From Charyageeti to rock-pop

SADMAN SAKIB | Monday, 14 December 2020

It is often said that if you want to firm up your body, head to the gym, and if you want to exercise your brain, listen to music. In Bangladesh, listening to music is an integral part of our life. Music is everywhere here, be it in literature, culture or a festival. In the ancient Bengal, music was also as indispensable as today. The earliest form of written Bangla language is none other than songs or verses.

So, how it all began? Let us have a look at the diversified genres of Bangla music.


The earliest form of writing in Bangla is a kind of song known as Charyageeti or Charya song. Sanskrit scholar Haraprasad Shastri discovered a manuscript, the earliest example of written Bangla, from the royal library of Nepal in 1907. It is the compilation of lyrics with the notes in Sanskrit by Pandit Munidatta. The book contained 51 lyrics; Munidutta deducted one. Forty-six and a half lyrics were written by 23 lyricists. From the view of the history of music, the most important ragas are Shabree raga, Bangaal raga, and Patmaanjuree raga.   

Shreekrishna Kirtana

Written by Baru Chandidas, Shreekrishna Kirtana is likely to be considered the second to none in old Bangla literature as well as music. The number of lyrics found in Shreekrishna Kirtan is 418. Each lyric has a unique tune, rhythm, and singing style. A total of 32 ragas can be found in the lyrics of Shreekrishna Kirtan.


It is Bhagabhat-related music. It was written to emphasise the Sreekrishnaleela. Chaitanyadeb gave a structural base to this music. He classified Kirtan into two — one is Sangkirtan, and the other is Leela Kirtan. Naam Kirtan is based on the eulogy and praise of the mercy of God. The beauty and the virtue as well as the Orphean dalliance of God are portrayed in Leela Kirtan.

Mangal Kabya

It was composed somewhere between 15th and 18th century. Mangal Gaans are sung in Basanta raga, Mallar raga, Shree raga, etc. Mangal Kabya is a narrative poetry. The blessing of a deity is narrated in it. The names of different music instruments are mentioned in Mangal Kabya, such as Shehnai, Flute, Mridanga, Shangkha, Kartal, Mandira, Setar and Khamak. Chandi Mangal, Manasa Mangal, Dharma Mangal, Surya Mangal, Bhabani Mangal and Annada Mangal are some examples of Mangal Kabya.


It is a competitive musical performance in which folk poets sing and perform. Each musical group is led by Sarker accompanied by Dohars. Dohars usually repeat what their leaders sing. This song originated in the 18th century. It was created in collaboration with multiple folk songs of Bangladesh. Kabigaan first gained historical significance in Kolkata in the early 19th century. This became popular, especially as a means of entertainment for the then newly-created middle class.

Baul gaan

Baul gaan, a special part of Bangalee folklore, is a kind of songs sung by the Baul community. The Bauls share their philosophical thoughts through this genre. Originated in the 17th century, the Baul philosophy gained huge popularity through the songs of Lalon Shah during the 19th century. It is assumed that Lalon wrote around 2,000 songs. Rabindranath Tagore was influenced by Baul philosophy. Panju Shah, Siraj Shah and Duddu Shah are the proponents of Baul gaan. 

Toppa gaan

Toppa gaan is known as a raga-based song. It originated from India’s Punjabi region and started to be sung widely from the late 19th century. A musician, named Shori Mia, developed a unique singing style by polishing Toppa gaan. Following this venture, Ramnidhi Gupta or Nidhu Babu wrote Bangla Toppa.


Bhawaiya is one of the most popular folk songs in North Bengal. The birthplace of this song is Rangpur and Cooch Behar district of India. Bhawaiya music is rich in melody and has its song pattern. For this reason, none other than the artistes of North Bengal can compose this song. Bhawaiya music is thought to have originated from the word Bhab as the music is rich in spirit. The main tone of this music is conjugal romance. The pain of separation in conjugal life is much illustrated in this music.


Bhatiyali, a form of folk music, is sung mainly by boatmen while going down streams of the river. The word Bhatiyali is derived from Bhata which means ebb or downstream. Its place of origin is Mymensingh district along the Brahmaputra River. It is popular in several parts of the greater riparian Bengal delta. Bhatiyali, which deals with Prakriti-tatwa (about nature), portrays emotional and metaphorical verses about the waters and the lives of people who live centring on the waters.

Sari gaan

Sari gaan, also a traditional folk music in Bangladesh, is usually sung by boatmen during boat races.

Gambhira gaan

Gambhira originated from northwestern Bangladesh and northeastern West Bengal. In Bangladesh, Chapainawabganj is the centre of Gambhira performances. It is also popular in Rajshahi and Naogaon. Gambhira is a performance with a distinctive rhythm and dance always personifying an old man and his grandson who discuss a topic to raise social awareness.

Gajan gaan

Gajan is a kind of music sung during Gajan Utshab, a festival to worship Shiv, Manasha and Dharmathakur. This festival is celebrated in the last week of Bangla month Chaitra.


It is a spiritual song sung by the followers of Syed Ahmadullah Maizbhandar, the promoter of this genre of music. About 100 years ago, this genre originated in Fatikchhari of Chattogram. To date, hundreds of devotees have composed more than 1,000 songs. Maizbhandari songs were composed by Ramesh Shil, Abdul Hadi, Bazlul Karim, Abdul Gafur Hali, Manmohan Dutt, and Mahbub Ul Alam, among others.


Dhamail, a dance-oriented music of Sylhet, is sung in the wedding festivals. Young females sing this song by dancing in a circle.

Bangla rock

Bangla rock, influenced by American and British rock and roll music, actually developed in Chattogram in the 1960s and 1970s. Iolites is the first Bangla rock band. Blues rock was introduced by Zinga, the Lightnings, the Windy Side of Care, Rambling Stones in the 1960s.

Pop-rock music was introduced by Uccharon, Souls, Miles and Feedback from the early to mid1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, hard rock and heavy metal started with bands like Souls, LRB, Feelings, Ark, Miles, Warfaze, and Maqsood O' Dhaka, among others. 

Jatra gaan, Murshidi gaan, Pala gaan, Panchali, Potuar gaan, Rakhaliya gaan, Moloya Sangeet, among many others, are part of Bangla music too. Bangla music is diversified into many genres, getting fusioned by various musical instruments from different parts of the world.

The writer is currently pursuing a professional degree from ICMAB. He can be reached at [email protected]