Culture & Heritage

Since Cooch Behar was dominated by different dynasties including the Muslims & the British, it is a land of mixed cultures, similar to those of West Bengal and Bangladesh. People of different castes & creed (Muslims, Christians and Sikhs) inhabit here along with the Hindus. However it is the culture of Hindu Bengali which predominates here. The social set-up is based mainly on the Bengali culture.

Rice and fish are traditional favourites, leading to a common saying that “fish and rice make a Bengali” (machhe bhate bangali). Meat consumption has increased with higher production in recent years. Bhuna Khicuhri (a dish made of rice and pulse) and Labra (a fully mixed-vegetable preparation) are quite popular and are served during any religious occasion. Like other parts of West Bengal, people of Cooch Behar are known to prepare distinctive confections from milk products – popular ones are Roshogolla, Chomchom Kalakand Sandesh Misti Doi and Kalojam. Among Bengal’s vast repertoire of fish-based dishes, various Ilish (Hilsa fish) preparations are favorites. Fast foods, such as Paratha (fried flat-bread), Egg-roll (flatbread roll with vegetable stuffings and egg), and Phuchka (deep fried crepe with tamarind and lentil sauce) are also widely popular. Momo is another popular snack (made from vegetable or meat fillings) which is steamed and served with soup. Another popular snack is Ghatigaram, a variety of Jhalmuri (a mixture made out of flattened rice and other spices).

Bengali women commonly wear sari (spelled as shaŗi) and salwar kameez, which are distinctly designed as per local customs. However, Western-style attire is also quite popular, especially amongst youngsters. On religious occasions men often wear traditional costumes such as the kurta or panjabi with dhoti or pyjama.

A characteristic feature of Cooch Behar is the Para or neighbourhood with a strong sense of community attachment. Typically, every Para has its own community club with a clubroom and often a playground. People here habitually indulge in adda or leisurely chat, and these adda sessions are often in the form of freestyle intellectual conversation. Residents of Cooch Behar are fond of music and generally listen to Rabindra Sangeet, Bangla Bands, Hindi Pop music and the local Bhawaiya Sangeet. The local Bengali dialect is different from the spoken Bengali in Kolkata. The local dialect is more closer to that of East Bengal and a mix of Assamese and Rajbangsi language.

 The sole museum in Cooch Behar is located inside the Cooch Behar Palace. It has a variety of photographs and articles used by the Maharajas of Cooch Behar and also information about the tribals of North Bengal. The town boasts of a well-archived North Bengal State Library. Rabindra Bhawan, an auditorium, is often chosen as the venue for cultural events such as dramas, concerts, poetry-recitals, and dance programs. Temples exist throughout the district. The Madan Mohan Temple, Bara Debi Bari, Rajmata Temple, Baneswar Temple are a few of the notable centres of religious and cultural importance.

Popular festivals in Cooch Behar include Durga Puja in October along with Raas Purnima when a big fair is organised adjacent to the famous Madan Mohan Temple in the town. Cooch Behar Raas Mela is the oldest in the North Bengal region. Other major festivals celebrated in the region include Poyla Baishakh (Bengali New Year), Rathayatra, Dolyatra or Basanta-Utsab, Diwali, Poush Parbone (festival in the month of Poush according to Bengali-calender), Christmas, Eid ul-Fitr, Eid uz-Zuha and Muharram. During Rathayatra, a small fair is organised at Gunjabari area of the town.

Bhawaiya Culture of Cooch Behar

Biswaloke is a benevolent Non-profit earning & Non-Govt. organization of Coochbehar district of West Bengal, India. This organization was established in January 2007, mainly to promote the folk culture and poor but genius folk artiste of North Bengal and its adjourning areas of our country (India) as a whole. Our mission is to popularize the folk culture .

Bhawaiya a genre of North Bengal folk song, is believed to have originated in Rangpur (a district in Bangladesh) and Cooch Behar (a district of West Bengal in India). The name of this folk song is generally about love between man and woman; derives its name from bhava (emotion). However, Bhawaiya songs may also be spiritual in theme as in ‘fande pariya baga kande re’ (the heron cries entrapped in a net), ‘chhar re man bhaver khela’ (O my mind, leave earthly games), etc.

Bhawaiya may be of two types: one draws out the voice in melancholy notes, while the other has a chatka or skipping tone. The first type is emotional in theme and usually about a young woman’s tender feelings of love and separation. Some popular songs on these themes include ‘oki gariyal bhai’ (hey, cart-driver), ‘je jan premer bhav jane na’ (he who does not know the feelings of love), ‘kon dyashe jan maishal bandure’ (which country are you off to, oh buffalo rider, my friend?), ‘nauton piritir baro jwala’ (new love is highly painful), etc.

The fast paced chatka is comic and light. It is about expectations and ambitions, about conflicts between husband and wife as well as about the ups and downs of family life. A few of these songs include ‘ore patidhan bari chhariya na yan’ (O dear husband, please don’t leave home), ‘ore kainer myayar thashak beshi/ byaray shali tari tari’ (the girl who has a superior gait/ Goes roaming), etc. A third type, called kshirol, is a combination of these two tunes. The two-stringed Dotara is the main musical accompaniment.

Abbasuddin Ahmed popularised bhawaiya songs all over Bangladesh. His daughter, Firdousi Rahman, and his son, Mustafa Zaman Abbasi, are well-known contemporary singers of Bhawaiya.

Brief know-how about Abbasuddin Ahmed :~

Abbasuddin Ahmed [1901-1959], folk singer, was born at Balarampur in Tufanganj Sub-division of Cooch Behar district on 27th October, 1901. His father, Zafar Ali Ahmed, was a lawyer at the Tufanganj Sub-divisional Court.

Abbasuddin’s interest in music grew through attendance at cultural functions at school and college. He was largely self-taught, except for a brief period when he learnt music from Ustad Jamiruddin Khan in Kolkata. He sang different types of songs such as folk songs, modern songs, patriotic songs as well as Islamic songs. He also sang Urdu songs. But Abbasuddin became renowned mainly as a singer of folk songs.

Initially, he became famous for Bhawaiya, Ksirol, Chatka in Rangpur and Cooch Behar. He became increasingly popular with his rendition of Jari, Sari, Bhatiyali, Murshidi, Bichchhedi (songs of estrangement), Marsiya, Dehatattwa and Pala-Gan, specially when these were made into ‘Gramaphone’ records. No other singer could surpass his emotional, full-throated rendition of folk songs. He also sang songs on Islamic themes composed by Kazi Nazrul Islam, Jasimuddin and Golam Mostafa.

In Kolkata Abbasuddin made a number of Gramophone records with ‘His Master’s Voice’ as well as with Megaphone, Twin and Regal. By singing at various functions in villages, towns and cities as well as by recording his songs, Abbasuddin made music acceptable and popular in conservative Bengali Muslim society.

Abbasuddin stayed in Kolkata from 1931 to 1947. Initially, he worked temporarily as a clerk in the DPI office and then in the Department of Irrigation in a permanent post. When Ak. Fazlul Haque was Chief Minister, Abbasuddin was given a government job as a recording expert. In the 1940s, Abbasuddin’s songs played a significant role in raising the Muslim public opinion in favour of the ‘Pakistan Movement’. In 1947, after partition, he joined the Department of Information and Broadcasting as an Additional Song Organiser. As a representative of Pakistan, he participated at the South East Asia Conference in Manila in 1955, at the International Folk Music Conference in Germany in 1956 and at the Bengali Cultural Conference in Rangoon in 1957.

Abbasuddin wrote an account of his life as a singer in Amar Shilpi Jibaner Katha (1960). For his invaluable contribution to music he was posthumously honoured with the Pride of Performance Award in 1960, Shilpakala Academy Award in 1979 (posthumously) and Svadhinata Dibas Puraskar in 1981 (posthumously). Abbasuddin Ahmed died on 30th December, 1959. His daughter, Ferdousi Rahman, his youngest son, Mustafa Zaman Abbasi, and his granddaughter, Nashid Kamal, are also renowned singers.

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