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In this version the last paragraph has been changed. The final quote has been replaced by a similar, but clearer, translation from the original Bengali. A new endnote and a new reference have also been added.

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date: 15 May 2021

Children Singing: Nurture, Creativity, and Culture. A Study of Children’s Music-Making in London, UK, and in West Bengal, India

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter considers children’s music-making in London, UK, and in rural West Bengal, India. While learning styles within these communities differ considerably, folk music is the basis of learning in both, with nursery rhymes and children’s songs considered within this category of “folk” music. The role of parents in both communities is a crucial factor in the learning process. In the Bengali context, parents often continue to teach music to their child into adulthood. The chapter considers the process of nurturing in early years, the role of nursery rhymes, teaching styles, introducing children to their cultural roots and, above all, the reactions of children themselves to these processes. The narrative also includes the influences of colonialism on children’s songs past and present, both in the UK and India, and in other previously colonized countries. The impact of modernization in India on the development of folk music is also considered.

Keywords: children, nurturing, culture, folk music, nursery rhymes, colonialism, Bengali


Over a period of seven years, since I first started running group music sessions for children aged under five years in London, I have observed children’s enjoyment, spontaneity, a natural sense of rhythm, and the desire to dance, from infancy upwards. Equally, I have watched the same responses to these music sessions from their parents, many of whom may not previously have spent much time singing, dancing, or playing a drum with their child. When parent and child participate and enjoy themselves together then that child’s ability to learn is greatly enhanced. Over a similar period of time I have also been working with rural folk musicians in West Bengal, India. I have observed their children learning, also spontaneously and with enjoyment. These children were learning orally and informally from their parents and other adult musicians around them.

In order to study these processes in more depth, and in order to focus particularly on the role which culture plays in learning, I set up a ten-week project at a SureStart Children’s Centre1 in inner-city South London (where I work) which featured children’s songs from the various cultures representative of the local community. This was followed by a six-week field trip to the rural town of Bolpur in West Bengal, India, to observe children learning music and singing in folk traditions and local schools. This chapter is an account of this research, which was undertaken from September 2012 to April 2013 in the UK and in India, with the support of SEMPRE (Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research).

(p. 490) Both communities in this study experience economic and social disadvantage within the context of the countries in which they are located. However, children attending the SureStart Children’s Centre, and school children and individuals observed in India, are still in the category of those who access schools and services. Children observed in India were all from rural communities, and all the schools I visited except one, had an intake of children from lower socio-economic backgrounds. In India today, 4 percent of children never start school, 58 percent do not finish primary school, and 90 percent do not complete a full education and do not go to college.2 Nevertheless, children from all the schools that I visited could potentially rise above the 90 percent. In India, rural musicians acquire their skills outside of school. Learning takes place with parents at home and in the local community.

A large part of this research demonstrates how music and socio-economic status are deeply entwined, both from the point of view of how the process of musical enculturation takes place and also of how music itself emerges from varying socio-economic backgrounds. Fieldwork in India also demonstrates changing patterns due to modernization, the growth of technology, electronic instruments, and media intervention (see “Vocal Music and Pedagogy of China, India and Africa,” Yang Yang et al., in this volume).

The choice of locations for this research was based on my current place of employment at a SureStart Children’s Centre in South London and my ethnomusicological field of study with Baul3 musicians in West Bengal. My background is multi-disciplinary and includes work in the field of mental health, counseling, and psychotherapy, as well as ethnomusicology. I have worked at this SureStart Children’s Centre for nine years as a Group Facilitator specializing in parenting skills groups and as a Music Leader for Under-Fives, and I have made frequent fieldwork trips to West Bengal since 2008, this area being known to me since 1971 when I worked on a medical team in the Bangladesh Refugee Camps.

Theoretical framework

My approach in early years’ music is that I view music-making as an essential parenting skill, one which gives children access to music-making of some sort, with parents themselves participating in music-making with their child. I emphasize the role of music in the process of attachment and bonding between parent and child. This means parents playing alongside, but not controlling, their children’s musical creations. Music, including voice, rhythm, and movement, is a part of a child’s natural psychology and self-discovery from birth. “Western” psychoanalytic theory promotes the idea of the “self” as the core of identity, the “self” being the personality with its accompanying make-up of individual and cultural influences, something the individual can get to “know” and learn to distinguish between the “true” and the “false.” Psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott noted that it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self” (Winnicott 1971, p. 63). He was referring here to the creativity that children use when they play. These concepts of “self” and “identity” may be viewed differently in different cultures, although not diametrically (p. 491) opposed. Psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar, for instance, notes that in the Indian concept of child-utopia children are valued as autonomous and self-directed beings, and value is placed on “precisely those attributes of the child which have not been ‘socialised’” (Kakar 1981, p. 210). This has a parallel with the concept of children as members of their own culture (Blacking 1973; Campbell 2010; Nettl 1983/2005), a concept which embraces the child’s inner world and does not view children solely, in the case of music, as “bearers of sophisticated traditions in the early stages of musical enculturation” (Campbell 2010, p. 102). Nurturing this period of creative play in a child’s life is crucial to a child’s development and future sense of identity and self-worth. However, creativity does not take place in isolation, but within a secure relationship between parent or carer and child.

In the context of the formation of children’s musical cultural identities, Lucy Green in Learning, Teaching and Musical Identity: Voices across Cultures (2011) presents a possible hypothesis that it is harder to locate national and local musical identities in “central” (previously colonizing) countries, while local and national musics of “peripheral” (previously colonized) countries are relatively straightforward as markers of identity (Green 2011, p. 16). Over one hundred years ago in Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore4 embraced Baul music and philosophy as a means to re-embrace the culture of that region in the struggle against colonialism. Tagore, and other thinkers of the Bengali Renaissance,5 also worked with notions of cultural exchange and dialogue between India and the West. Although today national and regional identity in West Bengal is clearly seen in the teaching and learning of Tagore’s music and local folk music, what is less straightforward as a marker of identity is the style of delivery and interpretation of this local music, the use of Western instruments, the lack of contextual information and practice, alongside middle-class reinterpretations and media influences. Furthermore, areas such as West Bengal are today ethnically and culturally diverse. In 2007–2008, for example, it was estimated that in Kolkata only 37 percent of the city’s inhabitants spoke Bengali (Chaudhuri 2013, p. 92).

The Bengali economist and Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, notes that: “the confining of culture into stark and separated boxes of civilisations or of religious identities takes too narrow a view of cultural attributes” (Sen 2006, p. 103), “ignoring the other identities that people have and value, involving class, gender, profession, language, science, morals, politics” (Sen 2006, p. xvi). Sen draws attention to the appalling outcomes of presuming that people can be uniquely categorized on the basis of religion and culture and the conflicts which arise from single predominant identities that tend to drown all other affiliations (Sen 2006). Psychological historian Ashis Nandy also comments on the dialogue which arises through an exploration of cultures other than one’s own and describes how this is a recognition of the self in others and a recognition of the diversity of cultural attributes which exists both within the individual and their culture of origin, particularly in the post-colonial context (Jhaveri 2013, p. 24). My emphasis is, therefore, to seek out those multiple affiliations that are present in the dialogue and exchange that take place between cultures, both in the UK and in India.

(p. 492) John Blacking discusses the importance of understanding what happens to human beings when they make music, describing music as a “synthesis of cognitive processes which are present in culture and in the human body” (Blacking 1973, p. 89). This integration of the physical, emotional, and cultural is central to my understanding of the process of children’s musical enculturation.

The Music Round the World Project, London, UK

The ten-week project at the SureStart Children’s Centre in London was known as the “Music Round the World Project.” This effort focused on children’s songs from the various cultures representative of the local community. A total of twenty families attended the sessions across the ten weeks, with the numbers of families per week ranging from five to ten. Participants’ countries or continents of origin included Nigeria, Algeria, Africa, Poland, South America, Great Britain, the Caribbean, Egypt, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Russia, and Eritrea. All adult participants were female; there were no fathers or male carers. The numbers of children per family ranged from one to four. There were five core participants who attended every week, who included two Polish, one Kazakhstani, one French Algerian, and one Venezuelan. Others who attended several sessions included Russian and Bulgarian parents; thus, the group ended up with a strong Eastern European focus.

The group was co-facilitated by myself and an ethnomusicologist (Emma Brinkhurst), crèche practitioner (Sue Simmonds), and Centre Outreach Worker (Clarice Boothe). Each session included singing and arts and crafts. We asked parents to bring songs from their cultural backgrounds to the group, we used songs we already knew from various cultures, and we used educational books featuring songs from various cultures. We translated a greeting song, “Bonjour Mes Amis,” into the various first languages of participants, which included French, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Arabic, and Bengali. The arts and crafts section included making song books, musical instruments such as shakers and drums, and unrestricted drawing and painting. We had a bag of instruments, which included percussion instruments from the UK, Ghana, India, and Mexico. In addition, we used two larger drums from India and Nepal. Songs were also accompanied by myself on guitar and Emma on flute. We categorized our songs as follows: greeting songs, songs which tell a story, action and instruction songs, sounds (without words), and songs of life affirmation, and we made a CD at the end of the ten weeks for the parents and children to keep and for use by staff at the Children’s Centre.

Participants welcomed the opportunity to bring children’s songs from their cultures; however, very few were able to identify any. One song chosen by parents was “Frère Jacques.” “Frère Jacques” was known to most participants who had sung this song in their local language at schools in countries as far apart as Poland and Africa. The Eritrean and Ethiopian versions were brought to the group by a participant who was a grandmother, the translations being biblical references about brothers Isaac and Jacob. “Frère Jacques” in Spanish was not (p. 493) related to the original words of this song, but was about an owl “La lechuza.” The only truly original song identified by parents was a Russian song. This song was first brought in by a Polish parent who remembered it as a lullaby, although she had forgotten some of the words. However, the following week, the parent from Kazakhstan (who had not been at the group the previous week) knew this song well and told us it was a Communist Party children’s song from the 1940s/1950s, and she had learned it in a militaristic style. All the Eastern European parents then said they had learnt this song at school.6

Pust’ vsegda budjet sonlce

There will always be sunshine

Pust’ vsegda budjet nebo

There will always be sky

Pust’ vsegda budjet Mama

There will always be Mama

Pust’ vsegda budu Ja!

There will always be Me!

The composition of this verse has been attributed to Kostya Barannikov, who may have written it in 1928 at the age of four years. The popular Russian children’s author and poet Kornei Chukovsky (1882–1969), who collected children’s poetry, and was also an exponent of the child’s inner creative world (Morton 1971, p. xv), incorporated the boy’s verse into a chapter about children composing their own verse in his book From Two to Five, published in 1933. The boy wrote this verse just after learning the meaning of the word “always” (“vsegda”), and Chukovsky praises this verse as “splendid,” noting that “repetitiveness is also used [by children] to express strong emotion” (Morton 1971, p. 79). The boy and his verse were depicted in a poster in 1961 by Nikolai Charukhim, and this poster inspired another writer, Lev Oshanin, who wrote the extended version of the song, using the verse above as the chorus, which was then set to music by the composer Arkady Ostrovsky. The song was written as a children’s song for peace, and subsequently became very popular.7

Our reaction to this song was to enjoy its child-centered and reassuring message and we saw it as something of a SureStart anthem. It stood out from traditional songs and nursery rhymes that are usually more to do with telling a story or giving instructions. There are not many nursery rhymes that carry such life-affirming messages, expressing positive secure attachments between mother and child.

Our participants’ knowledge of nursery rhymes reflected a predominance of English nursery rhymes, not only, as one might expect, in use in the UK today, but also in use in other countries, particularly previously colonized countries. Nursery rhymes are an important aspect of national musical and cultural identity in many countries and they demonstrate the importance that societies attach to initiating their children at an early age into music that symbolizes and promotes cultural and national identity. Their meanings and origins also demonstrate the relationship between music and political and economic factors. Such songs carry messages of past history; they teach children the roots of the music that they will hear and/or learn in the future; and most people on a regular basis at some time in their lives are likely to have sung them, or still do sing them, or listen to them on recordings. Central countries have used them throughout colonial education systems (p. 494) around the world,8 and the former Soviet Union used songs to promote ideology and cohesion in satellite countries, as was demonstrated in the Russian song mentioned above.

In The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Musical Cultures (2013), Patricia Campbell observes how

Music may be used as an element of control, as children are recipients of the embedded morality of songs that were intentionally selected by parents, teachers, and caregivers to distance them from matters they perceive to be harmful to their ethical development.

(Campbell and Wiggins 2013, p. 19)

Attention to ethical issues was prominent in the 1980s in the UK as a result of equal opportunities policy, and much attention was paid to the politics of children’s music and the political correctness of nursery rhymes. I worked in children’s centers during that time and “Baa baa black sheep” was, famously, one song that we did not sing because of the perceived racist connotations associated with “black sheep.” Various unsubstantiated accounts of the origin of this rhyme include that it is a complaint against the amount of wool that went to the king (“The Master”) and the over-rich nobility (“The Dame”) (Baring-Gould and Baring-Gould 1967, p. 33),9 and also the division of bags is said to refer to the export tax on wool imposed in 1275 (Opie and Opie 1997, p. 101). I have never favored altering rhymes to make them acceptable (e.g. the inclusion of white sheep and girls as well as boys), and in this case such alteration would completely obliterate the history of this song and I would rather not sing the song at all. Even though today I now know that this song is a protest against the accumulation of wealth by the rich, I still feel reluctant to sing “Baa baa black sheep.” However, many parents I meet today enjoy this song. These parents may have been small children themselves living in inner-city areas in the 1980s, but the apparent ban on “Baa baa black sheep” is not something they remember. When I ask groups of parents today which song they would like to sing, someone invariably asks for “Baa baa black sheep,” and it is often black and minority ethnic parents who request this. However, these requests do not mean there are no underlying feelings about this and other English songs. Parents may want their children to learn songs that they will be singing at school and in groups with other children, and they are also keen to demonstrate their efforts to integrate into life in the UK. If schools and early years groups had a greater repertoire of songs from other cultures, then these could become equally popular requests. Another interesting feature of “Baa baa black sheep” is that it has close similarities in its melody with “Twinkle twinkle little star,” another universally popular children’s song. Both of these nursery rhymes are based on the French folk tune “Ah! vous dirai-je maman,” which has also been used by various composers including Mozart piano variations, J.C.F. Bach variations in G major, Joseph Haydn in the Andante of his 94th symphony, and Saint-Saëns in Carnival of the Animals. “Twinkle twinkle little star” was written as a rhyme in 1806 by Jane Taylor, and first published as a song in New York in 1881 (Fuld 1966, p. 483). Mozart wrote his piano variations in 1778, more than a hundred years before “Twinkle twinkle (p. 495) little star” was published using the same tune (Fuld 1966, p. 484). “Baa baa black sheep” illustrates not only how choices may be made by teachers and institutions working in the apparent national interest, but also the functions of a tune.

I do not know the full extent to which nursery rhymes are used in the home, but in children’s centers and nurseries many traditional rhymes are sung along with newer more recent songs, and there are also many CDs of nursery rhymes which are played in crèches and nurseries. Knowledge of nursery rhymes enhances children’s phonological sensitivity, which in turn helps them to learn to read (Bryant et al. 1989). Whether or not parents, staff, and children know or understand the origins of English nursery rhymes, when we sing them we are still providing a message concerning national allegiance to children. We feed our children, consciously or unconsciously, with a great deal of English history when we teach or sing traditional English nursery rhymes. Children are being lulled to sleep on the history of the wool trade, the madness of King George, the sixteenth-century spice race which led into colonialism, the stupidity of the Grand Old Duke of York, London’s stock exchange, the great fire of London, the plague, and countless other historical details about the UK. Because we do not realize half the time what we are singing about, we instead instill an abstract sense of “Britishness” into children through nursery rhymes. However, to delve more deeply into the history of some nursery rhymes reveals other factors such as anger and insurrection against the injustices perpetrated by those who held power.

Thomas, in The Real Personages of Mother Goose (1930), writes in a florid and poetic style that:

these political satires, written with a merciless keen-ness of scintillating thrust and bloodletting, in the directness of their lunge at the heart of people and events, embody through many notable reigns the vices and foibles of humanity upon the throne and about the court of England.

(Baring-Gould and Baring-Gould 1967, p. 12)

The impact of colonial education systems is a fact that is not ignored by some communities. At the SureStart Children’s Centre in London where I work, parents of Caribbean origin are underrepresented at regular music sessions. A possible reason for staying away from these sessions is perhaps a distrust of English nursery rhymes and their meanings and usage as an element of control. Under colonialism, the use of English nursery rhymes in colonized countries was probably seen by many colonial teachers as a means to distance children from what were perceived as “harmful” local beliefs and customs, bringing children into the sphere of “civilized” Western culture. My experience in India was also to investigate the continued use of English nursery rhymes in schools today, and the prestige attached to the knowledge and use of English nursery rhymes. Clarice Boothe, outreach worker at the Children’s Centre, herself of Jamaican origin, feels that Caribbean parents’ views on attending music sessions need further research; this will certainly be a focus of my continued investigations in the future. These feelings are reflected in a song by Jamaican reggae artist Tarrus Riley (b. 1979) who has certainly picked up the essence of nursery rhymes in this song, “Parables”:

  • Read between the lines: Mister Babylon yeaaa has got the people’s eyes blind folded
  • Lost in a nursery rhymes culture . . .
  • It looks like the three blind mice
  • Dem are the big guys put the price on the rice . . . (p. 496)
  • When the dish ran away with the spoon many were left hungry . . .
  • You got to check those parables . . .read between the lines
  • Now Jack and Jill went up the hill
  • Robbed people against them will . . .

The parents from the “Music Round the World” project sessions emphasized that they wanted their children to learn from all cultures and they did not want their children’s knowledge of music to be bound to any one culture. It is also important to stress that this project was equally about embracing local white British culture—we could all be asking the question “Who are this Jack and Jill?”.10 Arguably, white British communities are equally alienated from the original folk music of this country and its working-class origins, and, as expressed by the psychological historian Ashis Nandy (1983, p. 2), the process of colonialism has “altered cultural priorities on both sides,” and therefore needs to be re-balanced on both sides.

In a survey on the current teaching practice of Fujian-Taiwan Nursery Rhymes in China, Shi Nengjing (2009) draws attention to the issues of safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage of traditional nursery rhymes, referring to them as the “united wisdom of all people” and their role of “transmitting human civilisation” (Nengjing 2009, ch. 3.5). Nengjing reflects on how this cultural heritage may be kept alive through government support, education programs, TV and media, entertainment programs, and, in the case of this region of China, maintenance of the local dialect in which these traditional songs are sung. These Fujian Nursery Rhymes, in common with many nursery rhymes, also carry political, social and moral messages: for example, consider a rhyme named “Eight honours and eight shames” (chapter 3.1). Nengjing describes this rhyme as “closely connected with the life in modern society,” and the lyrics describe commitment to socialist principles.

If we want children to benefit from nursery rhymes linguistically and musically, then a positive way forward is to afford them a high status, as in this example from China, and celebrate them in a manner that gives them equal status with adult songs, recognizing their historic and cultural value. Rather than viewing nursery rhymes as medicine of which all good children should receive a dose, or conversely as bad medicine which is out of date, we need to view them as creative art. We need to free ourselves, as both Campbell and Kakar have suggested, of the socialization11 model, and this theme is discussed further in the second half of this chapter. Perhaps a National Nursery Rhyme Week in the UK, celebrating nursery rhymes of all shapes and sizes and from all cultures, might help promote such an approach.

At the end of the “Music Round the World” project, participants expressed their enjoyment in sharing different songs and languages and meeting parents from differing cultural backgrounds. They commented that they felt valued and that the sessions gave them confidence. They saw music as an important part of their child’s education and thought it helped emotional development and helped to nurture language development. Parents also (p. 497) commented that, when they were children, their families sang more traditional songs together, but that TV and computers have made this less frequent. Consequently, they welcomed the aims of this project group. An interest in learning more about the origins and meanings of songs and nursery rhymes from all cultures was registered as the most popular request for future workshops.

All parents reported that children sang songs from the group when back at home, as also do children from the regular music sessions at this SureStart Centre. There were some interesting choices here, which bring into question the assumptions sometimes made about children’s capacity and the necessity of a graded structure. One Polish boy, whose attention during sessions often appeared to be miles away, was keen on singing “The banana boat song” at home. This was one song that the parents thought was a more adult song, and they were worried that their children were bored when we sang it. However, this boy appeared to have picked up this song easily, in spite of the fact that he was usually running around and playing during the session. He sang it at home, wanting his mother to join in. Another three-year-old bilingual Polish child liked to practice the songs sung in different languages, and had picked up the French and Spanish versions, as well as English and Polish, of “Bonjour mes amis.” Our anxieties that some of the songs that we sang were not sufficiently easy for children seemed to be misplaced, and these examples demonstrate the importance of allowing children to learn and create in their own way, and not create rigid hierarchies between children’s songs and adults’ songs.

West Bengal

In Bengal (West Bengal and Bangladesh)12 we see another genre of enigmatic rhymes. These are the songs of the Bauls of Bengal with their roots in the esoteric and mystical traditions of Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism. Baul Gan (song) represents a unique tradition from the Indian sub-continent and in 2008 was inscribed by UNESCO in their list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The philosophy espoused by Bauls includes a belief in the value of the human being over religious identity and a rejection of the caste system and scripture-based creeds. Bauls originate from communities of low socio-economic status. They are recruited from both Hindu and Muslim communities, rejecting divisions between these communities, and include women as equal partners. However, although Bauls have become the recognized exponents of this philosophy, it is not unique to them.

Rather, it stems from the bhakti (devotional) movements which extended across India during medieval times and which also gave rise to the musical tradition of Kirtana. This genre is one of the principal sources of and influences on all music in Bengal, and has a rich tradition of musical development continuing to the present day (Chakrabarty 1988, p. 12). Amongst numerous other genres of folk song in Bengal, two are commonly identified. These (p. 498) are bhaoyaiya, associated with herdsmen and ox-cart drivers, and bhatiyali, associated with the river and boatmen. Folk song in Bengal is characterized by its humanist orientation.

However, a definition of the term Baul is a complex issue. For example, the anthropologist Jeanne Openshaw concluded from her research that the term Baul is of little use from an analytical point of view (Openshaw 2004, p. 5). The term Baul, which is popularly translated as meaning “mad” (mad with divine love), in fact only came into use during the nineteenth century through gentrified images of these rural musicians (Openshaw 2004, p. 19). Bauls today include both initiates and non-initiates, and many folk musicians in West Bengal seem to hover somewhere between being Bauls and “folk” musicians. One fifty-two-year-old Baul musician I interviewed said “We are all individuals,” and Whether someone is a musician, a Baul, a sannyasin13 or a government employee it makes no difference, we are all fighting, life is fighting [for survival].” He moved away in this statement from stating his identity either as a musician or a Baul, preferring to identify clearly with those who struggle to earn a living and survive.

Basu (1988, p. 96) claims that Baul songs in the late twentieth century are to a large extent the creations of urban-orientated culture, and have influenced the imagery, melody, and artistic techniques of many modern art songs of Bengal. More recently, Choudhury and Roy (2012, p. 12) have commented on how “modern Bauls tend to utilize both mysticism and economics for their survival in this competitive world and their commodification of the philosophy and music of the Baul cult is gradually engendering a novel form of Baul music.” However, it must be said that there are still practitioners of Baul philosophy who are not in this category of “modern Baul,” and they are wary of performance in present-day concert venues or on the world music stage.

Baul music enjoys something of an iconic status in West Bengal. However, the music of Rabindranath Tagore, who was inspired by Bauls, is renowned and acclaimed and could be described as the present-day “national” music of Bengal. “Amar sonar bangla” (My golden Bengal) is the national anthem of Bangladesh, and in 1947 “Jana gana mana adhinayak jaya he/ Bharat bhagya bidhata” (Hail to the custodian of the minds of its multitudes and of India’s destiny) was adopted as India’s national anthem on gaining independence from the British. Tagore’s music has a special place in Bengali culture, which is not often shared outside of that culture. In 1915, he became the first person of Indian origin to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his prose poem Gitanjali. An appreciation of Tagore song, known as Rabindrasangeet, is hard to gain without an understanding of the Bengali language. Following in the traditions of Puratan Bangla Gan (Old Bengali song) (Banerjee 1988b, p. 113), Tagore composed his songs as songs, language, and music conceived together; they are not poems set to music, and neither can they be heard purely as music.

Tagore based some of his compositions on Baul melodies, using his own lyrics, and “Amar sonar bangla” (above) is one example of this. Another example is the well-known song by Tagore composed in 1905 “Jodi tore dak shune keyu na ashe taube ekla cholo re” (If no one responds to your call, then go your own way). During the struggle for independence, Gandhi was inspired by this song and it was sung at his prayer meetings (Som 2009, p. 104). Som also notes how this song is sung today outside Bengal on occasions emphasizing national identity (Som 2009). This song is an adaptation from the Baul song “Hari nam diye jogot mataley (p. 499) amar ekla Nitai” (My Nitai alone intoxicates the world with the name of Hari [Vishnu])14. The song addresses the spiritual relationship between Sri Chaitanya15 (also known as Gour) and his chief follower Nitai. An interpretation given to me by a Baul informant also described Gour and Nitai as one; they are both aspects of Krishna (who is an aspect of Vishnu). Interpretation may vary according to differing cultural perspectives. The authorship of this song is attributed to Gagan Harakara, who worked as a postman, and may have been an associate or follower not of an authentic Baul but an “amateur Baul,” i.e. a person, often of middle class origin, who aspires towards being a Baul, composing and performing in the style of a Baul (Openshaw 2004, pp. 28–29).

In West Bengal, appreciation and reverence for Tagore tends to come from those who have had the opportunity to study his literature, poetry, and music through access to higher education. Baul musicians, although they regard him, like others, as a national hero, know very little about his writing and poetry and music. Neither do they know very much about Ragas and Indian classical music. They never sing Tagore songs, but some have a repertoire of Rabindrabaul songs which are the specific Baul songs that Tagore adapted, as above.

Children’s rhymes

Bengali children’s rhymes are known as chora. They are rhythmic recitations rather than songs and are widely known and taught in schools. An example of chora, translated from Bengali, is as follows:

  • The boy (khoka) goes to take fish from the river Kir
  • The frog takes the fishing line
  • The bird takes the fish
  • The boy says, “Where does the bird live?”
  • The boy calls the bird to come

These are traditional rhymes describing rural life and nature. Sometimes they include references to weddings or festivals, and many are lullabies. Tagore also composed chora.

There was, however, one well-known song that was the only children’s song that both a Baul musician in Bolpur and a housewife in Nabadwip knew; they said that this was a standard song sung when children are going to sleep (it could also be used as a threat to quieten naughty children). This song is also featured in the Bollywood film Devdas. It is about the bargi (pronounced borgui) who were marauding Maratha horsemen:16

  • Khoka ghumalo, para juralo,
  • Bargi elo deshe (p. 500)
  • Bulbulite, dhan keyeche
  • Khajna debo kishe
  • Dhan phuralo, paan phuralo,
  • Ekhon upai ki?
  • Ar kota din, shobur koro
  • Roshun bunaichi
  • When the child sleeps, the neighborhod is at peace,
  • The “bargi” are in the land
  • The bulbul bird is eating all the rice,
  • We have to pay land tax.
  • We lost our rice and paan
  • Now what is to be done?
  • Be patient a little longer
  • We are planting garlic

In History of the Bengali Speaking People, Sengupta (2002, pp. 132–137) gives a description of the bargi. Alivardi Khan was a Mughal ruler in Bengal from 1740 to 1756 and the bargi were Maratha horsemen who invaded and plundered the land for ten years on the pretext of supporting opposition to Alivardi Khan’s rule. The word bargi meant horseman, and the bargi were provided with horses and arms from the Maratha state, which, in league with the state of Orissa, was opposing Alivardi Khan’s rule. Sengupta notes that “how dreaded the bargi were in popular view is evident from nursery rhymes which are still current in Bengal.” The story also includes a legend that the Goddess Bhavani (Durga) appeared in a dream before the Maratha Emperor Shahu in Poona and asked him to rescue Bengali Hindus from the oppression of Alivardi. However, Sengupta notes that the raids affected Hindu and Muslim alike and were purely exploitative.

Bulbul translates as “nightingale” from the Persian bolbol. It is larger than a British nightingale and also has a lovely song. Paan is the vine leaf used to wrap betel nut. Khajna means land tax or rent. Locally, the people who sang this song to me thought the bargi were a pre-Mughal group and collected taxes on behalf of landowners. It seems more likely that this song is from the Mughal era rather than pre-Muhgal. However, if the bargi were raiders opposing the local ruler, as described by Sengupta, it seems unlikely that it was they who collected the taxes. The origins of this song, as in English nursery rhymes, would appear to be somewhat shrouded in history.

Individual learning in West Bengal

The younger generation

The four young people that I interviewed were all from villages and each was aiming for a musical career in folk music. They included a fourteen-year-old girl who was the only young person in her village learning music, a talented ten-year-old already holding a business card of her own and giving performances, a seventeen-year-old who was singing in a band and rapidly becoming the main wage earner for her family, and also the only young person in her village learning music, and a twenty-one-year-old younger-generation Baul musician.

(p. 501) Arati (age fourteen), Runa (age ten), and Durga (age seventeen) all learned music at home with their fathers, with some support from outside. Durga had taken some classical lessons and exams. Their repertoire included Baul and folk songs. Arati learned mainly Baul songs, since her father is a Baul musician, and the song referred to earlier, “Hare nam diye jogot mataley amar ekla nitai,” is one which she was learning. Arati, in fact, had originally started learning Rabindrasangeet, but realized that a girl from her background would be unlikely to succeed in this genre, which tends to be the preserve of the middle classes. Arati said her favorite song was an invocation to the guru that she sang at the start of each lesson.

Natalie Sarrazin, in her account of children learning music in North India, suggests that currently pursuing the arts as a realistic livelihood is a fantasy for most young people. However, this could become more of a reality with advances in technology and the media, with their “democratising aspects (2013, p. 264). To what extent young people like Arati, Runa, and Durga will be able to access such democratizing aspects is hard to assess. Advances in technology and the media also include changes in the use of instruments and style of musical performance, including the voice, and these often result in changes from traditional culture. An elderly Baul once remarked to me that no voice had remained the same since the advent of electricity, since ceiling fans “disturb the vocal cords” (vocal folds).

Arati, Runa, and Durga all appeared to be learning solely vocal and not instrumental skills, which possibly reflects the fact that, in the future, they would play with electronic musical accompaniment rather than folk instruments, and—as female performers—they would be seen to have a greater appeal as vocalists rather than instrumentalists. Each was being prepared for life as a performing musician with earning potential.

Twenty-one-year-old Lakhon, although from a family of Bauls, did not start learning music until the age of eighteen. After leaving school, at which he gained good exam passes, he decided to follow in the Baul traditions of his family. However, he started to learn tabla, which is not a traditional Baul instrument, and reflects the necessity that the family felt for him to learn an instrument that would help him access employment, since tabla is increasingly used by Baul musicians in the process of modernization. Lakhon’s grandmother had embarked on extra rounds of singing for alms (Madhukuri)17 in order to finance his lessons. At the age of twenty-one, Lakhon has not been able to develop his voice. However, his percussion skills, on khol and kartal,18 are very good. He works hard at home, on daily errands, shopping, cleaning, and tending the land. Consequently, the hours spent in tabla practice are minimal.

The older generation

Fifty-two-year-old Baul musician Gopal Das reported that he was not very happy with the way that these young people were learning music, and did not see their learning as following in the true traditions of Baul, or other folk music in West Bengal. Safeguarding musical cultural heritage was a priority for him and he would prefer to see young people not only learning traditional instruments as well as song, but also following spiritual traditions. However, not all Bauls would share this opinion. Choudhury and Roy (2012, p. 16) comment (p. 502) that most Bauls do not disapprove of the emerging style of Baul singing introduced by non-initiated musicians.

Although born into a family of several generations of Baul musicians, Gopal was self-taught until the age of eleven, when his father started teaching him. Before the age of eleven he lived with his grandmother. He had very little formal schooling. He was brought up in the tradition of the practice of Madhukuri, or singing for alms, which is central to Baul traditions, and sometimes popularly seen as their territory alone.19 Gopal no longer sings for alms on a regular basis, but only on specific occasions such as at Janmasthami (Krishna’s birthday) or occasionally when visiting particularly holy places, in which cases he sees Madhukuri essentially as a spiritual practice and not as a means of livelihood.

As a child, Gopal’s main experience of music was Kirtan.20 Then at the age of six he taught himself to sing two songs through listening to early recordings of the famous Baul singer Purno Das Baul, probably the only recorded Baul artist at this time. The fact that Gopal first learned from recorded material is very important to note. Purno Das particularly refined his voice for recording purposes and was the first Baul to tour abroad and gain an international reputation. Gopal was therefore learning, back in the 1960s, under the influence of media and technological advances. At first he performed on the street and on local buses, earning himself a few pisa, which he took home to his grandmother, and then, at the age of eleven, his father started to teach him.

Five schools

The five schools that I visited included two local state primary schools, one in Bolpur and one in Santiniketan.21 The school in Santiniketan was in a Santal22 village. The third school was a fee-paying nursery school in Santiniketan and attached to Tagore’s university. This school was also important because the music and songs of Rabindranath Tagore, as noted previously, are seen by many as the “national” music of Bengal and it was the only music consistently taught in all five schools. The fourth was a traditional Hindu school for poor children. The fifth was a school in Kolkata for children from North-East India displaced through local conflict.

Boner Pukur (meaning forest pond) is a state school in a Santal village with roughly fifty pupils housed in one purpose-built schoolroom with two teachers. Singing, dancing, and (p. 503) playtime take place in an open space next to the forest outside the school building. Children learn traditional Bengali songs, Rabindrasangeet and chora, Santali songs, and English nursery rhymes. The other state primary school, Dharmarajtola School, is situated in Suripara, the poorer area of Bolpur town, and has two hundred children, two rooms, and five teachers (all female). There are no grounds around this school and assembly and break times are held in the small side road outside the front door with children, bicycles, motorbikes, rickshaws, cows, and hens weaving their way around each other. This school also taught Bengali songs, Rabindrasangeet and chora, and English nursery rhymes.

All my school visits in India necessitated my singing English nursery rhymes. It was a fate from which I could not escape. The teachers at Boner Pukur wanted me to teach them new English nursery rhymes. Equally, I was requested to sing Rabindrasangeet and Baul songs and I do not think I would have got much response from anyone during this research if I could not have produced a song myself. However, singing “Row the boat” at Boner Pukur School made me feel the close similarity between Bengali Chora and English nursery rhymes. “Row the boat” includes the philosophical touch of “life is but a dream,” and all the animals in the song (adapted for children), i.e. crocodiles, lions, polar bears, and octopuses, are not indigenous to the UK. Everyone loved this song, and children responded just like children anywhere, and appreciated being given permission to scream at the crocodile (“If you see a crocodile, don’t forget to scream!”)

At Dharmarajtola, the teachers sang a version of “Knick knack paddywack,” which had morphed into a Bengali style song. The tune was similar, but used a smaller range of notes than the version that I am familiar with and the rhythms were altered. The linguistics researcher Suresh Canagarajah refers to such linguistic adaptation as “the vibrant afterlife of English.” He notes that “it is now well noted in sociolinguistic literature that mixing of codes can enable a speech community to reconcile the psychological and socio-cultural tensions it faces between two conflicting languages, and thus maintain both codes” (Canagarajah 1999, p. 75), and that “these are healthy developments that counteract the colonial and alien associations English holds in many periphery communities” (Canagarajah 1999, p. 142). This was reflected in this version of “Knick knack paddywack” sung at Dharmarajtola School, and in both this school and Boner Pukur School there were other examples of English nursery rhyme adaptation.

The Hindu ashram school, Bharat Sevashram Sangha, is situated in another Santal village a mile or so from the edge of Bolpur town. There are few cars or motorbikes in and around this peaceful village. The school stands in extensive grounds where crops are also grown and a herd of cows is maintained. This primary school for boys, founded eleven years ago, houses two hundred boarders from “poor” families up to the age of eleven. These may be children from different ethnic and religious groups; however, the religion practiced in the school is Hinduism. The school diet is vegetarian, although meat may be eaten off the premises. The Sangha’s herd of cows are treated like royalty and their sheds equipped with ceiling fans and mosquito netting over the windows. Every evening the school celebrates Aarti (a ceremony involving ghee oil lamps and offering light to the deity or Guru), which is performed totally by the children without adult intervention and includes performing religious ritual with accompanying drumming and cymbals. Other music learned by children includes bhajan23 and Rabindrasangeet.

(p. 504) South Asian cultures have strong traditions of nurturing the child as an autonomous and self-directed being (Kakar 1981, p. 210), and this tradition was reflected in the teaching approaches at this school. Psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar notes that, in the Hindi language, bringing up children is known as palna posna, meaning “protecting-nurturing,” children are not “reared” or “brought up” (Kakar 1981, p. 210). Kakar also notes that in the

Child-utopia that is reflected in Bhakti songs and poems, there is a specific stream in the Indian tradition of childhood that values precisely those attributes of the child which have not been “socialised.” In this tradition it is the child who is considered nearest to a perfect, divine state and it is the adult who needs to learn the child’s mode of experiencing the world [this tradition emphasizes] mutual learning and mutual pleasure in each other [i.e. parent and child] thus sharply differing from the socialization model that concentrates solely on the child and his movement towards adulthood.

(Kakar 1981, p. 210)

These traditions were reflected in the educational philosophy of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha school, particularly in the children’s autonomous conducting of religious ceremony, and also in the gentle and nurturing approaches of teachers.

The fourth school that I visited was Ananda Pathshala (meaning Happy Nursery) and this school is the nursery school attached to Visva Bharati University (Tagore’s university). It was originally set up for the families of university employees, including all cleaners, cooks, and other laborers, as well as teaching staff. The school now also has fee-paying places for other children, the majority of whom are from middle-class families. This school differed distinctly from the other three, poorer rural schools. The class sizes were smaller and the teaching materials were of higher quality. On the day of my visit, children were being read a Bengali version of Chekhov’s White Star, translated and improvised on the spot by their teacher. Rabindrasangeet is an essential part of the curriculum and I was told at Ananda Pathshala that they particularly teach the Tagore songs about nature. In addition, I was told, other schools did not teach these songs about nature—they were a speciality of Ananda Pathshala. With extensive gardens and grounds around the school children learn under the shade of banyan trees, outdoor lessons under the sky being an important aspect of Tagore’s educational theory.

The fifth school that I visited was Bodhicariya Senior Secondary School in Kolkata. I have known Bodhicariya School since 2004 and first made contact with this school through Amnesty International. It was established in 1990 as a school for children from North East India displaced through local conflict. Bodhicariya School is in the Rajarhat district of north Kolkata now in the middle of the area being developed into the new Kolkata megacity.

The morning that I visited Bodhicariya School it was the annual school music exams for classes 4–8. The music exam theory paper was in English. However, students could answer in English, Bengali, or Hindi. The exam paper contained five questions:

  1. 1. Define any five of the following:- aroho, aboroho, khali, lay, abortan, saptak, sangit, som.24

  2. 2. Write a full description of “tintal.”25

  3. 3. Write a Tal which was created by Rabindranath Tagore.

  4. (p. 505) 4. Write a short note on Rabindranath Tagore’s music.

  5. 5. Write any one of the following in the style of a poem:- a) Rabindrasangeet b) A patriotic song.

The theory paper was followed by a practical exam. Both theory and practicals were conducted very informally. Each student was called to the front of the class to sing to the teacher or play Hawaiian (slide) guitar; a few students played tabla. Both boys and girls learn singing, but usually girls learn dancing and boys Hawaiian guitar and tabla. Sometimes girls learn guitar. This is choice rather than policy. Dancing exams took place in another classroom; the students were all female and performed very well.

The music curriculum featured the music of Tagore and Indian classical. Folk dance and music were not a part of the curriculum, but children from ethnic minorities were given the opportunity to play and perform music from their cultural backgrounds. The Hawaiian (slide) guitar is a popular Bengali instrument. The teachers explained its advantages for beginners as an instrument which used melody, as opposed to the Spanish guitar which harmonizes. Skills from this instrument could also be applied to sitar, sarod, or santoor. The dancing included Rabindra dance and regional folk dance from North East India.

In Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching (1999), Suresh Canagarajah discusses traditional, pre-colonial, learning methods in Sri Lanka which include the “deductive, teacher-fronted method in the guru–shisya [teacher–disciple] tradition,” the pedagogical tradition or “dialogical learning method based on exchanges between guru and shisya,” and “informal learning approaches where the learner lived with the family of the teacher and ‘picked up’ knowledge and skills as he or she worked in the teacher’s house” (Canagarajah 1999, p. 108; see also “Vocal Music and Pedagogy of China, India and Africa,” Yang Yang et al., in this volume). Canagarajah discusses how these styles were suppressed in school classrooms under colonialism. I felt that there were connections harking back to these earlier, traditional methods in the learning that I observed in schools, and the home learning was definitely based on these methods, although among folk musicians the guru–shisya relationship is much less formal than in classical music settings, and informal learning is far stronger. As identified by Campbell, learning is facilitated by cultural expectations, and children become competent musicians when they are in environments where music is a daily activity and is regarded as a human achievement to be carefully nurtured (Campbell 2010, p. 272). Campbell also refers to the socialization model, which sees children as “unrealised adults” or “waiting to become something more than themselves” (Campbell 2010, p. 272) which is prevalent in Western thinking. This is alien to the Indian concept of childhood as described by Kakar, and—in Campbell’s view—the application of a socialization model is likely to inhibit natural creativity.


While we may be keen to introduce cultural identity at an early age into children’s musical learning, it would appear that we are not afraid to do this through the use of complex language. It would seem that Western nursery rhymes and Baul songs have one thing in common, and that is their use of metaphor. Furthermore, Thomas (1930) notes that “Love, (p. 506) politics and religion are the three inexhaustible themes upon which the changes are incessantly rung” (Baring-Gould and Baring-Gould 1967, p. 13). Both nursery rhymes and Baul songs lampoon society, politics, and religion. In Baul songs, however, “love” takes another turn, since these songs are also expressions of esoteric practices and the nature of spiritual “love.” John Blacking concludes that, under certain circumstances, a “simple ‘folk’ song may have more human value than a ‘complex’ symphony” (Blacking 1973, p. 116). However, while I completely support the notion of the human value of folk songs (including nursery rhymes), in many regions of the world the words and music of folk/nursery songs are in fact quite complex, but this does not seem to deter children from learning and making these songs their own.

Dialogue and exchange have great potential in musical education in multicultural communities of the UK today and in India. The “Music Round the World” project demonstrated that there are parents and carers from a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds in the UK who are likely to welcome initiatives in education of this nature. In India, there is an enthusiasm and desire for the development of fusion and experimentation. Historically, Bengal has never lacked enthusiasm or ability to experiment and develop music within a Bengali context. However, as noted by Gerry Farrell in Indian Music and the West (1999), there has not always been an equal exchange: “The West has been encountering, but never really knowing, Indian music for almost two centuries” (1999, p. 1). India currently knows Western music better than the West knows Indian music. However, music today in local, folk, and popular traditions in both countries reflects the diversity and cultural exchange that has grown throughout the colonial era to today, and, as referred to earlier in relation to the theories of Amartya Sen and Ashis Nandy, these are identities of multiple affiliations which we all hold as a result of our shared histories.

There are still enormous social class differences in musical learning in both the UK and in India. Although there was some access to classical music in the case of Lakhon, with his grandmother fundraising for his lessons through singing for alms, his progress was also dependent on having the time to practice, and in poorer communities practice time is often in short supply. Arati and Durga were also the only young people, apparently, learning music in their villages. As in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is harder to achieve from a lower socio-economic background (Maslow 1943/1954)

This study has only touched on, but not fully described, the inner worlds of children’s musical creation, their musical practices and cultures which they experience as a separate entity, alongside, but not directly practicing the culture of the adults around them (Campbell 2010, p. 102). Campbell notes that children are not “passive recipients of the music they value, but active agents in choosing the music they will take time to listen and respond to, to make, and to choose to preserve, reinvent, or discard (Campbell 2013, p. 1). Campbell’s view in many ways corresponds to the child-autonomous theories described by Kakar. Kornei Chukovsky, who published the verse composed by a four-year-old “There will always be sunshine” (referred to earlier in this chapter), was also an exponent of children’s autonomous creativity. Writing in 1933 about the need to listen to children’s speech, he commented that “by studying it, it is possible to discover the whimsical and elusive laws of childhood thinking (Morton 1971, p. xv).26 (p. 507) Tagore was another exponent of the child’s inner world. I shall leave the last word to him as he writes about his own experience as a child.

Writing in his auto-biographical book, My Boyhood Days (1941), Tagore describes how he felt that his music teacher, Jadu Bhatta, made the mistake of thinking he could teach according to his own strict methods and preconceived ideas, and not take into account the child’s own creative inner world. Jadu Bhatta subsequently failed to engage with his young student:

“After this, when I was a little older, a very great musician called Jadu Bhatta came and stayed in the house. He made one big mistake in being determined to teach me music, and consequently no teaching took place. Nevertheless, I did casually pick up from him a certain amount of stolen knowledge. I was very fond of the song Ruma jhuma barakhe aju badarawa. . . . . which was set to a Kaphi27 tune, and which remains to this day in my store of rainy season songs”.

(Tagore 1941:41. Translated from the original Bengali by Marjorie Sykes28)


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(1) The SureStart program includes family welfare, health, and preschool education. Although targeting disadvantaged families, such children’s centers are open to all families with zero to five-year-old children in the UK. SureStart is a nationwide program throughout the UK; it was initiated in 1998 under central government administration and is now controlled by Local Authorities (local government).

(2) Information from Teach for India (<>, November 2013).

(3) Traditional wandering musicians. See further details in the section on West Bengal.

(4) Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), Bengali poet, writer, philosopher, dramatist, social reformer, artist and composer, and founder of Santiniketan School and Visva Bharati University in West Bengal.

(5) Bengali thinkers of the nineteenth century who wrote on issues of polity, morality, history, economy, and culture. They assimilated Western ideas in order to define new social horizons in India (Sengupta and Bandyopadhyay 1998).

(6) The song reproduced here and the translation are as given by parents in the group.

(7) Information from Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator, Russian Studies, British Library, August 2014.

(8) During my fieldwork, I have observed the extent to which English nursery rhymes are widely known and sung by people from previously colonized countries. They are well known and sung in schools and communities in India today.

(9) W.S. Baring-Gould and C. Baring-Gould gathered their information for The Annotated Mother Goose (1962/1967) from The Real Personages of Mother Goose by Katherine Elwes Thomas (1930).

(10) Baring-Gould and Baring-Gould (1967, p. 60) refer to Jack and Jill as representations of Cardinal Wolsey and Bishop Tarbes who traveled to France together to arrange the marriage of Mary Tudor to the French Monarch. The “pail of water” is said to refer to the “holy water” of the Pope. Baring-Gould and Baring-Gould (1967, p. 15) also quote a source that refers to this song as originating from Iceland.

(11) Campbell (2010) refers to the socialization model which sees children as “unrealised adults” or waiting to “become something more than themselves” which is prevalent in Western thinking. Kakar (1981), quoted earlier, emphasizes the concept of “valuing those attributes of the child which have not been socialised.”

(12) Bengal was originally one province, sharing a common language and culture. Bengal was partitioned in 1947 on independence from British rule into West Bengal and East Pakistan. East Pakistan subsequently gained independence from West Pakistan in 1971 and became the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. References to “Bengal” throughout this chapter refer to both West Bengal and Bangladesh.

(13) One who has renounced householder life in order to follow a spiritual path.

(14) Vishnu is the God of Preservation, and Krishna his earthly incarnation. Both gods may be referred to as “Hari.” Krishna is usually depicted in the color blue in rural scenes where he is tending cows. He plays the flute and stands in a characteristic pose with one leg crossed over the other.

(15) A charismatic early sixteenth-century Vaishnava leader of the bhakti movement in Bengal, often regarded as the founder of Bengali Vaishnavism. A Vaishnava is a follower of the Hindu God Vishnu, or one of his “incarnations,” especially, in the Bengali context, Krishna (Openshaw 2004, p. 255/260).

(16) The song reproduced here is as given by the two people mentioned as informants.

(17) Madhukuri translates as “honey-gathering” referring to the gathering of spiritual blessings through song, both the mendicant and the recipient gaining blessings through this process.

(18) Khol—traditional ceramic drum played by Bauls; Kartal—traditional small cymbals.

(19) In Mimlu Sen’s book The Honey Gatherers (2009) Bauls are portrayed as “wild and free, they raised their clamour in the mansions of the rich, and roared in gaiety in the courtyards of the poor. They traveled by foot to fairs and festivals. They sang in buses and trains. Their melodies were poignant, their texts enigmatic. Garbed in long, flowing, multi-coloured robes, often living in pairs, they played their frenetic rhythms on strange, handmade instruments made of wood and clay, miming the contradictory moods of nature and of passion.”

(20) A form of chanting in Bhakti devotional tradition. Kirtan also includes the telling of stories about Krishna along with exposition of the nature of Krishna and devotional living. Kirtan may be performed by individuals or groups and includes theatrical productions reenacting the life of Krishna.

(21) Santiniketan is an area adjacent to the town of Bolpur where Rabindranath Tagore lived and founded his school and Visva Bharati University. The area is now an extension of Bolpur town.

(22) The Santals are an indigenous adivasi group with their own language, religion, and culture. They are protected by law. Locally in the Bolpur district Santals are respected and co-exist peacefully with their Bengali neighbors.

(23) Devotional song.

(24) Terms of reference used in classical music.

(25) Tintal is 16 beats.

(26) Chukovsky received an honorary degree from Oxford University on his eightieth birthday, May 20, 1962, for his “services to British Literature in the Soviet Union”—a tribute to his translations of Shakespeare, Swift, G.K. Chesterton, Kipling, and Oscar Wilde (in the foreword to From Two to Five by Frances Clarke Sayer, in the translated and edited edition of From Two to Five by Chukovsky (1933; Morton 1971)).

(27) Referring to the North Indian classical raga of that name.

(28) Marjorie Sykes (1905-1995) was a British Educationalist who went to live in India in the 1920s and joined the Indian Independence Movement, spending most of the remainder of her life in India. She wrote many books and became acquainted with many of the leading figures in Indian politics and culture, including Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi.