Letters from Mainadal

Mainadal is a village in Birbhum district, West Bengal, 215 km north-west of Kolkata, where the Dutch scholar and field recordist Arnold Bake had gone in 1933, to record kirtan in the home and temple of the Mitra Thakurs. The Travelling Archive went to Mainadal for the first time in August 2014, on the trail of Bake’s recordings, which we had heard in various archives. The Mitra Thakurs were not at all aware of Bake’s visit, they could not remember hearing from their ancestors any story of a white man coming to their village with a recording machine, but our story had a great impact on them. It was thrilling for them to hear their ancestors’ names from us and listen to voices from their own past.

Since our first visit we have gone back several times to Mainadal, while some members of the Mitra Thakur family have begun to take special interest in their own history, digging into their own past, bringing out treasures from the family chest. Milan Mitra Thakur, a retired art teacher and painter, who studied in Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan, has become a close friend who writes to us, sends us old photographs and old recordings; sometimes also pages of books where Mainadal is mentioned.

Here are some emails and letters from Milanda (that is how we address him now, the suffix ‘da’ being a short form of dada, which in Bengali means elder brother), as well as copies of our correspondence with some other family members of the Mitra Thakur family. Milanda lives with his wife in his little studio in Bolpur part of his time and the rest in Mainadal. We thought of making a dedicated section on Mainadal with things we have had from the Mitra Thakurs. Newer material can be added to the collection over time, so that we can slowly build some kind of a Mainadal archive within the space of our own archive.

From Milan Mitra Thakur.

On an old photograph of the family temple, or their ‘Thakurbari’.

26 April 2016. ঠাকুরবাড়ির মন্দিরের বয়স আনুমানিক ৩০০ বছরেরও বেশি হবে, কেননা বিগ্রহ প্রতিষ্ঠা হয়েছিল ১৫১৫ শকাব্দে। মন্দিরটা হয়েছিল সেকেন্ড জেনারাশনে।
(The temple is more than 300 years old, because the idol was established in Mainadal in 1515 Saka and the temple was built by the second generation)

About an old photograph showing their family of kirtaniyas, marked Kolkata and dated 1933; the same year when Arnold Bake had gone to Maindadal.

26 April 2016 নবনীধর হলেন নবগোপালের বাবা রাসবিহারী মিত্র ঠাকুরের সমসাময়িক। ঠাকুরবাড়ির কীর্তনের দল প্রথম করেন হরিদাস, নবনীধর ও রাসবিহারী মিত্র ঠাকুর। নবনীধর ৩৫ বছর বয়সেই মারা যান। তাঁর অসাধারণ কন্ঠ ও সুর তালে তিনি বিখ্যাত ছিলেন। প্রত্যেক বছর তিনি সিমলা ও দিনাজপুর রাজবাড়িতে গান করতেন।
আমার বাবার [নন্দলাল মিত্র ঠাকুর] কিছু লেখা আছে আমাদের ঠাকুরবাড়ির উপর। আমি সেটা বই করতে চাইছি, তার process চলছে। সে জন্য প্রত্যেকের বাড়ি থেকে পুরনো ফটোগ্রাফ সংগ্রহ করছি। নবনীধরের ছবিতে ডানদিকে মালা পরে রয়েছেন।
(The writing on the photograph says ‘Sri Nabanidhar Mitra Thakur and his Kirtan Group’. Nabanidhar, Haridas and Rashbihari Mitra Thakur were the first of the family to form their own kirtan groups, gradually becoming famous in and beyond the region. Nabanidhar is on the right, wearlng a garland.)

On a photograph of Rashbihari Mitra Thakur, father of Nabagopal Mitra Thakur, whom Arnold Bake had recorded in 1933, and later Deben Bhattacharya, in 1956.

27 Aril 2016. রাসবিহারী মিত্র ঠাকুরের ছবি পাঠালাম। দেখো কেমন ঠাকুরালি চেহারা।
(Sending you a photo pf Rashbihari Mitra Thakur, wrote Milanda. See how ‘thakurali’ he looks! Now, what exactly he meant by ‘thakurali’ is hard to know. Perhaps there are some qualities of a good Mainadal kirtaniya which Milanda found Rashbihari to embody.)

On the publication of his father, Nandalal Mitra Thakur’s book.

11 August 2016. গত পরশুদিন, ৯ আগস্ট [২০১৬] আমাদের ঠাকুরবাড়ি সম্পর্কে আমার বাবার লেখা বইটি প্রকাশ করলাম ঠাকুরবাড়িতে। ওই দিনটা তাঁর মৃত্যুদিন (13th death anniversary) ছিল। বইটির নাম দিয়েছি “বৈষ্ণবতীর্থ কীর্তনপীঠ ময়নাডাল ও মিত্রঠাকুর পরিবার”। তোমরা জন্মাষ্টমীতে এলে দেবো, তা না হলে পোস্টে পাঠাব। বইয়ের প্রচ্ছদটা এখানে দিলাম।
(On 9 August 2016 Milan Mitra Thakur launched his father, Nandalal Mitra Thakur’s book on Mainadal, ‘Baishnabtirtha Kirtanpeeth Mainadal O Mitrathakur Poribar’. The title highlights both aspects of Mainadal as a place of religious congregation and musical education.)

About the future of Mainadal.

7 June 2017. মৌসুমি . . . তোমাদের জন্যই ময়নাডাল নতুন করে আলোয় এল, সত্যি বলতে কি তোমরা আসার পর থেকে ময়নাডাল নিয়ে চর্চা বেড়েছে আমাদের মধ্যেও, বাইরেও একটা সময়ে এই নিয়ে খুব চর্চা ছিল, যে সময়ে ময়নাডালের কীর্তন সচল ছিল–সেটা থেমে যাওয়াতে সব কিছুই চাপা পড়েছিল। তোমরা যেন সেই ময়নাডালকে খুঁড়ে তোলার কাজ নিয়ে এলে। সময়ও সাথ দিয়েছে, তার কারণ আরও 8-10 বছর পর ময়নাডাল এসে সরাসরি গান বা বাজনার কিছুই পাওয়া যাবেনা (আমার অনুমান)। সবকিছু বই খাতা নির্ভর হয়ে থাকবে। তোমাদের এই কাজ মিত্রঠাকুরদের পরবর্তী প্রজন্মের জন্যও মহার্ঘ নিদর্শন হয়ে থাকবে।
(Moushumi, it is for you both that Mainadal has come under the spotlight again. To be honest, even we have become more interested in knowing our history and heritage since you came. Once there was a lot of enthusiasm around Mainadal, both here and outside too. At that time the music was more alive here. Then things seemed to go down a little. It seems as if you set in motion the task of excavating Mainadal from the past. Time has been on your side too, because you’ve come at the urgent moment of a closure. I believe that in eight to ten years, there will be no way of experiencing the music of Mainadal live. Nothing will remain. Everything will be reduced to records, and one will have to depend on written texts to know about Mainadal. Hence your work will be of great value to the next generation too.’)

On the specific style of Mainadal kirtan.

8 June 2017. আমার মনে হয় কীর্তনের চারটে ধারা। পরগনার নাম অনুসারে নামকরণ হলেও ময়নাডালের মিত্রঠাকুরগণ মনোহরশাহী ধারায় কিছু অভিনবত্ব (তাল ও গায়কি) আনলেন যা মনোহরশাহী ময়নাডাল ঘরানা বলে পরিচিত। এই গানটি শুনো, মনোহরশাহী এবং ময়নাডাল মনোহরশাহীর পার্থক্য রয়েছে। কীর্তনীয়া, মনোহরশাহী কীর্তনের খ্যতনামা শ্রী নন্দকিশোর দাস, মুর্শিদাবাদ জেলা (গোবিন্দগোপাল মিত্রঠাকুরের সমসাময়িক)। নন্দকিশোর দাসের (দানলীলা) গানটি তোমরা website এ রাখলে লিখবে collection & recorded by Masayuki Onishi (Japan) student, Visva Bharati (late ’70s)।
(I believe that there are four streams of kirtan. Although they are named by the specific parganas or regions they come from, and Mainadal falls under the general group of Manoharshahi kirtan, there is a uniqueness of rhythm and style in Mainadal for which it is known more specifically as the Manoharshahi Mainadal school of kirtan. Listen to this song and you will see that there are some differences between Manoharshahi kirtan and Mainadal Manoharshahi kirtan. The singer is the great Sri Nandakishore Das of Murshidabad district, who was a contemporary of Gobindagopal Mitra Thakur. If you want to put it up on your website, then please credit the recording to Masayuki Onishi (Japan), student, Visva Bharati (late ’70s). This is the ‘Danlila’, sung by Nandakishore Das.)

Video recording of a song the Mitra Thakurs sing at someone’s passing.

12 June 2017. মিত্রঠাকুরদের গান তাদের দৈনন্দিন জীবনচর্যা, সুখ দুঃখ অনুভুতির প্রকাশ মাধ্যম। এই গানটি গাওয়া হয় পরিবারের কারো মৃত্যুর শ্রাদ্ধের দিনে ঠাকুরের কাছে বিরহের প্রার্থনা।
নিতাই এর শ্রাদ্ধে তার কাকা প্রভাত মিত্রঠাকুর ও অন্যান্য মিত্রঠাকুরগণ

(The Mitra Thakurs express their joys and sorrows of everyday life through music. Here they are singing for Nitai or Nityananda Mitra Thakur, led by his uncle Probhat Mitra Thakur.).

নিতাই গৌর হে এইবার রাখো রাঙা চরণের পাশ
ওহে বারবার এইবার রাখো রাঙা চরণের পাশ
আমরা নিতাই গৌর বই আন জানিনা
আমাদের কে আছে আর কোথায় যাব
যেন চরণ ছাড়া করো না
আমরা নিতাই গৌর বই আন জানিনা

(Don’t leave me ever Nitai Gour, for I know none save you. Keep me at your feet. If you leave me, where shall I go? Keep me, Nitai Gour. Don’t leave me ever.)

On photographs of Nandotsav, 1980.

23 June 2017. ১৯৮০ সালের ময়নাডালের জনমাষ্টমীর নন্দোৎসবের এই ছবিগুলো পাঠালাম, মাসায়ুকি ওনিশি(জাপান) এবং পুলক দত্ত (শান্তিনিকেতন)–ওদের তোলা। সেইসময়ে ওনিশি সমস্ত গান রেকর্ডিং করেছিল, ওর সাথে যোগাযোগ হয়েছে (নাড়ুদার) গানগুলো পাঠবার জন্য বলেছে। এই ছবি ও অনেক গান পাঠিয়েছে কিন্তু গান কোনোটাই ময়নাডালের নয়–আবার বলা হয়েছে দেখা যাক কবে পাঠায়। যদি পাই তোমাকে পাঠিয়ে দেব–আগে নির্মলের বাবার (কালিয়াকান্ত মিত্রঠাকুর) ছোট বয়সের যে ফটোটি পাঠিয়েছি, সেটি Arnold Bake তুলেছিলেন, তার কারণ এই ফটোগ্রাফ Christian (লন্ডন থেকে যে এসেছে)-এর কাছে রয়েছে।
(Sending you some photographs of Janmashtami and Nandotsav of 1980, taken by Masuyaki Onishi of Japan and Pulak Dutta or Naruda, of Santiniketan. Onishi had also recorded many songs at the time. Naruda has asked him to send the songs. He has sent some recordings but none of those are of Mainadal. If he sends more, will give you copies.)

Recordings of Raslila sung by Nadiananda Mitra Thakur (recordist, unknown), sent by Milan Mitra Thakur, in May 2017. Nadiananda was the father of Nityananda Mitra Thakur whom we recorded in 2014.




And here is the note Milan Mitra Thakur wrote about our exhibition, Time upon Time: Arnold Bake in Bengal.Written on 20 March 2016.

Far from Mainadal
From Nilanjan Mirta Thakur, grandson of Nabagopal Mitra Thakur

14 January 2015. My grand father Late Nabagopal Mitra Thakur has songs written in diary. He and his brother Late Govindgopal Mitra Thakur were radio artists and have the opportunity to attend the ceremony of C.R. Das, Subhas Bose etc.

Then, learning about the death of Nityananda Mitra Thakur: 30 March 2015. ‘We are devastated with his loss. He is probably the last generation of Mitra Thakur, who had the courage of taking singing as his profession.It is a loss which will never be recovered. I am deeply shattered that heritage of our village will be lost. It will remain a myth that Moynadal has an era of kirtana’s. . . ‘


This is the link video which gave us a clue about who the Mitra Thakurs of Mainadal were.

From Gopen Mitrathakur, a doctor in the UK, son of Govinda Gopal Mitra Thakur (The same Govinda Bake wrote to his mother about on 16 August 1933: ‘It turned out that Naba Gopal Mitra Thakur, whose address I had, was out doing groceries, but his younger brother Govinda received me most pleasantly, and said it was no problem at all if I stayed, and that he would find a place for me.’)

30 March 2015. ‘Yes I am proud of my father Late Govinda Gopal Mitra-Thakur and great exponents of Kirtan Music my uncle Late Naba Gopal Mitra-Thakur.
I am very pleased to learn that Nilanjan has been trying to introduce you to me.
It is very strange that I haven’t seen him yet after he was born.
I came to England in 1967, long before his father got married ! It is a good thing that I am cherishing the old memories!.

About an Image

This is a curious exchange over a photograph connected with Mainadal, which has elicited multiple and contradictory responses from family members. The photograph in question appears on an LP cover, Religious Music of Bengal (LP), (Paris: BAM, 1966). These were recordings made by Deben Bhattacharya. The actual recordings of the Mainadal kirtaniyas were made by Bhattacharya in 1954 and this LP was later paired with Bhattacharya’s anthology of Vaishnava poems, Love Poems of Chandidas: Rebel Poet-Priest of Bengal. (New York: Grove Press Evergreen, 1970). We had taken the Mainadal recording with us on our first visit and also a picture of the cover. The problem was with the caption for the photograph. It has Nabagopal Mitra Thakur’s name as the performer. In Mainadal everyone said, this cannot be him. However, it is interesting what Nilanjan, Nabagopal’s grandson, had to say and it is further interesting that his nephew, Gopen, says the exact opposite thing about the photograph.

Nilanjan: 8 May 2017. People might have confused as it is difficult to ascertain in first glance due the dark complexion singer in the photo but Late Nabagopal Mitra Thakur was having fair complexion. It might be because of the photo being old. But then, I had a closer look, it exactly resembles my father Late Nihar Mitra Thakur. And those who have seen both of them would agree that my father was a look-alike of my grandfather. I have always seen my grandfather in grey hair. So, it is hard to imagine how he looks in his younger days.
My father’s older sister lives in Purulia. She will definitely be the best person to recognize. I will have her verified in case you want a second opinion.

Gopen: 8 May 2017. Dear Maushumi,
Thank you for aking about the photograph you have kindly sent. No way the contents and the photograbh Matches with ny uncle Late Naba gopal Mitra Thakur.

I do not need to consult the album of his photograph. I have been seeing him since my knowldge appeared. He never sang Baul songs, Nor did he recite Chandidas’s poems. I suggest some one must ask the authorities to rectify their mistake.
With kind regards
Gopen Mitra Thakur