One of the issues faced in this search for music this time around is that many of the Bengali bands do not have much of a presence on Youtube, they are more active on India-oriented sites which are not so seamlessly shared on the Blogger platform (or maybe that's just me?!). Some of the YT videos are often cringeworthy quality because they're uploaded by some fan like yours truly, with great love but zero technical knowledge.
Okay, whinge over, back to the day's business and letter - first I have for you Ekalabya, a band from Kolkata, with E Mon Okaron. These guys have been singing for the last 20 years, debuted late 90's sometime on television. They've cut 5-6 albums since then.
The next one I'm giving you is from Escape Velocity, formed in 2001 in Kolkata. They sing both in English and Bengali, here they are with Firiye Dao (Give it back) - take a listen.
Lastly this rather Dylanesque track from Anjan Dutta …Ekhono Tai (Even so). Dylan wields an Extraordinary influence on Bengali contemporary musicmakers and songwriters, maybe he does so on other non-English speaking, South Asian cultures also and I'm clueless.
Estado Portuguesa da India...European influences
The first European explorer to arrive in India was Vasco da Gama in 1498, making landfall in Calicut on the Malabar Coast. By 1517, the first Portuguese ship had sailed into Chittagong in present day Bangladesh. They called it ‘Porto Grande’ or the Great Harbour. In the mid-1530s, the then ruler issued a permit for them to establish a trading post. The port grew to be a major trading hub. By the closing decade of the 16th century, the Portuguese had established their presence in settlements further north sailing upriver at Hooghly, Bandel and Satgaon. These, together with other settlements became the Estado Portuguesa da India, the overseas empire of the State of Portugal, the capital of which was at Goa on the Western coast on India.
The Mughals subsequently subdued the Portuguese and won back the Bay of Bengal settlements, by the mid-18th century the latter had lost control of the region. But for 150 years, the Portuguese ships plied between Africa, America, Europe and the Bay of Bengal, and Bengal became an entrepot in Portuguese trade. The impact of their presence on Bengalis is widespread and enduring. Unlike the later British colonisers, the Portuguese mingled and married more freely among Indians, taking Christian converts along the way and building some of the oldest churches in Bengal. The Bandel Church was first established in 1599 and rebuilt in 1660, it still receives pilgrims today. Many Bengali Christians (who make up less than 1% of the Bengali population) have Portuguese surnames.
Portuguese contribution to both language and cuisine of Bengal has been profound. Several fruits and vegetables, an integral part of the Bengali kitchen today, were brought in by the Portuguese – chili, groundnuts, cashew, pineapple, pawpaw, sweet potato, cauliflower. They also introduced cottage cheese to Bengal, which is the basis for those most delectable Bengali desserts, famous the world over. Prior to the coming of the Portuguese, curdling of milk was considered inauspicious in Bengal. The Portuguese were the first to offer European style baked goods and chocolates to Bengali. Loanwords from Portuguese are common too – the Bengali words for wardrobe, nail, steel, soap, bucket, basket, window, balcony, button, chair, church, guava, bread (Western, leavened) and many more come from Portuguese. There are lingering influences in the arts and architecture as well.
But it is not just the Portuguese whose left their prints on Bengali culture. The French, the Danish, the Dutch – they all came to trade in Bengal and each of them made an impact.
The Dutch first arrived roughly a century after the Portuguese, made their base at in Chinsurah and stayed more than two centuries. There is the riverside promenade in Chinsurah and inconspicuous architectural details in derelict buildings here and there. The Dutch were the first set up a European style school and orphanage in Bengal. Dutch sailors have left their influence behind in the trick taking card game 29, played widely in Bengal and the wider delta region even today. As an offshoot, the words for card suites – heart, spade, diamond, and trump have come into Bengali from the Dutch. Interestingly however, the Bengali word for Dutch itself (Olondaj) has been adapted from its French counterpart (Hollandaise).
The French landed at the end of the 17th century – and established a base at Chandernagar (present day Chandannagar). They lost it to the Brits in 1757, regained it again in 1763 and lost it again in 1794. It was restored to the French again in 1850, but by then the city of Calcutta downriver had completely eclipsed its importance. It remained part of French India and was administered from their Indian capital at Pondicherry. Chandannagar was ceded to the government of India five years after India became independent.
But the French impact on Bengal is harder to pin down. There is the French Governor’s residence, of course, now converted to the obligatory museum, and French is still taught from the same premises. There are the old bungalows, buildings with pastel walls in the Franco-Bengali style – they have French architectural features combined with an essential Bengali staple – the courtyard. The Sacred Heart Church with its vivid and beautiful stained glass, imported from France. There is the waterfront Strand, with a graceful French style edifice vaguely reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe – on it is a plaque dedicating it to the memory of Dourgachourone Roquitte, who was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur in 1841. The arch was built by Shamachourone Roquitte his son, the names being rendered in the French style – very uncommon.
Since 1980’s Chandannogore has emerged as a hub of electric lighting for festivals. Light artists from Chandannagore create the complex lighting displays for the communal marquees at Durgapuja – Bengal’s main festival. They also supply ‘animated lighting’ for other festivals around the country. Now, the Son et Lumiere is originally a French invention of the 50’s – food for thought, hmm?
Another commonality between the Bengalis and the French is their attitude to food. Bengalis are the only Indian community who serve a la russe as the French do, i.e. they take their meal in a fixed sequential order - course by course. And my word, do they both take their food equally seriously!
Apart from food, Bengali-French uncanny parallels extend to other aspects of life too - such as politics, and literature and films. Read more about the Bengali-French similarities .
The Danes landed up at Frederiknagore (Serampore/Srirampur) in 1755, and remained there for nearly a century. Under their watch nearly a hundred buildings were put up, including the Lutheran church St Olav’s, known locally as the Danish church. The seal of the Danish king Christian IV and an inscription on the bell testify to the origins. Recently, the church has been restored by an initiative of the Danish government. Serampore College was established here and recognised by the Danish king in 1827, becoming the first European style degree granting university in India. There are also cemeteries with Danish/European graves. Further restoration is on-going. Read about the initiatives here.
Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2019