Bhupen Hazarika: The Bard of Brahmaputra
Bhupen Hazarika was a multifaceted Indian artist known for his contributions to music, film, literature, and social activism. He was born on September 8, 1926, in Sadiya, Assam, which was then a part of British India. He passed away on November 5, 2011, leaving behind a legacy that continues to influence Indian culture and society.
Bhupen Hazarika was born into a family deeply rooted in the cultural and intellectual heritage of Assam. His father, Nilakanta Hazarika, was a teacher and poet, and his mother, Shantipriya Hazarika, was a folk singer. This environment greatly influenced Bhupen’s early exposure to music and literature.
He completed his early education in Assam and then pursued higher studies in Banaras Hindu University and later at Columbia University in New York, where he earned a Ph.D. in Mass Communication. His time abroad exposed him to diverse musical traditions and fuelled his passion for bridging cultural gaps through music.
Early Life and Education:
Bhupen Hazarika was born into a family deeply rooted in the cultural and intellectual heritage of Assam. His father, Nilakanta Hazarika, was a teacher and poet, and his mother, Shantipriya Hazarika, was a folk singer. This environment greatly influenced Bhupen’s early exposure to music and literature. He completed his early education in Assam and then pursued higher studies in Banaras Hindu University and later at Columbia University in New York, where he earned a Ph.D. in Mass Communication. His time abroad exposed him to diverse musical traditions and fueled his passion for bridging cultural gaps through music.
Bhupen Hazarika Marriage
Dr. Hazarika married Priyamvada Patel, who belongs to the well-known Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel family, and has a son named Tej Hazarika. He met Priyamvada in America where he fell in love with her. But his parents opposed the match. So, before he returned to India, he got married to her in America. They were separated after 13 years.
Bhupen Hazarika Musical Career:
Bhupen Hazarika’s music was deeply rooted in the folk traditions of Assam. He blended these traditional elements with various other genres, including Indian classical music, Western folk, and rock, to create a unique style. His songs often carried profound social and political messages, addressing issues like peace, unity, and the rights of marginalized communities.
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Some of his most popular songs include “Bistirno Parore,” “Ganga Behti Ho Kyon,” and “Manush Manusher Jonno.” His music transcended linguistic boundaries, earning him recognition not only in Assam but also across India and the world. In New York, Hazarika befriended Paul Robeson, a prominent civil rights activist, who influenced him to compose the famous song Bistirno Parore which is based on the imagery and theme of Robeson’s Ol’ Man River. This song, considered as one of his epical compositions, has been translated in various Indian languages. He was involved with the All Assam Conference of Indian People’s Theatre Association. He taught at the Gauhati University but left the job after a few years and shifted to Kolkata.
Apart from his musical contributions, Bhupen Hazarika was a renowned composer and playback singer in the Indian film industry. He became a film director and made award-winning Assamese films Shakuntala Sur (1961) and Pratidhwani (1964).
Some of his directorial ventures include Lati-Ghati (1966), Chik Mik Bijuli (1969), For Whom the Sun Shines (1974) and Mera Dharam Meri Maa (1976). He also composed music for many Assamese and Bangla movies such as Aarop (1973), Chameli Memsaab (1975) and Shimana Perye (1977). He composed music for numerous Assamese and Hindi films, winning several awards for his exceptional work. His work in the critically acclaimed Assamese film “Chameli Memsaab” is particularly noteworthy.
Bhupen Hazarika has been associated with noted film directors like painter ‘Maqbool Fida Husain’, ‘Sai Paranjype’, ‘Lekh Tandon’, ‘Kalpana Lajmi’ and ‘Bimal Dutt’. He has directed music for many movies by these directors. Before his death he was staying in Mumbai with Kalpana Lajmi with a 40-year-long association. M F Husain preferred him to music veterans such as Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. He said, ‘Bhupen, you paint when you sing. Your music paints, but my brush can’t sing.’
Social and Political Activism:
Bhupen Hazarika was a passionate advocate for social justice and cultural preservation. He used his music and influence to address issues like poverty, environmental conservation, and the rights of indigenous communities. His activism extended to his involvement in various cultural and educational organizations, where he promoted the preservation and promotion of Assamese culture and language.
Bhupen Hazarika Legacy:
Bhupen Hazarika’s contributions to Indian music, cinema, and social activism earned him numerous awards and honors, including the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, and the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, which is the highest honor in Indian cinema. His music continues to inspire generations of artists and activists, and his impact on Indian culture remains indelible.
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Bhupen Hazarika’s life and work exemplify the power of art and music in advocating for social change and cultural preservation. His commitment to promoting peace and unity through his music has left an enduring mark on India’s cultural landscape. Credited with introducing the culture and folk music of Assam and Northeast India in Hindi cinema at a national level, he composed and sang songs which are marked by themes of humanity and universal brotherhood. One of his major contributions to Hindi cinema was composing music for well-known films such as Arop, Ek Pal, and Rudaali. He won the Best Music Director National Award for Rudaali in 1993. He held the position of chairman at the Sangeet Natak Akademi from 1998 to 2003.
Awards and recognition:
He has won the President’s National Award for the best film maker thrice – for Shakuntala in 1960, Pratidhwani in 1964, and Loti Ghoti in 1967. He won the Arunachal Pradesh Government’s Gold Medal in 1977 for his outstanding contribution towards Tribal Welfare, and Upliftment of Tribal Culture through cinema and music. He also won the National Award as best music composer in India in 1977 for the Assamese film Chameli Memsaab. While he was studying in USA, he was awarded a Gold Medallion in New York as the best interpreter of ‘India’s folk songs’ by ‘Eleanor Roosevelt’.
In 1977 Bhupen Hazarika got the Padamshree award. In the same year he also got two awards in West Bengal for the best music director for the film ‘Dampati’ from The Bangla Chalachitra Prasar Samity and the Bangla Chalchitra Purashkar Samity. In 1978 he won two awards from Bangladesh as the best music director for the film ‘Simana Periye‘. In 1978, the Gramophone Company of India bestowed on him the Gold Disc for his outstanding contribution towards Indian Music. Apart from this he received more than 100 awards for his contribution towards different fields.
In 1987, Sangeet Natak Academy in New Delhi awarded him for his outstanding contribution towards Indian music. In 1999, he has been appointed by the Honourable President of India as the Chairman of Sangeet Natak Academy for a period of five years. In 1987 he won “Assam’s Man of the Year” award. Same year the Government of Assam bestowed its highest award the ‘Shankar Dev Award’ for his contribution to Assam’s culture. His biggest achievement in terms of awards would be ‘The Dadasaheb Phalke Award’, also considered as ‘India’s Oscar’, which he was honoured in 1993 for his lifetime’s contribution to development of Indian cinema.
In 2001, he was honoured by the Government of India with the ‘Padma Bhushan’, one of the highest civilian awards. In the same year, he was given the ‘Lata Mangeshkar Award’ for his overall contribution in music by the Madhya Pradesh Government. In 2012, he was posthumously awarded the ‘Padma Vibhushan’, India’s second highest civilian honour.
Bhupen Hazarika death:
Dr. Bhupen Hazarika was hospitalized in the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital and Medical Research Institute in Mumbai in 2011 after he suffered dehydration. He was in ICU for four months and required dialysis due to kidney failure. He was admitted to the intensive care unit on June 30, 2011. He died of multiple organ failure at the age of 86.
Interesting facts about Bhupen Hazarika:
1. The music legend also had a brush with politics. Between 1967 and 1972, Hazarika was an independent MLA. In the 2004 elections he unsuccessfully contested the Guwahati Lok Sabha seat on a BJP ticket.
2. India’s longest road bridge Dhola-Sadiya, built over river Lohit (Assam), is referred to as Bhupen Hazarika Setu. Guwahati’s Barsapara Cricket Stadium was renamed as Dr. Bhupen Hazarika Stadium (2010).
3. A docu-feature film on Hazarika’s life titled Moi Eti Zazabor (I am a wanderer), which was jointly directed by late Waesqurni Bora and Arnab Jan Deka has been under production since the year 1986.
4. His inclination towards singing developed because as a child he grew up listening to tribal music. According to him, he used one of his mother’s lullabies in the movie Rudaali (1993).
5. He produced a tele- serial (Dawn) for Star TV, and an 18-part documentary called Glimpses of the Misty East on the socio-economic and cultural progress in North-East India from 1947 to 1997.