Eleven singers across the world have recorded this Bhojpuri song which has been sung down the ages by all those Indians shipped by the British to foreign climes as bonded labour!
Folded in the breast pocket of his shirt was a yellowing piece of paper, almost falling apart along its fold-lines.
It had hardened, due to the dried sweat of his body, and its ink had run a little, making the hurried writing even harder to decipher, but still he knew every word in it and what it meant to him!
The memories of the family he had left behind thousands of miles away in India were his soul torturers.
He couldn’t escape them or hide from them; for they were throbbing deep inside in his heart.
He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his shin before his heart was torn apart.
He had lost his beloved, who had written this letter.
This was the destiny of a “Girmitya” labour, who was brought by the British from a remote village of Bihar to Fiji.
When slavery was abolished, the British found a clever trick to take bonded labour to its works in colonies across the world… they got these poor people to sign an “Agreement” saying they were going of their own volition.
The term ‘Agreement’ got into the Bhojpuri language as “Girmitya!
And the others of his ilk were also wrenched by similar emotional wrangling, since they were similarly fighting against all kinds of adversities in “Pardes” (foreign country) for their beloveds, who were thousands of miles away in India.
Those were the original “Girmitya”. Their descendants also grew up with the same sentiments all around the world, where the British had transported “Girmityas”.
Their emotional connects with their villages, their people and their country kept running in their psyche, as they missed their home blisses.
They were the people who faced challenges, suffered agonies, injustice and ignominies, living far away from their families.
But they still dreamt of their country, their homeland and their people. Their association with their soil never faded from their memories.
And they still do!
Just Like Bande Mataram
On the eve of Independence Day this year, when I heard this famous old Bhojpuri song, “सुन्दर सुभूमि भैया भारत के देशवा”, which is known as the “Anthem of Eastern India”, my heart melted in a VIBGYOR of emotions.
The Bhojpuri song has been sung over the decades by hundreds of singers in different bandish across the world, but this one was resonating with a very special flavour of affinity, sung by 11 singers from seven different countries in the original traditional raga.
These famous singers are Raja Mohan, Teri Gajraj, Raga Menno, Angel Arun, Ilham Ahmdaali, Hemelbesem, Ruksana, Vishwajit, Chotu Bihari, Arya Nandini and Munna Singh.
They are from India, Suriname, Holland, Mauritius, Fiji, Guyana and Trinidad.
Eleven singers from Bhohpur settled in various countries across the world have sung this traditional ‘Girmitya’ song, written in 1911 on the request of Babu Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President. When Gandhiji first heard it, he said it was as good as Bande Mataram as an anthem!
The lyrics of this song tell the story of a widespread diaspora of Indian souls connected through a delicate thread of love.
Despite the fact that they have settled down in different countries, their hearts jingle with the same resonance of that Indian raga.
Or may be what we can call “Raga-India”!
They still speak their mother tongue Bhojpuri and their traditions, culture, beliefs and faiths are still unchanged.
When Raga Menno, who is a citizen of the Netherlands, sings a line of this song “मोरे बाप–दादा के कहानी रेबटोहिया” his eyes brim with tears in the sweet memory of his ancestors.
“जाऊ–जाऊ भैया रे बटोही हिंद देखी आउ” inspries the offsprings of the Girmityas, who are living in other countries, to visit India and see its miraculous beauty.
This song was written by Babu Raghuveer Narayan in 1911, who was a freedom fighter.
He was from a small village of Bihar called Dahiyahwan.
Basically he was a writer in English language, but on the special request of Dr Rajendra Prasad, who went on to become India’s first President, he wrote this song in Bhojpuri.
When Mahatma Gandhi heard this song for the first time, he said that this song is as good as the Bande Mataram.
Before we try to catch some melting sentiments with the history of Girmitya or Jahaji, let us hear the Bhojpuri song:
सुंदर सुभूमि भैया भारत के देसवा से
मोरे प्राण बसे हिम-खोह रे बटोहिया
एक द्वार घेरे रामा हिम-कोतवलवा से
तीन द्वार सिंधु घहरावे रे बटोहिया
जाऊ-जाऊ भैया रे बटोही हिंद देखी आउ
जहवां कुहुकी कोइली गावे रे बटोहिया
पवन सुगंध मंद अगर चंदनवां से
कामिनी बिरह-राग गावे रे बटोहिया
बिपिन अगम घन सघन बगन बीच
चंपक कुसुम रंग देबे रे बटोहिया
द्रुम बट पीपल कदंब नींब आम वृछ
केतकी गुलाब फूल फूले रे बटोहिया
तोता तुती बोले रामा बोले भेंगरजवा से
पपिहा के पी-पी जिया साले रे बटोहिया
सुंदर सुभूमि भैया भारत के देसवा से
मोरे प्रान बसे गंगा धार रे बटोहिया
गंगा रे जमुनवा के झिल मिल पनियां से
सरजू झमकि लहरावे रे बटोहिया
ब्रह्मपुत्र पंचनद घहरत निसि दिन
सोनभद्र मीठे स्वर गावे रे बटोहिया
उपर अनेक नदी उमड़ि घुमड़ि नाचे
जुगन के जदुआ जगावे रे बटोहिया
आगरा प्रयाग कासी दिल्ली कलकतवा से
मोरे प्रान बसे सरजू तीर रे बटोहिया
जाउ-जाउ भैया रे बटोही हिंद देखी आउ
जहां ऋसि चारो बेद गावे रे बटोहिया
सीता के बीमल जस राम जस कॄष्ण जस
मोरे बाप-दादा के कहानी रे बटोहिया
ब्यास बालमीक ऋसि गौतम कपिल देव
सूतल अमर के जगावे रे बटोहिया
रामानुज-रामानंद न्यारी-प्यारी रूपकला
ब्रह्म सुख बन के भंवर रे बटोहिया
नानक कबीर गौर संकर श्रीरामकॄष्ण
अलख के गतिया बतावे रे बटोहिया
बिद्यापति कालीदास सूर जयदेव कवि
तुलसी के सरल कहानी रे बटोहिया
जाउ-जाउ भैया रे बटोही हिंद देखि आउ
जहां सुख झूले धान खेत रे बटोहिया
बुद्धदेव पृथु बिक्रमार्जुन सिवाजी के
फिरि-फिरि हिय सुध आवे रे बटोहिया
अपर प्रदेस देस सुभग सुघर बेस
मोरे हिंद जग के निचोड़ रे बटोहिया
सुंदर सुभूमि भैया भारत के भूमि जेही
जन ‘रघुबीर’ सिर नावे रे बटोहिया
The most vibrant memories are those of worst experiences, which cuts inside us, as if they are the shards of glass.
The poor labourers from Eastern India, who had signed an agreement with British Government under pressing circumstances of poverty, were forced to leave their starving families, their homes, their country and embarked in the ship (Jahaj) on to a journey of an unknown country with all their fears and dilemmas.
Approximately six million Indian men and women commenced a long and perilous voyage across seven oceans to work as bonded labour, with all the terrible hardships and bizarre experiences of unknown cultures and new places.
Their diasporic community, however, form a close-knit ethnic and religious value system.
They have a strong social structure and cultural traditions that help in maintaining the sense of togetherness and ancestral memory.
Though they were very much heterogeneous, but it didn’t break their communal harmony.
This song treasures the love of those lakhs of people, who still have longing with their homes, the sweet aroma of the soils when rain falls on it after a wrenching summer, the chirping of myriad birds, the river, the river, the river… whose lullaby made them fall asleep every night!
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Vashishtha Chaudhary is a senior officer from the Indian Revenue Service who currently works as Senior Vice President of the GST ((Goods and Services Tax) Council, Government of India. He is rounding up his rural-based novel “Malang”, deeply rooted in nature and traditional culture