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26 July 1865|
Bhangabari, Pabna, India (now Bangladesh)
|Died||13 September 1910
Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, India (now West Bengal, India)
|Occupation||Lyricist, music composer, singer|
|Literary movement||Bengal Renaissance|
|Notable works||Kantageeti, Bani, Kalyani, Amrita|
Early life and education
Rajanikanta was born in the village of Bhangabari, Pabna (present-day Bangladesh). He was the third child of Guruprasad Sen and Manomohini Devi. Guruprasad served as sub-judge in many parts of Bengal, during which period he published a collection of 400 Vaishnava brajabuli poems, padachintamanimAlA. Guruprasad was posted in Katwa when Rajanikanta was born. Guruprasad's elder brother, Govindanath, was a successful advocate. However, much of the family wealth was unwisely invested, and Rajanikanta faced increasing poverty throughout his life. His mother Manomohini was a competent housewife.
Rajani studied in Boalia Zilla School (now Rajshahi Collegiate School). He was a very mischievous and playful child. Though he spent less time for his studies, yet he scored well in all his examinations. He has later mentioned in his diary:
I was never a book-worm, for I was blessed with very brilliant parts.
He learnt Sanskrit from Rajnath Tarkaratna, a neighbour in his village Bhangakuthi during school vacations. Rajani got Gopal Chandra Lahiri as his academic mentor. He passed entrance examination in 1882 with second division and got rupees ten per month as stipend. He passed FA in 1885 with second division and joined City College. He completed Bachelor of Arts degree in 1889 and Bachelor of Law degree in 1891 from the same college.
Contribution to Bengali music and literature
Rajani's mother Manomohini Devi had interest in Bengali literature. She used to discuss about it with young Rajani. This influenced his future compositions a lot. Rajani also imbibed a deep interest in music from Tarakeshwar Chakrabarty, his friend in Bhangakuthi, who was good in singing,
He was fluent in writing poems in Bengali and Sanskrit from childhood. He started composing music for his poems and singing those along with playing musical instruments later. Rajani's poems were published in local magazines – Utsaha, Ashalata many times. He used to compose songs for inaugural and closing ceremonies for various assemblies in his college days. He wrote his very famous song within a very short period of one hour for such an assembly in Rajshahi library:
তব, চরণ নিম্নে, উৎসবময়ী শ্যাম-ধরনী সরসা;
There was an assembly in Calcutta townhall on 7 August 1905 for protesting against Partition of Bengal. Boycott of British goods and using Swadeshi (Indian) items were decided by eminent Bengali leaders. Indian common men started using clothes manufactured in India (Ahmedabad and Bombay mainly). However those were not so fine as compared to British ones. This made some of the Indians unhappy. In this context Rajani wrote his famous song:
মায়ের দেওয়া মোটা কাপড় মাথায় তুলে নেরে ভাই;
In no time the song became popular across entire Bengal and so was Rajani. The song was a major source of inspiration for the participants of the contemporary Swadeshi movement as well as for the Indian freedom fighters in the years to come. He wrote another popular song with similar intention:
আমরা নেহাত গরীব, আমরা নেহাত ছোট,-
The latter part of this song's lyrics contains an urge to boycott British goods too. Three of his books were published during his life: Vani (1902), Kalyani (1905), Amrita (1910). Five more books: Abhaya(1910), Anandamayi(1910), Bishram(1910), Sadbhab-Kusum (1913) and Shesdan (1916) were published after his death  Vani and Kalyani are collections of his songs. Amrita contains short poems to inculcate the right values in children. Rabindranath Tagore's Kanika influenced him to compose these poems.
Rajani's major contribution towards Bengali literature and music was the immortal devotional songs which were written and composed by him. His songs were set to Hindustani classical style, mixing Kirtan, Baul and Tappa. He was also influenced by humorous/ satirical poems written by Dwijendralal Ray and wrote many of similar types. He became well known as Kantakabi and his songs are often called Kantageeti.
Singers of Kantageeti
Many singers from India and Bangladesh have sung his songs. A few of them are: Krishna Chattopadhyay, Neela Majumdar, Pannalal Bhattacharya, Anup Ghoshal, Nishith Sadhu, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay,Nupurchanda Ghosh , Arghya Sen, Juthika Roy, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Arati Mukhopadhyay, Manna Dey, Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, Chhabi Bandyopadhyay, Iffat Ara Dewan, Utpala Sen. In recent times, Arijit Roy Chowdhury, trained by Rajani's grandson Dilip Kumar Roy, is one of the best singers of his music.
The brilliant singer of Rajanikanta's songs, Krishna Chattopadhyay should be specially mentioned as her voice that translates the emotion within the song is remarkable and touches everyone's heart.
After completing education Rajani started practising in Rajshahi in 1891. His father's elder brother was a lawyer in Rajshahi then. Rajani earned reputation quickly. However, his passion lay in cultural activities like music, literature, acting in plays etc. In this he was supported by friends like the noted historian Akshay Kumar Maitreya, and also his wife. Gradually he started losing his reputation as he couldn't cater to the needs of his clients on time. He worked as a munsif for some days in Natore and Naogaon too.
Rajani's father Guruprasad retired voluntarily in 1875 from the post of subjudge of Barishal. The entire family was dependent mainly on Guruprasad's elder brother's sons Baradagobinda and Kalikumar. Unfortunately, both of them died suddenly in quick succession in 1878. Rajani's younger brother Janakikanta had also just died of Hydrophobia. Suddenly the prosperous family plunged into a financial crisis. Rajani had to study law to earn money soon to support the family. He married Hiranmayee Devi in 1883. She used to discuss with Rajani regarding his poetry and sometimes suggested themes for the poems. Rajani had four sons – Shachindra, Gnanendra, Bhupendra, Kshitindra and two daughters Shatadalbasini and Shantibala. Bhupendra died at a young age. Rajani's firm belief in God is reflected in the following song composed on the next day:
তোমারি দেওয়া প্রাণে তোমারি দেওয়া দুখ,
Rajani was interested in physical activities and games. He initiated playing of football and cricket in his village Bhangabari at his own expense. He was very popular in his village and the nearby areas because of all-round activities like singing, playing, acting etc. Rajani had put huge effort to promote education for women. He faced various challenges to convince the orthodox villagers and even the students.
In 1909, Rajanikanta started suffering from throat problems. On 10 September of the same year he was forced to move to Calcutta along with some family members despite very stringent financial conditions. A British doctor examined him and diagnosed it as Larynx cancer. He consulted various eminent doctors in Calcutta but his condition did not improve. As a last resort, he spent a couple of months in Varanasi with the hope of divine intervention. With a very heavy heart he had to sell off copyrights of his published books Vani and Kalyani to arrange for the trip. He had to return to Calcutta as his condition had worsened much. He underwent Tracheotomy operation by Captain Denham White on 10 February 1910 in Calcutta Medical College. He survived the operation but lost his voice forever. He spent the remaining days of his life in the Cottage Ward of the hospital. He used to write in his diary quite regularly during his stay in the hospital. He also started writing autobiography which was written only up to the first chapter. Some poetry lovers and some of the students of the Calcutta Medical College tended after him, Maharaja Manindra Chandra Nandi and Sharat Kumar Ray helped him financially. On 11 June 1910 Rabindranath Tagore visited the hospital to meet Rajani. Rajani's son Kshitindranath and daughter Shantibala sung a song composed by Rajani and he accompanied by playing a Harmonium. Rajani believed that God inflicted the pain upon him for the purification of his soul. This belief gave him the inner strength to forget the physical pain temporarily and immerse himself in the composition of songs. This is reflected in the following song composed on the day Rabindranath met him:
আমায় সকল রকমে কাঙ্গাল করেছে, গর্ব করিতে চূর,
Rajani sent this poem to Bolpur for Rabindranath. Touched by the warmth of the verses, Rabindranath wrote a letter to him on 30 July. In this, he has highly appreciated Rajani for his literary talent and glorified his remarkable endurance and inner strength which inspires him to keep writing amidst the unbearable pain. During this period, he also composed a few Agamani and Vijaya songs. Rajani's last few days were full of unbearable pains. He died on 13 September 1910.
- Kantakabi Rajanikanta, Nalini Ranjan Pandit, Bengal Book Company (1921)
- Masik Basumati, 1963 Kartik Edition, p20
- Hasnat, Abul; Sayeed, Khan Md (2012). "Sen, Rajanikanta". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.