The Origin of Eid-ul-Fitr Songs | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 06, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:10 AM, May 06, 2021

The Origin of Eid-ul-Fitr Songs

I

Abbasuddin requested his favourite Kazi Da to write a song for Eid. Nazrul calmly said, "Get me paan and tea." Within minutes, Nazrul wrote the lyrics. He wanted to compose later, but Abbasuddin was a nachhorbanda. It had to be composed there and then.

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It's not that Nazrul never composed a tune on spot, or on request. Sachin Dev Burman once made such a request to his Kazi Da. Within minutes Nazrul had written and composed Padmar Dheu Re which Sachin recorded himself.

It was different this time. A new tune wasn't spinning. Nazrul decided to rely on a previous tune. This isn't uncommon among songwriters. Sachin Dev Burman once took the tune of Mono Dilo Na Bondhu and gifted Jane Kya Tune Kahi in the timeless movie Pyaasa. Nazrul did the same that day. Within minutes Nazrul wrote and composed the Eid-ul-Fitr song, O Mon Romjaner Oi Rojar Sheshe.

II

If you listen carefully to another song Shukno Patar Nupur Paye, or Tribhuban er Priyo Muhammad you may notice a foreign influence. It doesn't feel Bengali or from Northern India. If your ears feel the same, then you're on the road to finding out that both the songs were heavily influenced by a tune from the late Ottoman era, in today's Turkey.

The tune is based on Üsküdar'a Gider Iken (When going to Uskudar), or Kâtibim (The Clerk). It's a song composed in the mid-18th century (or earlier). In those days, once a tune became popular, it would start travelling. The Ottoman empire was the most powerful empire after ancient Rome. Its boundaries spread westwards to modern-day Hungary and Poland. Greece was a part of the Ottoman empire for almost four centuries; as were parts of North Africa and the Middle East.

As a song travelled in the empire, some changes would be observed. The lyrics could change totally. The tempo could become faster or slower. Some notes could get displaced. Whatever happened, the original song/tune would be localised. Over time, it would be difficult to decipher that the two tunes are similar.

The influence of the Ottoman empire went far beyond its boundaries. Its tunes and architecture influenced Europe. The influence of their language, their cuisine, their tunes, their architecture, and even their administration soon got deeply embedded in the Indian sub-continent.

It was in this context, Nazrul heard Üsküdar'a Gider Iken. But Nazrul being Nazrul, realised the tune needed adaptation for the Bengali ear and its audience. The tempo of the original tune was composed for the oud - the "guitar" that was developed by Ziryab from Al-Andalus. The original tempo was slow because the tune was not composed for mass people to sing along. Nazrul made the tempo a little bit faster. The original composition lost some of its flat/sharp notes. They were replaced by natural notes. Why? It takes some mastery to sing or play flat/sharp notes. This song was meant for people to sing, not for connoisseurs.

III

This was the mastery of Nazrul. He could write and compose a song for any occasion. During Eid-ul-Fitr this year, when you listen to O Mon Romjaner Oi Rojar Sheshe and Tribhuban er Priyo Muhammad chances are you will be transported to a new realm.    

Asrar Chowdhury teaches Economics in classrooms. Outside, he watches Test cricket, plays the flute and listens to music and radio podcasts. Email: asrarul@juniv.edu or asrarul@gmail.com

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