Folk songs can be subjective and lyrical. They do not carry the psychological complexities of the educated elite. Nevertheless, they disclose the sentiments and feelings of the layman, their struggles, and deprivation, bitterness and anguish, anger and torments straightforwardly and simply. The stanzaic arrangement of a folk song is four to six lines. The first part is a refrain. The musical arrangement of a folk song usually has verse repetition. This often retains the form of tri-, tetra- and pentatonic scales.
The influence of various religious beliefs developed a folk cult of diverse types. The Vaishnava alternative including kirtan has influenced numerous folk songs. There is also a significant impact on Ram prasadi, Sakta music, Agamam, etc. The Islamic belief has also produced some songs in the rural community of East Bengal. Baul is a distinct musical form which is a blend of Vaishnavism and Sufism. The Bengals (East and West) are areas where folk music arrangement had multiforms, the patterns and ideas of music being mostly exchanged and distributed at several levels.
The other notable feature is the precise progress of Bhatiali, a form of folk music free from sectarian and religious bias. This particular type of music developed the various songs of the northern and eastern parts of Bengal. The innovative musical melody of riverine districts of then East Bengal was melancholic and spontaneous in nature. Bhatiali gradually captured the hearts of people and spread all over the Bengal and even outside. Apart from these, devotional songs of numerous religious groups, songs of folk festivities, narratives and work-songs, seasonal or ceremonial community songs, tribal and dance songs are widespread.
The Folk songs of Bengal may be classified as being:
- Secular and Emotional
- Sectarian or Religious like Vaishnava, Baul, and Sakta
- Occasional, occupational and ceremonial, like festival songs (Parvageeta), marriage songs, etc.
Musical Form on Folk Music of Bengali
“Bhatiali” is a typical folk music of urban style spread greatly within half a century. Its subject material with precise themes, based on the certain form of melody and mode of presentation, is accustomed to a section of artists and composers of the city areas. Bhatiali exactly means a song of a boatman going down the stream.
Another type of folk music which impacted the overall lyrical songs of Bengal was “Baul”. It is a religious kind of arrangement arising out of a major religious belief, which has its major expression in songs only. The Baul-lyrics fascinated the poets of Bengal due to their straightforwardness of expression, use of common imageries and common phrases. The Baul sects preserve God or the Lord to be the husband of a human with whom one should marry and get supreme pleasure of exposure, the life and the world being deceptive and unreal.
“Gambhira” is a typical group song of Malda district containing some dance features in it. It occurs during Chadak festival in March-April. The biggest drum Dhak is occasionally used as the major accompanying instrument, and the song is sung in tribute of Lord Siva, produces an unearthly environment. Tunes are showy and coarse having no dissimilarities.
“Jhumur” of Purulia is a strange musical expression impacted by Vaishnava belief, and some external tribal characteristics are found to be united with it.
For an understanding of the folk music of Bengal, the distinct features of tunes can be seen. They are the models of some phrases merely designed by a mixture of a few notes of nearly similar nature as used moderately in ragas like Bilawal, Khamaj, Behag, Behag-Khamaj, Pahadi, Jhinjhoti, Maund, Piloo, Bhairavi, Kafi, Kalingada, Bibhas, etc.