The desolate cries of the women in villages
Bidesia originates from the works of Bhikhari Thakur, an important playwright of Bhojpuri.
Bidesia is the definitive folk form of Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It originates from the works of Bikhari Thakur, a playwright and poet who is known as the Shakespeare of the Bhojpuri language. When the British East India Company set up its colony in Calcutta, and as the demand for workers grew, people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar went to Calcutta to work and earn money for their families back home. Calcutta was considered a foreign land in those days, and bidesia is a Bhojpuri word for ‘videshi’, a foreigner in the Hindustani language. The content of these songs is about the women who pine for their husbands who have left for Calcutta and how they remember them in their daily lives and on special occasions like festivals. Over time, the songs began to be performed with elaborate theatrical staging and dancers enacting the songs. The songs took a political tint and commented on the violence against Shudras, Dalits and women and became a symbol for the fraternity of these groups.
Today, Bidesia survives in the region as a well-known tune for its versatility and emotional appeal among the Bhojpuri-speaking people. The tune is so popular that it is sung in the Awadhi-speaking regions in Awadhi, a genre known as Awadhi Bidesia. Ramprit Yadav sings both versions of Bidesia and writes his songs to fit the tune. The songs he writes are mostly on philosophical and religious issues, about the impermanence of life and the importance of leading a moral life. He draws from his devotion to Kabir, popularly known as Satguru among the locals and his observations of the society around him. Kabir’s Nirgun bhakti school of philosophy also features in his songs.
He belongs to Mulhar village in the Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh. His father was a singer who sang Dhobhiya songs. His brother, who is now deceased, was also a musician who played the Dholak. He grew up in an atmosphere of music and learnt a variety of genres by himself, including Birha, Awadhi bhajans and Bidesia. He is also fond of writing his own songs to existing folk tunes to give them a fresh twist. He is devoted to Satguru Kabir and writes Nirgun bhajan mostly. Nirgun bhajans talk of an omnipotent, transcendental, formless God that pervades all Reality and that we must be constantly devoted to that God. It talks of the impermanence of life and worldly matters and that a moral life is the only way forward to unite with God. He also writes songs about society and how to improve ourselves.
Alongside these genres, he also sings Sorathi, a ballad native to Purvanchal. Sorathi tells the story of Vijay Bhar, a Nayak (chieftain) who searches for his lover Sorathi and his adventures along the way. Although Ramprit has only studied till 6th class, he is fluent in both Bhojpuri and Awadhi and is very passionate about writing and singing his songs. Aside from music, he is also a farmer and is also involved in the business of polishing marbles. He and his group perform at weddings and other gatherings like political rallies and family functions.
The rest of his group also includes musicians involved in other occupations to sustain themselves. Padarath comes from a family of musicians, and his grandfather used to play a rare wind instrument called Singhni. He learnt music formally in his later years and joined as a chorus singer in Ramprit’s group. Ram Dular is also a farmer and pursues music as a hobby. He is self-taught and learns by observing harmonium players at local shows. Sachin Arya is the group’s youngest member and is only 17 years old. He first started learning Tabla from his grandfather and is currently learning it from his guru, Javed Kushwaha. He wants to earn a master’s degree in Tabla in the future and become an established musician in the future.
Like many folk musicians, the covid-19 pandemic has hit them hard, and they find it challenging to earn a steady income by performing music now. As government sponsored performances are also few now, they mostly rely on private shows and events to earn money, which doesn’t give them sufficient income. Though Bidesia as a folk form continues to be popular, the tunes are commonly featured in Bhojpuri movies and are a hit among the people. Despite this popularity, artists like Ramprit struggle to be successful. He believes folk musicians and live performances are slowly going out of fashion and people prefer online recordings and film music.