The Rajbanshis were the indigenous people of the greater part of North Bengal in the districts such as Coochbehar, Jalpaiguri, plain areas of Darjeeling and Dinajpur. The Rajbanshis are also spread over the Western Assam. Rajbanshis are original inhabitants of erstwhile Rangpur district and other adjacent areas of present day Bangladesh and parts of Eastern Bihar and Nepal Terai. All these areas came under the political reign of the Kamtapur kingdom which though had frontiers in all sides, but without specific political boundaries. It is in these frontier areas, emerged a mighty kingdom named Koch Behar which challenged the mighty Ahom supremacy to the extreme east. In the battle of succession, the Koch Behar kingdom was split into two parts. One part continued to rule over the western part from Koch Behar while the junior branch to the east of the river Sankosh and was known as Koch Hajo. But afterwards the expansions of the Ahoms and the Mughal invasion destroyed the glory and power of the Koch Hajo in all respects and they were split into several principalities and were forced to flee and migrate. The western part of Koch Behar flourished and became a princely state during the British Rule. These migratory Koches are sometimes recognized as scheduled caste (West Bengal), other backward class (Assam) or scheduled tribe (Meghalaya).
These migratory Koches became impoverished and with time imbibed the rural life of Bengal. Agriculture became their main source of livelihood and hence their folk songs, dances, drama are developed and practiced accordingly and have become the main traditional assets of this caste.
Vast areas of land, which were the agricultural operational field of the Rajbanshis, were transferred to the hands of the migrant population (Bengalis and Marwaris) who came and settled in this area over time. The vicious circle of plight and poverty that had encompassed these poor agricultural laborers under the reign of the Zamindars and Jotdars have still not emancipated the current generations.
Lahankari is a musical form bearing the cultural identity of the Rajbanshis not of the flourished king’s men, but the rural poor migratory people who have settled in the various parts of Northern Bengal. The tonal structure and musical score resembles more popular “Bhawaiya” which is another folk music of the Rajbanshis. The themes of the Lahankari folk-song reflect the experiences of rural life. The notes are mostly stretched and are less based on fast beats. Like any other folk songs, Lahankari though has a particular tune of its own, which brings out the emotions of the lonely fate of the rural professions and their lifestyles and life issues. Professions like agricultural daily labors, elephant herders, weed cleaners of the crop fields mostly took away these rural people to far off places away from their homeland. The tune bears the longing for their family which has been formed after assemblage of the music of the border ares of North Bengal and Assam and the music of the rural South Bengal.
Lahankari music is used here to communicate the sweet love of a poor couple who are agricultural labours by profession. This is a musical dialogue that expresses love among the couple that never fades out even after daily anguish and indigence. The man (Halua) goes out to plough without informing his wife (Haluani-wife of the Halua) about the exact location. When the Halua left home for work, his wife was not there may be had gone out of the house for other domestic chores. The wife, Haluani, comes back home, feels sad and anxious about her husband’s breakfast and lunch. She quickly prepares food, starts heading towards the paddy field carrying the food for the toiling husband. Finally when they meet, she pampers her husband with food and then they converse expressing their love for each other through songs. The whole story is enacted through music accompanied with indigenous musical instruments.
The language and the music resembling Bhawaiya mark ethnic origin of the Rajbanshis as Koch. Lahankari wins the heart of all where love thrives defeating physical weariness, predicament of poverty and mundane everydayness.
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