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22 July, 2016 00:00 00 AM
Discovering Jhenaidah - Final Part

Pagla Kanai: Pioneer of mystical songs

By Bipul K Debnath
Pagla Kanai: Pioneer of mystical songs

It is evident that the archaeological sites of Jhenaidah bear the glory of local history and the importance of our cultural heritage. Pagla Kanai, a pioneer of mystical songs and a contemporary of Lalon Fakir, was also born here. Now let’s discuss this great bard in this final part.
Carrying on the practice of spiritualism and mysticism at its peak, Pagla Kanai sang songs on the stage roaming around the country, while Lalon meditated to compose transcendental songs at his abode. Kanai, a painter of Dhuajari, composed about 3,000 mystical and spiritual songs, including genres such as Dehotatta, Jarigaan, Baul, Marfati, Dhua and Mursidi. Though Dehotatta (analysis of human form) is a magnetic touch of his songs, the then contemporary society, life and ideas also get the floor vividly. In fact, the sceneries of rain at in pastoral areas, the squally of the Bangla month of Ashwin, human sufferings due to diseases like cholera, small pox and malaria, extreme poverty, frequent natural disasters and heartless torture of the landlords on the downtrodden are also the subjects of his songs.
The legend was born to Kuron Sheikh and Momena Khatun on March 8, 1809 (Falgun 25, 1216 Bangla Shon) at Berbari (some say Labutala) village in Jhenaidah district. His real name was Kanai Sheikh. His birth place is known as Paglakanai union now. He had two younger siblings, Uzzal Sheikh and Shornari.
He started his education at the village school, but he did not carry on because of his restless and bohemian nature. For this reason, people used to call him ‘Pagla’ (crazy) from his childhood. At that time, he lost his father and a dark shadow appeared before him. Seeing no perfect way to survive, his mother Momena took shelter at the house of a relative at Chewniya village in Kaliganj upazilla of Jhenaidah. She gave up her last breath there. After that incident, Kanai and his brother Uzzal took up jobs as cowherds at the resident of Bhoros Mandal at Balarampur village of Harinakundu in Jhenaidah.
Later, their sister Shornari took them to her husband’s house. Now Kanai, a self-willed agent, was in a solvent family. At that time, he was riding on cows and composing songs on his own. He  gave tune to his self-composed songs and sang them for people from all walks of life. He achieved immense popularity among his  listeners, fascinating them with his songs. Thus, his fame as a mystic folk poet and musician spread widely.
Kanai, who couldn’t settle down, left his sister’s home after getting a job as an indigo worker at the factory of the Chakrobarty family in Atharokhada of Magura district. But he did not continue with the job and soon left the place, for the sake of songs. He was married, but gradually felt the meaninglessness of connubial life. So, he got attracted to an ascetic life. Though he wandered mainly in different places of Jhenaidah, he would also tour the areas of Jessore, Faridpur, Kushtia, Pabna, Rajshahi and Sirajganj for a long time to sing songs in chorus, occasionally competitively. He built a mutual friendship with a leading contemporary poet of Pabna named Fakir Alimuddin.
Kanai had the absolute ability to compose songs spontaneously, and he could mesmerise huge audiences for hours at various performance centres in those areas. It is said that his voice was so sweet and crystal clear that about 35,000 listeners could listen to his vocals _ there were no loudspeakers in those days! Some lines from one of his spiritual songs go like this: Ki mojar ghor bedhece/ haire ghor baindhace/ dui khutir upor (What a facetious abode (human body)/ oh what a structure!/ built on two poles).
It is believed Nayan Fakir from Rasulpur village in Keshabpur of Jessore district was Kanai’s teacher. Fakir’s main disciples included Kala Chand Bayati, Hakim Shah, Karim Biswas, Indu Biswas and Karamaddi. Basically, the master composed mystical and spiritual songs. But, Pagla Kanai is popular for developing a Jari form, called Dhuajari, in which an incident is narrated in a rhythmic tone. A Dhuajari session may also take place between two Jarigaan teams. The teams render songs in a question-answer format. Towards the end, the team members put forward extempore arguments in an effort to prove their opponents wrong.
Pagla Kanai, the legendary and mystical bard who perambulated our country roads holding a dotara (a two-string musical instrument) to sing songs for the common people, passed away on July 12, 1889 (Asharh 28, 1296 BS). His shrine is at Berbari village under Pagla Kanai union. The place can be reached from Pagla Kanai circle of Jhenaidah town by three-wheelers, for only Tk 10.
“A public library, music academy, auditorium, shrine and a stone sculpture are built there to highlight the glory of the bard. A three-day festival is held every year marking his birth and death anniversaries. Tourists and devotees from home and abroad throng this ground and musical programmes are also performed,”
said Abdur Rashid, a lawyer and general secretary of Pagla Kanai Smriti Shangrakkhan Shangshad. “It is important to say Kanai is no less important than Lalon in the field of spiritual and expressive songs in the southwestern part of Bangladesh,” he added.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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