Singing for Ma

Singing for Ma

Festival Music


Come September and Bengal has only one thing on its mind — celebrating Durga Puja. For Bengalis, Puja is much more than a religious occasion; it’s 10 days of feasting, pandal hopping, shopping, and of course delighting in music generated especially for the season and released every year by eminent local artistes.

There was a time when only popular Hindi film numbers blared forth from the sound systems at ‘puja pandals’, especially during the 1980s when there was a dearth of modern Bengali singers. They did, of course, add to the festive atmosphere with their persuasive lilts and beats but initiatives by a new generation of Bengali women pop singers like Lopamudra Mitra and Neepabithi Ghosh have virtually put an end to this practice of borrowing from Bollywood.

Little wonder then that these women singers have been topping the puja music charts. In fact, in this season Lopamudra is probably heading the list of hot favourite performers. Her latest puja offering, ‘Ananda — The Ecstasy’, has been an instant hit with the listeners. It was released in mid-August, is priced at Rs 125 and can be bought from a music store as well as online.

Interestingly, all the puja numbers in ‘Ananda...’ are based on Rabindra Sangeet. “This time I’ve selected Tagore’s songs. The numbers I have chosen from ‘Gitabitan’ are either related to the festival or are an expression of its joy. This is the centenary year of ‘Gitanjali’ and my puja album is a tribute to Tagore,” says the singer.

Lopamudra, who started her musical career with Rabindra Sangeet, reveals, “When I was young I always wanted to make puja albums. What’s most fascinating about puja albums is that these songs are played in the ‘pandals’ and it’s a thrill to hear one’s songs while visiting different ‘pandals’ in the city.” Puja ‘pandals’ are temporary tented enclosures where Durga puja rituals are held and where the all the action is concentrated during the 10 days of festivity.

Even though ‘Ananda...’ is a collection of Tagore’s songs, it’s USP is its intriguing musical arrangement. In fact, designing the music took more than a year. Lopamudra has used unique instruments like woodwinds, Bouzouki and Didgeridoo, besides the European flute and Australian tribal drums, to give a new twist to the numbers. And this has only added to the popularity of the album.

Neepabithi Ghosh is another star of the season, particularly popular among school and college-goers. But unlike Lopamudra, who has concentrated on traditional music, Neepabithi’s puja album ‘Achi Apekshyae’ (Still Waiting), released in September, is a collection of modern Bengali songs. All her numbers deal with a social dilemma or crisis. “Some of my songs are related to alienation and loneliness, which is a serious concern. Durga puja is a festival that helps us break this cycle of isolation,” says Neepabithi.

The artiste also explains the reason why most puja albums are always commercially viable. “Durga puja is a very special occasion for Bengalis. In this month of festivity, the expenditure of any average Bengali family usually doubles. People not only buy new clothes, but also indulge themselves in purchasing their favourite books, music CDs, and so on. We get the dividends of their expenditure,” she says.

Lopamudra agrees, “There is no doubt that this is a time of the year when Bengalis go on a buying spree. A Bengali’s love for reading, listening to music and travelling is well known and they do not mind splurging a bit on their musical or reading preferences during this season.”

While Lopamudra has released four Puja albums till now, Neepabithi has one to her credit. But these women don’t just earn fame and money on the basis of their album releases. A great deal of their popularity is the result of their interactive and engaging live performances.

In fact, they are among the most-sought-after artistes during the pujas, with organisers inviting them and booking a show well in advance.

Lopamudra heads the list of popular live performers. Like any other pop singer, she too performs with a full orchestra and enjoys working the crowds to generate popular enthusiasm during a show. Neepabithi, too, can light up a young crowd with her performance. In fact, she even plays the guitar and piano herself on stage.
Interestingly, the demand for Durga Puja albums is high not only in Bengal but among Bengalis living in other parts of India or abroad. Not only do they give bulk orders for these CDs, they invite artistes to perform in their cities as well. Lopamudra has performed several times in the US, including at the NABC 99 and 09 held in San Francisco, and Bangla Mela 2005, held in Chicago. She has also had shows in the UK, Canada, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Kuwait and Qatar.

Following the trend of the singers, are classical dancers. They too have started choreographing special Puja performances. Odissi dancer Sanchita Bhattacharya was one of the first to create a Durga Puja composition. Over the last three years she has been invited abroad for her Puja performances. She calls the composition, ‘Durga’. Says Sanchita, “India is a land where power is associated with reminine force manifested as Mother Goddess Durga. She is the universal Mother, nourishing and protecting.”

Sanchita’s ‘Durga’ is a combination of classical Odissi and modern dance. Based on the major three manifestations of Ma Durga — the universal mother, the punisher and teacher, and the universal peace bestower — her dance is a universal prayer to Durga to slay the demons that are within us so that we can all join hands in compassion and love. The Durga composition also includes ‘Bhagawati Stotram’ and the nine forms of Ma Durga, as the killer of different demons.