Bhikhari Thakur

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Bhikhari Thakur
Born (1897-12-18)18 December 1897
Kutubpur (Diyara), Saran district, Bihar, India
Died 10 July 1971(1971-07-10) (aged 83)
Occupation Playwright, lyricist, actor, Folk Dancer, Folk singer, Social Activist
Notable works Bidesiya, Beti-Bechwa, Bhai-Birod, Kalyuga Prem, Radhesyam Behar, Ganga-Asnan, Bidwa-Bilap, Putrabadh, Gobar-Ghichor

Bhikari Thakur (Devanagari: भिखारी ठाकुर; Nastaʿlīq: بھکھڑی ٹھاکر; About this sound listen ) was an Indian playwright, lyricist, actor, folk dancer, folk singer and social activist in Bhojpuri language popularly known as the "Shakespeare of Bhojpuri".[1] Thakur was born in a barber-family on 18 December 1887 in a village named Kutubpur (Diyara), Saran District, Bihar, India. His father and mother were Dal Singar Thakur and Shivkali Devi respectively. He had a younger brother named Bahor Thakur.

He travelled to Kharagpur to earn a livelihood. Here he made money, but was unsatisfied with the job. A Ramlila aficionado, he then travelled to Jagannath Puri as he had heard that the pilgrimage city organises some of the best Ramlila plays.

He put together a play group at his native village and began to perform Ramlila, songs recitals and took an interest in social works. He started writing dramas, songs and novels etc. The language of the books was simple and attracted many. The books were published from Varanasi, Chhapra and Howrah.

His literary creations including dramas (Bidesiya, Beti-Bechawa, Bidhawa-Bilaap etc.) and songs continue to be appreciated and performed even today. He died at the age of 83 on 10 July 1971. Upcoming Hindi Film Chaarfutiya Chhokare directed by Manish Harishankar dedicates its one song 'Kaun Si Nagariya' to his work that is based on his one of the song of Beti-Bechawa. Bihar Kokila Sharda Sinha has sung the song.

Early life[edit]

He was born on 18 December 1887 at the village of Kutubpur in the district of Saran, Bihar. His mother's name was Shivakali Devi and father was Dalsingar Thakur. He belonged to a Nai (barber caste), one of the most backward castes in Indian society. The traditional work of his caste was cutting and trimming hair and assisting brahmins in marriage as well as in death ceremonies. They were also used by dikus (village messengers) to send and distribute ceremonial (in cases of marriages and deaths) and other messages in the village and nearby areas. They acted like postal workers in the traditional-feudal village setup.

In one of his works he says: “Jati Hajjam more Kutubpur mokam. Jati pesha bate, bidya naheen bate babujee” (I am a barber by caste and I come from Kutubpur. My caste is merely my work. It is not my education kind sir.) In this he speaks about his own caste and regrets that his caste people are distributing letters to all without knowing the importance of the letter, or the alphabets. He clearly understood the power of education and continuously chided his people for being illiterate and bounded by jajmani (patron-client) relations with the dikus.

Career[edit]

Bhikari Thakur is best known for the creation of the twentieth century theatre form Bidesiya. Bhikari Thakur was a barber (a backward Caste) who abandoned home and hearth to form a group of actors who dealt with issues of confrontation: between the traditional and the modern, between urban and rural, between the haves and the have-nots. Appreciative native Bhojpuri audiences consider Bhikari Thakur as the incomparable founding father, propagator and exponent par excellence of this form. He was a folk poet, a folk singer, a folk dancer and actor.

The narrative of Bidesiya has been made so effective through the medium of vibrant dances and pleasing music and based on such lifelike stories that it presents a realistic picture of the poor joint families of the region.

The Bhojpuri audience was so theatrically inclined that it did not hesitate in undertaking long journeys to witness a performance. Like in many other folk forms, the female roles in Bidesiya are played by the male actor-dancers. Normally they wear dhoti or shirt trousers but they sport long hair and make it and ornament it like women's hair. Dance forms an integral part of this form, in fact it's the essence of the performance, which starts with dance to attract a large audience. Once this is done the Bidesiya starts. The actors, besides dancing take on female roles in different dramatic contexts. In spite of the advent of various other modes of entertainment, Bidesiya remains the most popular and refreshing relaxation for the Bhojpuris. Through his plays, he gave voice to the cause of poor labourers and tried to create awareness about the poor situation of women in bhojpuri society. He always stood and spoke against casteism and communalism in the same cultural tunes. People from this region are very fond of and feel proud of his contribution to the local cultural traditions. His plays and his style of theatre are very popular for their rhythmic language, sweet songs and appealing music. His plays are a true reflection of bhojpuri culture. Almost all of his works focused on the day-to-day problems of lower castes/classes. He used satire and light-hearted comments to maximum effect to put forward his views on social ills and other problems plaguing Bhojpuri society.

Bidesiya Theatre Style and Bidesiya Play[edit]

Bidesiya, as a vibrant mode of a regional cultural expression, rugged and unsophisticated in form and rich in variety, is a powerful expression of cultural heritage of weaker section of society. Bhikari Thakur, through his artistic talents and bitter experiences, developed it by picking up elements from Ramlila, Raslila, Birha yatra and other performative elements and moulded it into a totally new and wonderful style known now as bidesiya. Bidesiya means migrated people, who left their home in search of livelihood, but in the larger context Bhikari's bidesiya not only migrated from the lands but also from their culture also. Many people get confused between the bidesiya style and his play Bidesiya. Actually, he did all his plays in bidesiya style which is very similar to nautanki, but later his theatrical style was known from his famous production Bidesiya.

Almost all his plays took their themes from society but were moulded in Bhikari's new progressive and revolutionary style. When asked why he took to theatre, Bhikari answered, "I used to watch Ramlila and Raslila. When in Ramlila, Vyasji gave sermons to people; I also thought I could also give sermons to my people". This dream came true and till his last day he served his people through his sermons, which unlike diku sermons were based on real life. But our legendary cultural figure is no more among us. He breathed his last on 10 July 1971 after giving us a new lease of life.

Works[edit]

He has written as well as directed and performed ten major works; beginning with a non-serious vasant-bahar based on the dhobi-dhobin dance he saw somewhere. His major productions include: Bidesiya, Bhai-Birodh, Beti-Viyog or Beti Bechba (daughter-seller), Kalyuga Prema (Love in Kalyuga), Radheshyam Behar (based on krisna-radha love), Ganga-asnan (ceremonial bath in the Ganges), Bidhwa-vilap, Putrabadh (filicide), Gabar-Bichar (based on an illegitimate child), and Nanad Bhojai.

Bidesiya (The Foreigner)[edit]

Perhaps his best known and popular work in terms of modern production, Bidesiya is the story of a man who has to leave behind his village and family to seek a job in the city of Calcutta. Although the story seems to be ambiguous, it has strong elements of auteurship, which is very common to Bidesiya style. The play remains relevant even today as modern day Bihari people have become a migratory community. This has happened due to more than half a decade of misgovernance in the Indian state. The educated flee to Indian metropolises or abroad. Thakur was until recently largely forgotten but because of Bidesiya's modern-day relevance, a revival movement led by the Bihari theatre artists has brought his work to public attention once again. In 2003, a song from this play "Re Sajani" was used in the critically acclaimed film Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi directed by Sudhir Mishra.

Bhai-Birodh (Brothers Oppose)[edit]

This play deals with the theme of joint family, which is a very prominent feature of Bihar's rural society. Three brothers are separated due to lack of confidence and respect for each other on the instigation of a person outside their family. However, at the end they realise the importance of living together but not before a lot of harm had actually taken place.

Beti-Biyog or Beti-Bechwa (The Daughter Seller)[edit]

This play is considered a very progressive play. Bhikari Thakur through this play criticises the widespread custom of selling young girls in marriage to much older men. This custom prevailed in Bhojpuri-speaking areas until recently. The protagonist is a young girl whose father sells her to an older person.

Kalyuga-Prem (Modern Love)[edit]

Through this play Bhikari Thakur talks about the bad effects of drinking. The lone wage earner of the family is a drunkard and often visits prostitutes. This extravagance soon leads to the pauperisation of his family. His whole family including his wife and son suffers tremendously because of the bad habits of the head of the family. Later in the play the wife and son decide to confront him but to no avail. Later being fed up with his father's immoral ways, the son runs away from the family and goes to Calcutta to earn money to eventually return and rescue his mother.

Ganga-Asnan (To Bathe in the Ganges)[edit]

Malechu is from a village. His wife wants to go to bathe in the Ganges but his mother is too old to do so. The wife finally prevails and they set out but not after loading much luggage for his old mother to carry on the way. Before they reach the Ganges a quarrel ensues and Malechu beats up his mother. At the banks of the Ganges, his mother gets lost in a fair. In the same fair, his wife is seduced by a sadhu with the promise of giving her a son. Malechu finds her in the nick of time and epiphany dawns on the both of them who then find the mother and beg her forgiveness. The story is a critique both of the distance between parents and their children in a situation where old parents are completely dependent on their children and also of the occult practices of sadhus who most often are conmen.

Vidhwa-Bilap (The Wailing Widow)[edit]

The story is about how widows are treated within their homes. It is seen as an extension of Beti-bechwa for more often than not young girls married to old men; spend most of their lives as widows. The story reflects the hatred and seclusion a widow has to suffer in brahminical society for no fault of her own.

Putrabadh (Killing of the Son)[edit]

It's the story of an illegitimate son of Garbari and Galij's wife. Galij returns from the town to find the village gossiping about his son's parentage. He wants to take Dichor back to Calcutta with him. But both Galij's wife and Garbari intervene. A quarrel ensues as each of them claims Dichor as their own. The panchayat is called and they decide that Dichor be divided into three pieces. A man comes and maps Dichors body and agrees to do the job for four annas a piece. The mother relents refusing to pay and giving up all claim on the son. The panchayat sees the light and Dichor is allowed to stay with his mother.

Legacy[edit]

Thakur is considered to be the greatest flag bearer of Bhojpuri language and culture. Bhojpuri is widely spoken in major parts of Bihar including Jharkhand, some parts of eastern UP and Bengal. He is not only popular in this linguistic belt but also in the cities where Bihari workers migrated for their livelihood. Many criticised him for upholding feudal and Brahminical values, which to some extent may be true. Despite the support and legitimation of few brahminical and feudal values in his works, he always pioneered the vision of a just and egalitarian society and this is the difference we have to understand. No vision of egalitarian and subaltern society can be even imagined under these idiotic and nonsensical shadows of Brahminical values.

Though his plays revolved and evolved around villages and rural society, they still became very famous in the big cities like Kolkata, Patna, Benares and other small cities, where migrant labourers and poor workers went in search for their livelihood. Breaking all boundaries of nation he, along with his mandali, also visited Mauritius, Kenya, Singapore, Nepal, British Guyana, Suriname, Uganda, Myanmar, Madagascar, South Africa, Fiji, Trinidad and other places where bhojpuri culture is more or less flourishing.

Later use of works[edit]

After Thakur's death in 1971, his theatre style became neglected. Nevertheless, over time it has taken on a new shape and his 'Launda Dance' style has become popular. Bihar is perhaps the only region in the world were a man wearing women's clothing dances like a woman. As such it is publicly acceptable.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Shalaja Tripathi. "On the Shakespeare of Bhojpuri". The Hindudate=16 June 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 

External links[edit]