and other texts. As a result they compose songs orally on their various aspects. Thus folksongs grow in a social group.” (A. Bhattacharyya: Oral Tradition of the Rāmāya¸a in Bengal, The Rāmāya¸a Tradition in Asia, p.598).

The folksong is an art having life that grows in a social group. It is a lyrical, short, simple, less sophisticated, rhythmic song of a folk community. Its origin is traceable to a fundamental human need. Even in the most primitive and uncultivated state these needs prompt people to express their feelings spontaneously results in songs.

In the current of oral Rāmāya¸i tradition, the written tradition, the written verse of Valmiki’s Rāmāya¸a stands as a unique epic which has considerably influenced our culture and philosophy with tremendous impact on our life. The beginning of ornate poetry in Sanskrit, Valmiki’s Rāmāya¸a, an epic in form, is considered to be the earliest kāvya in Indian literature as well as Valmiki is Adi-kavi. From the eleventh century onwards we notice a considerable production of the epic literature in different Indian literatures. Lyrics and narrative kāvyas, dealing with individual legend on story and regional version of the Rāmāya¸a were composed in great numbers which also contributes a lot for spreading the popular Rāmā kathā in the society. In this way the Rāmāya¸a has been successful in reflecting a value structure through the ages as it has presented human values through characters and episodes by depicting Rāma as a man who was good, loving and compassionate to all the living creatures indiscriminately, so attained a divine rank and has been worshipped as God. The values have become embedded in the collective unconscious and have been accepted as the valid code of conduct. They have become the ways and means to overcome problems in life. In short through the episode of Rāmāya¸a, it may be concluded that Rāmāya¸a is nothing but human experience. The Rāmāya¸a has explained family relationships, social responsibilities and duties, developed feelings of brotherhood and patriotism through beautiful narratives. People could see these values as they were impressed with their truth, and subconsciously tried to emulate them. In this way, the great epic has exerted a formative influence on our nation’s emotional, aesthetic and moral life. Even, in the traditional society, the illiterate folk also followed these unique qualities which are reflected in their spontaneous creation of folksongs.

Marriage is an important life-cycle ceremony. Marriage songs are an important component of folksongs. Every ritual according to the nature of a marriage ceremony of all communities more or less wears some suitable songs. The women folk depict their feelings, experiences, traditional beliefs through these songs as marriage songs which are transmitted orally from generation to generation. Many of the marriage songs contain direct allusions to epic legends. Indispensable as they are in different rituals, these songs are believed to possess a sort of spiritual significance to the marital life of the couple. There are graceful nuptial songs that describe mythological marriage scenes of Hara-Gauri, Rāmā-Sitā, Ushā-Aniruddha and the like drawn almost to lyrical raptures. The heritage of an ancient religious culture dovetailed into folk experience is evident in most of these songs. Rāmā symbolizes the ideal man for nuptial life and Sitā, the ideal woman, Sivā and Pārvati – approximating them closely. (H. Barua: Assamese Literature, p. 27)

The Rāmāya¸a is essentially an integral part of folk life in Assam, Bengal and Orissa as well as the other part of India. It is seen that the marriage songs based on the Rāmāya¸a invariably change an Assamese village to Ayodhya or Mithilā as the case may be. The mother of a bridegroom could be converted to Kausalyā, the father of the bride always being considered as Janaka of ancient Mithilā as follows:

Pānat patra lekhi dilāhe āideu

Pānat patra lekhi dita;

Sei patrkhani pāye Rāmachandrai

Alankār pathiyai dila /

Mârar alankār thowā kāti kori

Deutarār alankar thowā;

Rāme di pathaiche bicitra alankār

Hāte yore kari lowā…………..

(Juronor Geet)

Kaikyi ahiche, Sumitra āhiche

Ahiche Rāmare māo;

Jonokor jiyari jānaki sundari

Joron pindhyāy aji cāo II

(Juronor Geet)

(The princess wrote a letter on a betel leaf.

Receiving that letter Rāmachandra has sent these ornaments.

Keep aside the ornaments of your father.

Râma has dispatched the variegated ornaments.

Take them with folded hands – Kaikeyi has come,

Sumitrā has come,

the mother of Rāma also has come.

How charming Jānaki, daughter of Janaka will be

when decked today with ceremonial presents, let us see)

In an Assamese marriage ceremony, the confirmation of a marriage by ceremonial presents (Jorona) - consisting of clothes, ornaments, toilettries, etc. sent for the bride from bridegroom’s house – form a marriage ritual on which occasion, relevant song is sung as above. The womenfolk contain frequent references to Rāma, Sitâ and other characters as well as to episode of the Rāmāya¸a.

Some marriage songs found in Kāmrup, Sonitpur districts are balladical. A story of Rāmāya¸a is there above its romantic and lyrical beauty. As such

O’ Rām tonu

Rāmhe bhangba parei Janakar dhenu I

Mithila nagare O’ Rām tonu

Janakar ghorote O’ Rām tonu

Sitā patei soyombar O’ Rām tonu

Rāmehe bhangba parei Janakar dhenu.

Some marriage songs are found in upper Assam as follows–

Tele chikemikai chikune Prabhudeu

Oi Rām gole chikeruikai monihe

Muthire bhitorot kihe chikemikāi

Oi Rām hengul haitāor phonihe

***

Rām Rām panot patra likhi

Rām Rām dilāhe aidew

Rām Rām panot patra lekhi dilāhe

***

Ulai āhā Rāmchandra

E he duwār doli baje

Ghorote nuwaha māwe

E he nokoriba lāje he

Nokoriba lāj

***

Sitāk loi Rāmchandra Ajodhyāloi jāi I

Nagarar prajasobe bedi bedi chāi II

Dhehu bhangi Rāmchandre Sitāk loia jāi I

Paroshurāme yuddha kore bātote log pai II

Marriage ceremony is a sacrament which includes the observances of various rites. The above songs are sung by the womenfolk in different rituals according to the nature of it in the traditional Assamese marriage of different localities. Even the same Rāmāya¸a spirit and ideas all over Bengal and Odishian traditional societies are seen. In a typical Bengali marriage some episodes describing the marriage of Rāmachandra and Sitā are being sung by the attending womenfolk.

In the course of observance of various rituals of the marriage ceremony womenfolk used to sing songs appropriate to each ritual in Bengali marriage ceremony also. These songs coming down to them orally from earlier generations are mostly based on characters, themes and ideas of the epic, Rāmāya¸a. The most striking feature of these songs is that in them the Rāmāyana is brought down to the level of common man and the epic characters Rāma, Lakshmana, Sitā and others are identified with ordinary people with human qualities.

Adhibās, Nandimukh, rubbing of turmeric on the bodies of the bride and the groom while bathing, or putting curds on the couple’s feet or durbās on their heads are common features of the wedding rituals of Bengali Hindu family. As in typical folksongs, many aspects of regional life have been incorporated in the marriage songs also. Playing of dice by the bridegroom and the bride is an important ritual of Bengali marriage ceremony. The womenfolk sing as the couple are engaged in the game:

ji ki ānanda hail Janaka bhubane I

Rāmchandra khelesen pāsā Jānakira sange I

Uttom Sitāl pāti phulerā bisānā I

Sakhirā karate rangakata na bahana II

Aji ki ānanda haila

Sonāra patila kārā sonāra ekusha gharā

Tāhāte khelise pāsā asta sakhi ghera

Chandrāvati kahe pāsā khele binodini

Pāsāte hariben ebar Rāmgunamoni

(S. Ghoshal: Banglā Loko-Sāhite Rām O Bharat-katha, p.127)

(What fun in Janaka’s palace

Rāmachandra is playing dice with Jānaki

sitting on a cool mat spread on a bed of flowers

which the companions are making jokes of all sorts

what a happy day

Spread the golden board, with twenty one golden jars

on it they played dice spakes Chandravati. Binodiny’s dice.

This time, Rāmagunamoni will be defeated in dice)

It is observed that the oral Rāmāyani tradition has deeper permeation in Assam, Bengal and Orissa since long past as it has embraced not only the non-tribals, but also the tribals. Among the people of the Tibeto-Burman stock, the Bodos keep the Rāmāyana tradition alive in their marriage songs. The belief that narration of the Rāmānāma as well as seeing a bridegroom in procession are pious deeds. So the womenfolk utter such lines as:

Nām bun namathi mona zothun cothi Rām Rām

Rām buria bāla mona ala zala Rām Rām

Thoinangon zekhali mona alizali Rām Rām

Bidā phonbay ay-apha raobo anni nona

Khulaybo thalangon phap phuniobo

Thanphagon Rām Rām

(M.M. Brahma [ed] Folksongs of the Bodos, p. 21)

 

Turning to the bride they exhort her:

O sister dear,

Utter the name of the Lord Rāma

Heart and soul

He alone is the ultimate resort

Rāma is the Lord.

Death is sure for living things

You too must die one day

Pray to Rāma then

Brothers and sisters and relatives.

None is as near as Rāma.

Virtue and good things done

Alone will stand by you.

Nothing but these would last.

(B.K. Deva Goswami: A Critical Study of the Râmâyana Tradition of Assam, p. 50)

Even the Muslims are attracted by the Rāmāyani tradition under the influence of the Bengali traditional society. In their marriage songs too there are references to the Rāmāya¸a.

Rāmo Sāye, Hanumāner ki diā

Sājāba bābājan āmārā/

Ghare to āse pāsat tākār mukutere

Ta diā sajābo Laksman tore/

Rāmo sāje, Rāmo sāje, Hanumāner ki diā

Sājāba bābājan āmāre/

Ghare to āche Kalkatāru gādire ta diā

Sājāba Laksman tumāre

(Faridpur, Bangladesh)

(Rāma is dressed up, but with what should we dress up Hanumāna.

At home there is a crown worth rupees five hundred with that we will dress you up, Laksmana. Rāmā’s dressed up, but with what should we dress up Hanumāna.

At home there are sarees from Kolkatta with that we could dress you up o Laksman.]

As in marriage songs prevalent in the traditional Assamese and Bengali societies, these are also found in Odishian society as its local colour and taste in different ritual which are based on the Rāmāya¸a. For example:

Rājiba loshan sange soumitri dhāri

Ayodhyā dāndare gole danda dhāri

Janaka sahile thile dasaratha rājā

Urāi toron bibidh sāj-sājyā

Ayodhyā nagar goti haichild sājā

Rām-Sitā agomane uraile dhajya

Parasurāma darpa Rām karile bhanjan

Bāma haste tari nile Siva dhenu punah

Mā Sitā Rāmchandra Ajodhyār āsi

Aānanda manare vivāh kole nagravāsi

(Informant: Ramesh Parahi, Age 49 years, Village: Rarepada, Jaypur, Cuttack)

Among the tribals of Odisha, the marriage songs are prevalent with the use of the nomenclature of Rāma and Sitā as such:

Haladi Haladi pura patna Rāigiri chandanare

Kena torahaladi Sadhāi

Sitā Rāme tura sangati go

The Rāmāya¸a plays a vital role in the traditional society of Assam, Bengal and Orissa. The womenfolk of these regions depict their feelings, experiences and traditional beliefs through the marriage songs which are transmitted orally generation after generation and have become an integral part of society, of sociology. The idea of Rāmā and Sitā as the ideal couple with social sanction enters in the mind of the masses and naturally therefore, when a marriage ceremony is held, the bridegroom is considered as Rāma and the bride as Sitā.

The epic Rāmāya¸a plays a vital role in marriage songs not only of Assam, Bengal and Orissa but also throughout India in general. It is most frequent over the North-eastern region in particular. Though the hero and heroine of this entire area in love songs are Krishna and Rādha, yet in the marriage songs the case is different, they being Rāmā and Sitā. It might be because the pure love of Krishna and Rādhā had no social sanction. Therefore Rāmā and Sitā are considered the ideal couple not withstanding their extreme suffering in life. The Rāmāya¸a has elevated ethical standard and a high idealistic view of life and therefore a very wide appeal even to the illiterate folk society. So the womenfolk use the Rāmāya¸a story in their marriage songs in the course of observance of the various rituals, folk and orthodox of the marriage, which are becoming an integral part of the social life of the people.

Select Bibliography:

1. V. Raghavan [ed]: The Rāmāya¸a Tradition in Asia, Sahitya Akademy, 1980

2. P. Goswami: Folk Literature of Assam, D.H.A.S., Guwahati

3. H. Barua: Assamese Literature, Guwahati

4. B.K Deva Goswami; A Critical Study of the Rāmāya¸a Tradition of Assam (Upto1826 A D), Calcutta

5. A. Bhattacharyya: Banglar Loka-Sahitya, Calcutta

6. S. Ghoshal: Bangta Loko-Sahite Ram O Bharatkatha, Kolkatta

7. B. Baruah: A Comparison of the Assamese Oral Rāmāya¸i Tradition with the Oral Tradition of Rāmāya¸a in the Neighbouring States of Bengal and Orissa. Unpublished Thesis of D.Litt degree of Gauhati University, 2006

 

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