In March 2022, President Ram Nath Kovind had the delight to welcome 54 distinguished personalities who became a part of history. The dais galore was additionally brightened when an unsung hero, the 125-year-old yoga practitioner, Swami Sivananda, dressed in a simple white kurta, walked bare feet to receive the prestigious Padma Award! Indeed, India is celebrating Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav to mark the grand 75 years of Independence as unsung heroes who have lived in the county for a century with unparallel contributions are being recognized. The nation is exuberant and hopeful that many such unsung heroes will be recognized.
Padma Award to Swami Sivananda has won laurels for Varanasi which is the most prominent place where Bhojpuri culture flourishes. Bhojpuri region of India has been at the forefront of patriotism all through India’s freedom struggle, and thus when the country is celebrating Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav we can’t fail to recall “Phool Daliya”, a well-known book by Prasiddh Narayan Singh. This book has an outstanding collection of poems of veer ras (bravery theme) on the theme of azaadi (Freedom from British). Battle of Buxar, the mutiny of 1857 and Vir Kunwar Singh are the remarkable tales of bravery and sacrifice.
Tales of bravery had mostly been adorned with a tune that braves sing to instill and amplify courage in others as much as in themselves. On the 75th anniversary of independence, none of those braves are with us to tell such tales or sing those tunes. But fortunately, we have 102 years old from Bhojpuri region who is brave and has been immensely contributing to both tale and tune. A legend, a deserving unsung hero from the remote of Bhojpuri region, Jung Bahadur Singh (name itself means the Brave of War), who sang about the greatest freedom fighter Chandra Shekhar Azad, Subhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi, and one of his popular song goes:
“Gandhi Khaddar ke Banh ke pagariya
Sasurariya Chalale Na”
This song captures the patriotic sentiment to have reliance on swadeshi (indigenous), following the Gandhian movement, continue your freedom struggle bravely unto the prison. It won’t astonishing if many would find themselves unfamiliar with Jung Bahadur Singh. Such ignorance of a personality may be associated with the neglect of the whole Bhojpuri region. When a region was neglected during the imperial era and it is further continued while we are celebrating 75 years of independence, it can be considered as a sheer apathy of the government of India for the Bhojpuri region as well as the legends the Bhojpuri soil has produced.
Though it might be 75 years late, which is too late on a generational scale, but not too late for a nation that is still in the process of becoming a developed nation. A nation becomes developed only when each of its stratums and regions is developed, and people are empowered to strengthen their culture. A great initiative is now giving extra emphasis to the regions which have remained neglected, by giving recognition to unsung heroes like Jung Bahadur Singh. Bhojpuri region deserves no less than any other region. By bestowing recognition to those who are neglected, the government may help in their struggle of gaining dignity.
People of the Bhojpur region have a unique cultural heritage and it spans from the western northern part of Bihar to the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, and people residing in this region speak the Bhojpuri language. Bhojpuri is a descendant of Magadhi Prakrit and is considered an Eastern Indo-Aryan group of the Indo-Aryan languages. Bhojpuri is spoken widely across the world, and together with Magahi and Maithili, it is known as the Bihari languages.
Historically Bhojpuri used the Kaithi script, but now Devanagari replaced it and became the primary script. On historical account, the region was one of the prominent and opulent dynasty since the descendants of Raja Bhoj (Chero and Ujjainiya Rajputs in the 12th century) from Ujjain, Malwa, Madhya Pradesh conquered Shahabad and named their capital Bhojpur (City of Raja Bhoj).
Interestingly, the Siddha Sahitya and Charyapada (8th century A.D) have various enumerations of Bhojpuri. The age-old Folklores like Lorikayan, Sorathi Birjabhar etc. underscore the literary elegance of Bhojpuri culture. The legacy of Bhojpur is still conserved with the existing King of Dumraon. From the experience of Bharat Sharma, a legend Bhojpuri Singer, though King of Dumraon has patronized talents of the Bhojpuri region and fostered them as a Bhojpuri legacy, due to not being in the mainstream of politics, his efforts alone had not been enough to bring the talents of Bhojpuri region to the juries of national recognitions.
Jung Bahadur Singh is on the list of many such talents including exceedingly popular vocalists Munna Singh and Bharat Sharma. Some may sweep under the carpet this negligence, with an explanation that Bhojpuri culture is not rich enough. As a superintendent of the newly created Linguistic Survey of India in 1898, Sir Dr. George Abraham Grierson, a linguist in British India, during his postings in Bengal and Bihar studied the languages and folklore of India. His elegant work “Seven Grammars of the Dialects and Subdialects of the Bihari Language, spoken in the Province of Bihar, in the Eastern Portion of the North-Western Provinces, and in the Northern Portion of the Central Provinces, Part II (Shahabad, Saran and Champaran)”, highlighted all elements of the language and underscored the sufficiency that was required for the inclusion of Bhojpuri language in the Eight Schedule to the Constitution of India. Notably, in 2018, Bhojpuri was given second-language status in Jharkhand state of India.
Dr. Grierson also noted that Bengali and Bhojpuri were the two great civilizers of the Hindustan and Bhojpuri is the practical language of an energetic race who were ever ready to accommodate any circumstances. Especially the songs of bravery could be equated to the Cycle of Ballad that is about celebrating local heroes of ancient time, and it is similar to as it is in England.
Bhojpuri music enjoys a rich heritage of linguistic eminence as well as elements of Hindustani Classical Music. The elegance of Bhojpuri music is manifested by a broad array of Bhojpuri language and culturally enriched performances in distinct styles and thematics. The origin of Bhojpuri music has cultural and civilizational roots, and prominence primarily has been in the patriotic and spiritual themes, and of them songs of Vir-Ras (bravery) sung by Jang Bahadur Singh and Nirguna (spiritual) sung by Kabir are exemplary. Bhojpuri music, especially the Vir-Ras (bravery) sung by Jang Bahadur Singh, has been the adhesive that bonded the Bhojpuri people together, inside India as well as outside of India.
Wrath of the British Raj fell on Indians who were already facing colossal famine. To replenish bonded laborers for British Colonies, after the abolition of slavery, Britishers came up with an idea of exploitation and that was called indentured labor (known derogatively as ‘coolies’). Indentured labor was migrated out of India and recruited to work on railroad construction, cotton, tea, and sugar plantations in British colonies in West Indies, Africa and Southeast Asia.
From 1834 to 1914, Britain transported about 2 million Indian indentured workers to 19 colonies including Fiji, Mauritius, Ceylon, Trinidad, Guyana, Malaysia, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa. The majority of them were Bhojpuri people. The Bidesia Project has gotten us a digital archive of a saga soaked with pain, agony, and longing due to being displaced from their own country, of millions of forgotten indentured workers.
The Vir-Ras (bravery) sung by Jang Bahadur Singh has been the mainstay of the Bhojpuri folklore music that Indenture laborers brought as their prime heritage when they migrated to the foreign land, and that sweet patriotic music changed into music of longing and retelling the oral histories of impoverished Indian indentured laborers.
Independent India moved on, without paying any heed to the pain and agony or their pristine preservation of one of the rich musical heritages. When we are going to celebrate 75th independence, completely oblivious of all those who upheld our heritage, within as well as outside of India. Why India would have recognition of all who have preserved our various heritages for us and the future generation, without any impetus or support, and negligence towards legend singer Jang Bahadur Singh fills our heart with disappointment and helplessness.
Not that Bhojpuri music or legendary Bhojpuri singers of a calibre of Jang Bahadur Singh does not deserve an esteemed recognition, but the apathy and negligence of our society and more so of government has been inexplicable. Bhojpuri song traditions, Geet Gawai, traditional music and dance of Bhojpuri-speaking communities in Mauritius, propagated by Indian indentured laborers (also known as Girmitya) becomes UNESCO heritage.
The expectation of Bhojpuri people in India is thus well placed that Jung Bahadur Singh, a living legend of Bhojpuri Music, hails from Kausad village of Siwan's Raghunathpur Block, and who once used instill patriotism in the youth with his powerful rendition of bravery songs, must get a deserving recognition. Jung Bahadur Singh’s vocal timber is uniquely powerful and rich. He could deliver thrilling high notes and often have a brilliant shining timbre. His quality of tone, and his vocal range fall between tenor and baritone.
In his singing, he utilizes complex overtones, and it is so unique that it gives a brave and daring personality to his tonality during renditions. Jang Bahadur Singh could change the vocal timbre, and that rendered versatility in overtones and frequencies and made his vocal texture appear with a different color, quality, and tone.
From the account of those who heard Jang Bahadur Singh sing, it can be outlined that his singing of Bhairavi, Chaita and other folklores based on Mahabharat and the Ramayan and could be heard across multiple villages. He had memorized all verses of epic Mahabharata and Ramayana, and he delivered an animated musical rendition of every part of these epics in the most devotional manner.
Patriotism and the need of freedom struggle transformed Jang Bahadur Singh, and he mostly indulged in the freedom movements encouraging others with patriot songs. His outstanding zeal and relentless effort to instill patriotism in the masses did not go unnoticed, and he had to face the wrath of British Police forces on various occasions.
According to Griersons, the Bhojpuri people were the most active participant in the Mutiny of 1857. Firangia and Batohiya are very popular folk literary, and poets like Mahendra Misir and Bhikhari Thakur helped in the development of the nationalist consciousness. Jang Bahadur Singh who devoted his life to patriotism and propagated the Bhojpuri cultural values deserves a due respect.
Bhojpuri society however needs to acknowledge that it is on the path of glory but some part of this path still needed to be paved. Bhojpuri has a rich oral literary tradition but has suffered inadequacy in written literature. It surprises many that Maithili had Vidyapti and Braj had Surdas, but Bhojpuri did not have any to create an outstanding epic.
Ontogenesis of any language relies on fostering by entities who harbor power, but unfortunately, no ruler gave shelter to the Bhojpuri culture thus to music and language. By no means to blame Sanskrit, but advancement in the literature happened mostly in Sanskrit in the Bhojpuri region and Bhojpuri remained neglected.
Famous Folklorist, Krishna Dev Upadhyay in his anthologies like, Bhojpuri Lok-Geet and Bhojpuri Gram-Geet has provided multiple elucidations of the courageousness of Bhojpuri people in the folklores, and it paints a nationalist-patriotic image for Bhojpuri people. Jang Bahadur Singh fostered and propagated The Bhojpuri Lok-Geet and Bhojpuri Gram-Geet and therefore, it would be a nice gesture of government to bestow him with an esteemed recognition. Such initiative by the government will help preserve Bhojpuri culture and its elements, especially literary and music and prevent Bhojpuri folk and music die an unsung death.
Image provided by the author.
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