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Rabindra Sangeet Chinta

Visit this page to know how to read Bangla Swaralipi


This page is an excerpt of the rules for singing Rabindra Sangeet. Like all other classical music there are certain regulations that differentiate Rabindra Sangeet from other songs. These rules are necessary to make a song sound like Rabindra Sangeet. The rules that have been laid down by Rabindranath himself or wizards of Rabindra Sangeet from time to time are scattered in different books like Swarabitan, Sangeet-Chinta etc. In this section I have tried to compile them so that one can use this page as a ready reckoner. There are other rules too that I wish to add in this page in course of time.

1: Unalterable Notation: Rabindranath, in his conversation with different people, have expressed his view about his intension to keep the tune of his songs unaltered. Scorers like Deenendranath Thakur and Indira Debi Chowdhurani have tried their best to keep the notations as close as they have heard from Rabindranath. No alterations, hence, are encourageable. Prominent institutions for learning Rabindra Sangeet too have taken these notations as the foundation stones.

2: Pronunciation: Special attention is to be given for pronunciation of Bangla words while singing. Guidelines have been laid out in notations.

e no matraThis character normally pronounced as ‘e’ as in ‘ten’, as in – ‘কেবল’.

e matraSometimes this character is used where it is pronounced as ‘æ’ as in ‘hat’, as in – ‘দেখা’.

ন, ণBoth of them are to be pronounced as ‘n’ unless otherwise stated in the notation.

শ, ষ, সSpecial care should be taken not to pronounce ‘C’ in the lightest accent at the end of a word, as in ‘voice’.

In Bangla this character is pronounced as ‘ph’ (and not as ‘f’), as in – ‘ফুল’, (lips should touch each other).

There is no character in Bangla representing the letter ‘f’ in English.

In Bangla this character is pronounced as ‘bh’ (and not as ‘v’), as in –‘ভুল’, (lips should touch each other).

There is no character in Bangla representing the letter ‘v’ in English.

In case of ‘ব’ too both the lips should be touched, as there is no character in Bangla representing the letter ‘w’ in English.

জ, য, য়In case of these three characters no difference is brought about in pronunciation, as in -‘জনম’, and -‘যখন’.

There is no character in Bangla representing the letter ‘z’ in English. ‘য়’ is the character that is pronounced as ‘y’, as in -‘কোথায়’.

hasantaCare should be taken in case of words having hasanta, such as ‘সংগীত’, this type of words should be pronounced as ‘স অ ঙ্গী ত ’if it is to be completed within 4 matra, and not as ‘সংগীত’


3. Notations: How to read notation

3.1. Scale: In the notation segment a special technique has been used known as ‘Aakaarmatrik Swaralipi’. It has been widely used by Viswa Bharati University and other Bangla songs. This technique needs a little analysis.

3.1.1. স ঋ র জ্ঞ গ ম হ্ম প দ ধ ণ ন - Corresponds to C bD D bE E F #F G bA A bB B respectively in the C scale. For other scales the interpretations will change accordingly. র্স, স্‌ = The character rep is used to indicate higher octave and similarly hasanta is used to indicate lower octave. Example: র্গ, র্ম etc. and গ্‌, ম্‌ etc. = Atikomal Rishav. The position of this note is in between and ঋ. It is not possible to represent these notes in staff notation. Atikomal Gandhar, Atikomal Dhaivat and Atikomal Nishad are repersented by জ্ঞ, and respectively. = Anukomal Rishav. The position of this note is in between and . It is not possible to represent these notes in staff notation. Anukomal Gandhar, Anukomal Dhaivat and Anukomal Nishad are repersented by জ্ঞ, and respectively.


3.2. Time: The notation incorporates a typical style to represent different periods of time for notes and rests. The legends are described below.



Sometimes combination of these notes is used, as in – রাঃ, this means a note length of 1½th matra (3/8th note in staff notation), or –সঃo, this means ¾th matra (3/16th note in staff notation), or a bit more complicatedly – মপাঃ ধঃ, this means 1½th matra and ½th matra making 2 matra altogether.
Signs for notes and rests are all alike.

3.2.2. ‘|’ = Divisions of the rhythm is denoted by ‘|’ sign.

3.2.3. ‘I’ = This sign is used to denote one complete rotation of the rhythm (or Taal).

3.2.4. ‘II’ = This sign is used to indicate divisions (or Tuk or Kali) of the song, such as Sthaayee, Antara, Sanchari, Abhog etc. If the end of a such division has ‘II’ sign, one has to return to the start of the Sthaayee. After completing the Sthaayee part onward movement to other parts is allowed.

3.2.5. ‘II II’ = This sign is used in the notation to mark its end. One has to return to the start of the Sthaayee after this sign.

3.2.6. ‘II’ = This sign is sometimes used at the top of a particular note in the Sthaayee part where the song is finally intended to end or movement to other parts (or kali) of the song is indicated.

3.2.7. ‘( )’ = This bracket is used to indicate to exclude a portion while repetition.

3.2.8. ‘{ }’ = This bracket is used to show the part that has to be repeated.

3.2.9. ‘[ ]’ = This bracket is used to indicate alternate tune to be followed generally after returning to Sthaayee.

3.2.10. ‘-’ = A small hyphen is positioned before a note to indicate legato.

3.3. Touch notes: রা, রা = Touch notes are indicated by prefixing or suffixing the main note with another note of smaller size. This measures quite like the Sliding Grace Note in Staff (although grace notes after the main note is not very common).


4. The Lyrics:

The lyrics of Rabindra Sangeet enjoy equal importance as its tune. It has been revealed through numerous letters of Rabindranath written to different people and articles published on contemporary magazines and papers that his intension was to convey his profound revelations among people by his creations. He had experimented a lot with the choice of words even synthesizing his own lexica at times for categorical expression. His selection of language hovered around a wide variety words expressing perplexed heavenly dignity to onomatopoetic words so that his complex feelings could reach the readers with natural ease. Supplementing his words, even by mistake, is the last thing that one should do, keeping in mind that wizards on this subject are in favor of rejecting the translations that are not done by the poet himself.

5. The Music:

Hindustani classical music can be broadly divided into two categories. The one that follows a fixed course known as ‘Dhrupad’ and the other that is free to be adorned with the singer’s imagination – known as ‘Khayal’. Dhrupad is an example of Sangeet that emerged much earlier than Khayal. Students used to copy the songs from their Guru without any deviation and deliver them to their audience and also to their followers. This was when the concept of ‘Guru-Sisya Parampara’ had been conceived.

Rabindranath was exposed to Dhrupadi style of music from his very childhood. Maestros like Yadu Bhatta, Radhika Prasad Goswami and Gopeshwar Bandopadhyay were regular visitors at Jorasanko Thakurbari and Shantiniketan. Dhrupad, hence, came to him quite naturally. For the same reason one finds majority of his compositions to be based on dhrupad style. His lyrics are largely divided into four part pattern (Sthaayee, Antara, Sanchari and Abhog), that is a characteristic feature of dhrupad. Some of his compositions are based on various folk tunes of India or even other countries. In those songs too the four part pattern is identifiable.

He would always stress upon the mood contained in the lyric. In order to achieve the finest tuning between words and music at times he had deliberately deviated from the well known form of a raga or style. He was also tentative about the insertion of the names of the ragas above his songs. He had preferred the ‘Expressionist Form Of Rabindra Sangeet’ to blossom in its own distinctive style and become popular. In his own words the lyric is like ‘Man’ (Purush) and its tune is the ‘Nature’ (Prakriti). Imbalance between them renders the whole music incomplete, as they are inseparable as ever. Each and every corner of his vast volume of compositions bears the delicate touch so that the lyric is emphasized just as they would deserve. Altering the tune continued until he was perfectly satisfied with the creation.

Debates took place with peoples like Dilip Kumar Roy, Dhurjati Prasad Mukhopadhyay on whether the poet should allow the singers to experiment with the tunes and let them deliver the way they think to be the best. Each time he would object and deny freedom to the singers, revealing that it was the composer’s duty to alter the tune. He had once written in a letter that if research work is to be conducted – why Rabindra Sangeet – it can be merrily done upon one’s own lyric.

To Summerise:

1. Rabindra Sangeet is neither Khayal no Dhrupad – it is not Kirtan or Baul Gaan either – it is to be classified as Rabindra Sangeet only.

2. Singers are advised to take ample exposure to the songs that are recorded by exponents of Rabindra Sangeet, to listen to them keeping an eye on the difference between the style which the song is based on and the way it is being represented.

3. Reading the verse several times to bring up the exact feeling and emotion behind the song.

4. Watch out for each and every smallest segment of the song in the notation (I am sure one would find the uniqueness very often), and get them perfected.

5. Special attention is to be given to ‘Slides and Slurs’ (Meed and Gamaka).

6. Apply a suitable tempo and modulation so that mood of the song is reflected the most.

7. Practice the song several times so that the philosophy is conceded.

8. It would be handy to consult a good teacher prior to reproduction.

More will come in course of time.