Thursday, February 28, 2008

Music of Assam






Bihu Song


Biya Naam (Wedding song)


Modern Assamese song

Bodo Songs

Santhal Songs (Tribal Songs)

Rabha Songs

Karbi Song

Sound of Pepa (trumpet)

Dhol badan

Lokgeet (folk songs)


The music of Assam, can be divided into various categories of folk music. In recent times a nascent music industry has emerged that caters to local popular demand too.

A basic characteristic of the ethnic music of Assam is its descending scale which distinguishes it from the raga-based or folk music from the rest of India. This style is shared by ethnic music of the hill people surrounding the state of Assam, and by the music of Thailand, Myanmar and China. Furthermore, the tunes are structured in a pyramid, in contrast to the music of rest of India which is meend based. Assam is a state with valleys and hills, and the home of many ethnic tribes. Just as the geography and varied people co-exist, the pulsating Bihu songs co-exist with languorous music of other forms.

Regional folk music
Ethnic folk music
Allied styles
Bhakti music
Modern music

Regional folk music

* Kamrupiya Lokageet
* Goalporiya Lokageet
* Ojapali

Assam Regional Folk Music is a veritable collection of various conventional melodic variations. Ojapali, Kamrupiya and Goalporiya lokageet are the main types of regional folk music of Assam. The different districts of Assam depicts an individual tradition of art and culture. The history of regional folk songs speaks of the oldest of times when the land of Assam was primarily a habitat of tribal people. These tribes, in due course of time, developed their own cultural customs and practices. Dance and music became an integral part of the social celebrations of the tribal sects. Initially there were only a few musical variations that could find ground in the various regions of Assam. But with the passage of time, the tribal groups emerged with new and innovative forms of folk music. The Goalpara district of Assam has transformed into a thriving place of music traditions. Such was the vigor and enthusiasm of the people of this district, that today, the Goalporiya lokgeet of the place is known as one of the prime musical identity of entire Assam. The music form called Kamrupiya is believed to have originated from the Kamrup Dynasty of Assam. Involving the verses of conventional themes, the Kamrupiya folk song is primarily sung by the rural tribes of the Assam. Ojapali is one more musical pride of Assam which owes its origin to the cultural enthusiasts of the state. Comprising of an Oja and many Palis, this folk music of Assam is found in the Kamrup region of the state. With hand-made conventional rhythmic accompaniments like tal, Dhaol, pepa, gogona and marcus, Assam Regional Folk Music captivates the music lovers of all over the world.

Assam Ethnic Folk Music

* Jhumur
* Bharigaan

Connoting the cultural extravaganza of tribal sects of the state, Assam Ethnic Folk Music comprises of various vocal variations. Jhumur and Bharigaan forms the core of ethnic folk music of Assam. Both the forms are based on famous epics and local folklores of Assam. The ethnicities found in the land of Assam consists of various tribal communities. Each of these communities have emerged with a different cultural background. The state of Assam was once a favorite destination for all the tribes and sub-tribes that used to travel from one place to another. As a result of the co-habitation of various ethnic groups, the cultural domain of the state started to take a new dimension. Two variations referred as Jhumur and Bharigaan came into the musical forefront of Assam. Jhumur is an interesting form ethnic folk music of Assam in which melodic verses are recited by the singers in lucid terms. Made specially for the local farmers of Assam, Jhumur illustrates their normal life and daily practices. As the name suggests, Jhumur involves a locally-made anklet which is used by the singers while performing this music form. The melodic sound of the bells attached with the anklets creates an apt symphony. The musical theme of Bharigaan centres around the various events of the famous epic of Ramayana. The unique characteristics of Bharigaan lies in the fact that the singers recite full verses of Ramayana without any written musical notes. From its earlier form, Bharigaan today has come to much transformed version. Presently, three groups of men are involved in this form of ethnic folk song. While the first part of singers comprises of one main vocalist who is colloquially known as Oja and around five Palis, the second group involves four singers. The third one is identified through the actors who enact various epic characters. The initiation of Bharigaanis done by the Oja who is aptly followed by the Palis whose job is to reiterate the verses again. Colorful masks used by the the third group of performers adds vibrant nuances to the melodic theme of Bharigaan. It can be said that with Jhumur and Bharigaan, Assam Ethnic Folk Music represents a pulsating platform of cultural ecstasy to all.

Assam has a rich cultural heritate. Geographically this state is covered by hills and plains. There are numerous rural ethnic groups which have their own unique customs and traditions. The original inhabitants of the state are the various groups of tribals belonging to different categories. They prefer to live in rural areas. They have their individual identity. The appearance, dress, dialogue and living conditions differ from one tribe to another. Depending on their socio-economic conditions and ethical obligations, they lead their distinct and unique cultural life. One can easily identify them as to whether they are Bodo, Mising, Karbi, Tiwa, Manipuri, Hajong, Garo, Dimasha or belong to any other tribe as may be. Though these tribal groups mainly hail from the peasant community, they set aside their leisure time for enjoying their traditional festivals or ritual ceremonies with great enthusiasm.

The Rabhas are one of the above mentioned tribal communities who mostly reside in the plains of the districts of Kamrup and Goalpara. The Rabha tribe consists of Pati Rabha, Mitory Rabha, Rangdani Rabha, Hana Rabha, Totola Rabha, Modehi Rabha, Kocha Rabha and they are so called on the basis of their division of labour in carrying out religious rituals and other activities.
The topic of discussion in this write-up is the Bharigaan. The Bharigaan is one of the most attractive folk cultural items found in the districts of Goalpara and Kamrup. This item of folk culture has neither been discussed widely nor been made known to the other parts of Assam. One does not find much reading material on it. The scholars who write about Ojapali, Putala Nach, Kushan gaan etc merely mention the word Bharigaan only. No clear picture is available from the written documents.

The Bharigaan is exclusively a folk cultural institution of the extreme west part of Assam. It is performed only in certain parts of Kamrup and Goalpara. The tribal community of the Pati Rabhas have preserved it in much of its orginal form and continued to perform it whenever they are contacted for any occasion. None of the leaders of this community can give details about the origin and development of Bharigaan. They are merely involved performing this art on certain occasions. The people involved with Bharigaan (Pati Rabha) have the impression that this item has come from their forefathers. It is a Guru Mukhi Vidya (an education received from the demonstration of the teacher). In course of time some changes have been noticed due to lack of initiative for preservation of documents permanently. The troupes that are available at present perform the Bharigaan from memory as no set of system has been formulated for guidance.

The Bharigaan troupe is divided into three groups.

The first group consists of five or six persons. There is one Oja and four or five Palis. They jointly perform musical chorus with song and gestures. The Oja leads the selected song and the Palis accompany him and repeat the song. This part of Bharigaan could be compared with the Ojapali of undivided Kamrup (Nalbari area) and Darrang (Sipajhar of Mangaldai area) and Kushan gaan of erstwhile Goalpara district. The songs of Bharigaan have no relation with Indian classical music. The troupe of singers of Bharigaan tie white bands on their waists and don blue shirts. The songs are mostly based on the Ramayana.

The second group consists of four persons. Two of them beat the khol (a long drum) while the other accompany with the paritala. They begin the Bharigaan with their unique khola bandana. This music of khola and tala is of twelve types. This item is performed to draw the attention of the audience. This portion can be treated as the prelude of the Bharigaan.

The third and prime group is the drama troupe. The number of actors and actresses depend on the characters of the drama selected for the show. The plots of the drama are taken from mythology. The Kabya, Purana etc are the main source of dramas choosenfor Bharigaan.The drama group takes the story of Badha Kabyas so that the rural audience can be interested in the war between good and evil. Asurs are either killed or pushed back by the Devatas in the war field. This action of Bharigaan imparts moral lessons among the illiterate villagers.

The Bharigaan was earlier performed in different Puja pandals, religious functions and other public and private occasions. Now, with improvised style of folk cultural programmes and theatrical performances, this art form is not so popular. However, the Bharigaan troupe is still continuing this programme with its traditional nature. Mahi Badh and Ravan Badh are the two dramas they have performed regularly to suit the occasion. In the play Ravan badh they have two types of characters. The Rakshyasas such as Ravana, Kumbha Karna, Indrajeet, Nal, Neel, Sugrib, Hanuman, Doot and some minor characters are ranged on one side and on the other side there are gods such as Siva, Rama, Indra etc. The dramatic sequences develop in different scenes and come to a climax in the battlefield. The end brings calm and peace in the minds of the audience.

One of the important features of Bharigaan is the use of masks. The actors and actresses playing the role of Rakshyasas use masks while the characters of the gods are in their original form of appearance. The use of masks in the characters of Rakshyasas may have been devised to create the feeling of fear in the minds of the audience. The masks are decorated with red, blue, yellow or black colour so as to identify the characters. The use of masks can be seen in Kamrupia dhulia and also in ‘Ankiya Bhaona’. This may have been adapted from ‘Ankiya Bhaona’ in Bharigaan as the Bhaona culture is the oldest form of performing art. From the language point of view, it may be mentioned that the dialogue used in the Bharigaan of South Kamrup is not a local one spoken by the people of the locality. This has certain similarities with the language spoken in the neighbouring areas of East Bengal and a part of Goalpara. So, this folk culture might have come from those areas.
Judging all aspects, the origin and development of Bharigaan needs extensive field work and research. There is sufficient scope to bring into light unknown facts about Bharigaan, which will further enrich Assamese folk culture.


The inseparable part of the Bihu Festival, the Bihugeet is a wonderful form of Assamese folk music. The Bihugeet is an inherent part of the Rongali Bihu and it brings euphoric joy among the villagers. They move about in the village, visiting every house and inviting others to join them. The people singing in unison are called the Husori Party, which is comprised of men only. The members of the Husori Party start with the visit to Naam Ghar. After that they reach the Podulimukh or the household gate, beating drums to announce their arrival. The housekeeper exchange greetings with the singers and the singers blessed the family. The Bihugeet and the Bihu dance are so engrossing that often spectators are fascinated to join in the singing and dancing. Over the years the Bihugeet has gained major popularity, not only in the state but also outside its borders. Even there are songs in Bengali praising the enchanting character of the Bihu songs and dances. Bihugeet of Assam is sung during the two Bihu Festivals, mainly the Rongali Bihu as mentioned before and also the Bhogali Bihu. The Bihu Festival revolves around the farmers' life and welcomes the harvest seasons. Like the importance of the Bihu Festival in the Assamese society, the Bihugeet is indispensable part of the festival itself.

* Husori

Huchori is an integral part of Rongali Bihu. Choral parties of singers and dancers moving from house to house is a salient feature of Rongali Bihu. These choralparties known as Huchori parties are comprises only of man. Woman does not take part in Huchori. It is a sacred institution and free from all kinds of social taboos. Moving from house to house, Huchori parties wish for a good health and wealth to every member of a family at the onset of a new Assamese year.
The seven-day-long Rongali Bihu festivities begin with Goru Bihu on the last day (Sankranti) of the month of Sot (March-April). In the agrarian society, cattle are regarded as a part of the family. Therefore, the festival starts with adoring this useful pet. Giving a ceremonial bath to the cattle in the morning of Goru Bihu, the agrarian community prepares for a new agricultural year. Throwing bottle-gourd, brinjal, turmeric, etc. on the cattle, the village people wish for their long lives. The animals are also struck with the springs of makhilati, dighalati, nahar, etc. with the expectation that the practice will heal the cattle of all their diseases. In the evening, when the cattle return to their respective houses, they are offered chira (flattened rice), pithas (rice-cakes), powdered rice and other delicacies. The cattle are then tied with new ropes.
On the Goru Bihu night, the menfolk of the villages gather at the Namghar (prayer house) to start Huchori. As mentionedabove, womenfolk has no part to play in Huchori. The choral party, Huchori, is generally started from the house of the village headman who occupied a respectablestatus in the village. Then praising, chanting, singing and dancing, the Huchori party moves from house to house irrespective of caste, creed and social status.
Beating dhol (drum) at the gate of the house, the Huchori party informs the family about its arrival. The family then welcomes the party with a sarai. At thecourtyard the party starts Huchori chanting slogan for the welfare of the family. Then the members of the group make a circle taking main singer at the centre.The main singer then starts Huchori songs and other members of the group follow him. Singing songs, dancing to the tune of drum and cymbals they chant slogansat regular intervals. When concluded, they sit in the courtyard in the shape of an are. Wrapping gamocha around the neck, the members of the family then kneel infront of the Huchori party with a donation and a pair of betel nut and leaf in a sarai. Accepting the donation offered, the Huchori party blesses for a good healthto every member of the family, plenty production of crops in the field, fish in the ponds and cattle in the cowshed.
There is no limitation of the number of members participating in a Huchori party. A group of ten to 25 youths of equal age generally comprise a Huchori party.Each member of a party wears traditional Assamese dress, that is, cotton suria down to the knee, muga tunic, Bihuwan in the waist, chador over the body andturban on the head. They also carry a staff, a bag, an umbrella and a lamp. Various musical instruments such as dhol (drum), taal (cymbals), pepa (horn pipe), taka(bamboo clapper) are used by a Huchori party. As woman does not participate in Huchori, therefore, gagana (jewharp), a common Bihu musical instrument, is notused in Huchori.
Huchori songs are the most distinctive type of folk-songs of Assam and form an integral part in Assamese lyrical poetry. Like the Bihu songs, Huchori songs arealso immensely popular in Assamese society. But apart from their tune and rhythm, there are a number of fundamental differences between the two types of songs.The Bihu songs are basically a kind of love songs. There is a spontaneous expression of love, description of beauty and adoration of beloved in the Bihu songs.Love and beloved’s beauty is the central theme in many Bihu songs. But the Huchori songs are completely free from any erotic expression. They are a kind ofdevotional songs full of high spiritual and moral values. Humourical lyrics and ballads popular in Assamese society such as pagala-parbatir geet, Phulkonwarargeet, Manikonwarar geet, etc. are also sung as Huchori songs. With a certain code and conduct, Huchori is free from any kind of obscenity and vulgarity.
There is a division of opinions among the scholars regarding the origin of Huchori. According to a number of scholars, the term Huchori is derived from the word‘Huchari’ as Hu means ‘chanting’, cha means ‘blessing’ and ri means ‘exciting’. Another group of scholars opined that the term ‘Huchori’ is the crude form of theDimasa word ‘Hachori’ which means ‘moving over the land’. Many researchers try to correlate it with ‘Chandlana Puja’ prevalent in the Bodo community of lowerAssam. Though its origin is still shrouded in mystery, it is evident that the tradition of Huchori is closely associated with Rongali Bihu since its very beginning.Initially, Huchori was displayed only on the streets. People came to the gate of their houses and sought blessings from the Huchori. During the Ahom regime,Huchori got royal patronage and entered the royal palace to please the king. With passage of time, it came to the courtyards of every family. In the rapidlychanging world, the village-based Bihu has now been transformed into a city-based cultural extravaganza. Consequently, Huchori also lost its original colour andhas become an inordinate fanfare on the stage. But to preserve our cultural identity, it is our bounden duty to conserve the tradition of Huchori in its original form.

Allied styles

* Bongeet
* Biya Naam
* Nisukoni geet
* Gorokhiya Naam

Biya Naam

The melody of the 'biya naam" (wedding song), the moving simplicity of the wedding rituals, the elegance of the 'mekhala chaddar', the chanting of the 'uluni' (a traditional sound made by the ladies by rolling their tongue in their mouth) are some of the unique features of a traditional Assamese wedding.

$$$$$$$$$$$$by Ankur Bora, Dallas, Texas about Nisukoni geet $$$$$$$$$$

Some of the early memories of my childhood are those of my Grandma singing lullabies to me. Her familiar and beautiful voice would often calm my discontented restless little body and lull me to sleep. As my Grandma crooned over and over those soothing tender tunes, I would often feel swiftly transported into dreamland, a fantasy world of vibrant colors and sweet imaginations. Today the tables are turned. I often struggle with my kids who many a time tire me out with their boundless energy and their insatiable thirst for stories and songs. I then felt the need to remember, mixed in fond memories, those quaint old songs to sing to my little ones. And help came unexpectedly and in pleasant surprise.

Mr Rajen Baruah of Houston, after painstaking research, has collected and compiled, in the Roman script, around twenty of those lyrical lullabies which in Assamese are called “Nisukoni Geet”. On a recent trip to Austin, Mr. Baruah came over to my place and we worked together in compiling and giving voice to these age old songs. He believes that sound has its own energy and that sound breathes and shapes itself into musical work. He also believes in the importance of getting the pronunciations phonetically correct in order to preserve and uphold our Assamese language.

For all those with little children to enjoy, and for the rest who are far away from their homeland, these beautiful lullabies will touch your hearts and bring back memories of times gone by.

The following is a preliminary collection of such Assamese Nisukoni Geet. These songs are written in Roman Script. Assamese words in Roman Script are written phonetically. That is to say, one will have to pronounce each and every letter as per the following guidelines. Guide in pronunciation of the Roman Script in Assamese are noted below:Consonants do not need any special guideline except the following:j is pronounced not as j as in John but a z as in zoo.x sounds like kh and is pronounced as ch as in the Scottish word Loch, or German word Bach,Assamese Vowel sounds need to be learned carefully to correctly speak Assamese..words.
These are:

a= as in the word father or art
è = as in the word met or end
e = as a in the word map or act
i = as in the word hit or pill
ò = as on the word bone or over
o = as in the word boy or order
u = as in the word put or foot
w = as in the word war or wall (w is used as a full vowel here)
ä = a nasal etc (two dots on top of the vowel denote nasal sound)

(1)ama.rè moina, xubò,
bari.te bògòri, rubò; bògòri, pòki xòribò, monai butòli khabo.

(2)xiali è nahibi rati
twre kane kati bäti
kan-katir murò.te mòura phul
kan-kati pale.gòi roton.pur

(3)i bwle kan-kota xi bwle kan-kota
kan-kotai nw ki kam kore
kanot ronga sati aru hatot lòi jathi-da
kankotai lòrar kan kati phure

(4)ròdali è ròd de
ali kati jali dim
samor pira pari dim
tate bòhi bòhi ròd de
ròdalir makor tini.dal suli
ròdali pale.gòi biri.nar guri

(5)jwnbai è bèji èti dia
bèji.nw kèlòi? mwna xibo.lòi,
mwna.nw kèlòi? dhon bhora.bolòi,
dhon.nw kèlòi? hati kini.bolòi,
hati.nw kèlòi? ut.hi phuri.bolòi,
hatit ut.hi pani.ram ghoro.lòi jai
alibator manuh bwre ghuri ghuri sai.

(6)bògòli è xoba.hòlòi nògòli kio? gòi.sïlw goi.sïlw batot bòrò.xune pale
rong.dòir gho.rote xw.mabo khwjw.te
seng.dòi kukure khale
sèi kukur sèi, nahibi, jopona dèi
bähor mürha bògòrir gura
kòr pora ahile sòku sel.wa bur.ha

(7)xalikie kore ròtòu tòu
bhat hòl xak hòl xaliki kòlòi gòl?
ei khini.te asile gwbor khu.sòri
kwnw.bai lòi gòl dingi musòri

(8)ò phul ò phul nup.hulo kio?
Goru.eje äg khai moi.nw phulim kio?
ò gòru ò gòru äg khäwo kio?
Gòrò.khiai je gòru nerakhe moi.nwek.ham kio?
ò gòròkhia ò gòròkhia gòru nerak.ho kio?
rand.honi.eje bhat nerand.he moi.nw rak.him kio?
ò rand.honi ò rand.honi bhat nerand.ho kio?
khòri-kòtiai je khori nekate moi.nw rand.him kio?
ò khòri-kòtia ò khòri-kòtia khòri nekato kio?
komare je da nogor.he moi.nw katim kio?
ò komar ò komar da nogor.ho kio?
meg.he je bòròxun die moi.nw gor.him kio?
ò megh ò megh bòròxun dio kio?
bhekulie je twr.twrai moi.nw nidim kio?
ò bhekuli ò bhekuli twr twrao kio?
bwpa kokar brit.titw moi.nw erim kio?

(9)èitw kar dòl ? …. rojar
bhangi.bòlòi dibane?…. nidïw
kòlik matim ne? …nema.tiba.
bògik matim ne? … nema.tiba.
kòli òus, bògi òus, thekes!

(10)tai mai lwne mase bhat khai
bor ghoror mèkuri xòru ghorolòi jai
dhakwn pelai poita bhat khai
èitw toi kha, èitw moi khäw
èitw ghor-ròkhia burha.lòi thöw.

(11)dhwl bai kòt? … roton.puròt
khwl bai kot? …. roton.puròt
ka.uri kele.kelai, ban.dòri nòsuai
bäh-bäri bäh-bäri gwxäi ghorot

(12)kaurie kore ka ka
jïlie mate ja
jakauri gòl, gòd.huli hòl
amar saul ekot.ha mukòli hòl

(13)hur hur böta sorai
mwr dhan nek.habi
twk dim gwta korai
dhan.w kham potan.w kham
twk biya kòri ghoro.lòi jam

(14)agòli kola.pat lore ki sore
siloni ai mwr agote pore

(15)bur.hi ai è nahili xuk.hor kalot
xat joni nigòni khirai khai.silw
gerela bai.silw halot

(16)ram ram bhekulir bia.lòi
ram ram ahe indro.debe
ram ram botah bòròxunot titi hè
ram ram sor.gor opes.sori
ram ram nami
ram ram bhekulir bia xuni hè

(17)(First Bird)hoï.ë koli, hoï.ë kolioto.bwr dhan sal ki koli?(Second Bird)wo.ë khale pw.ë khalethwk thwk thak thak


Bhakti music --Devotional songs


Devotional songs composed by Shrimanta Sankardeva are still popular in this region. The Borgeets (literally: great songs) are devotional songs, set to music and sung in various raga styles. These styles are slightly different from either the Hindustani or the Carnatic styles. The songs themselves are written in the 'Brajavali' language.
For a sample of a borgeet written by Sankaradeva, listen to xuno xuno re xuro boiri promana sung by Bhupen Hazarika.

Please check the below URL to listen to them:

An English translation of a borgeet (Doyar Thakur Hari Jadumoni Oi Raam Adhome Tomar Naam Daake)
by Mrs. Bina Hazarika, England

devotional ode below:

The Prelude

O' merciful Lord Hari, the Jewel of Jadu Clan, Oh
This worthless person seeking your blessings,
Narayan, please be compassionate and allow my
Restless soul at your feet as the place of resting.

The Verse

Ojamil the priest a foolish sinner
Accepting you as the Holy father
Became free from worldly goods
Gets his Baikuntha(Heavenly) address
Which is known to the universe.

Reciting this verse one begets much piety,
I am a pitiless sinner, hence,
All my hopes on you as my deity.
This utmost offender,
Wait for you my rescuer
Because you are the saviour.

Bless this Kali Yuga
How fortunate are the people
of the blessed land call Varat(India)
Forsaking the Yogic practices,
Praying at your feet
Joyfully proclaiming the truth.
Everyone says, finally
reaching you is the aim;
You know that well Narayan.
This foolish Madhab
At your feet Oh Lord of the Jadu clan,
Now to be inducted to your ways
Is my wish very very firm.

Gospel in borgeet style - US-based musician fuses genres to create a winner

When Gospel meets borgeet, the result is a US chartbuster.
Rupam Sarmah, the US-based technocrat from Assam who had taken gagana out of the bihutolis to Hollywood in 2003, has now turned to borgeet — Assamese devotional songs which originated in the satras of Majuli — for his fusion album My Love is You.
The album not only became an instant hit but was also among the top 10 songs in various music stations across the US last year. It even made it to the Grammy awards nomination ballots last year, though it did not make it to the final five.
“The number God, Can You Hear Me? in the album is influenced by borgeet. I composed the song with the tune of borgeet and rendered it in Gospel style. The songs in the album are unique in composition with innovations which include fusion of Bihu and lokogeet (folksong),” Sarmah wrote in an email to The Telegraph.
The musician had earlier fused the sound of gagana, a musical instrument made of bamboo — an integral part of Bihu music — with notes of the synthesiser for an album with Hollywood composer Alan Roy Scott, famed for his score in the film Top Gun.
“The songs of My Love is You have been played across many radio stations in the US, Canada and other countries,” said Sarmah.
The album was placed third in the Best Indian Album category of the Just Plain Folk Music Awards 2006. He had received a JPF award in 2002 for a Hindi album Piya re.
Sarmah said My Love is You has been dedicated to the people of Assam. In fact, the flip side of the album’s cover has the lyrics of God, Can You Hear Me? with a picture of Majuli.
Born in Jorhat, Sarmah moved to the US in 1992. But his love for Assamese music has made him experiment again and again with indigenous tunes and instruments.
Another view on Borgeet::

If you ask any culture-conscious Assamese to draw up a list of items that should be considered as representing the best in Assamese culture. You can almost be sure that high among the priorities in the list will be coming the Bargeets — the devotional song-compositions created about four hundred years ago by the rare guru-shishya duo of the astonishingly versatile master Sankaradeva and his almost equally gifted disciple Madhavadeva. To them goes the credit of spearheading the neo-Vaishnava bhakti movement in Assam and of ushering in a remarkable cultural renaissance of the Assamese society.

Literally meaning great songs, the bargeets are composed in a pleasantly artificial language called Brajavali or Brajabuli. They are truly great not only for the lofty heights of the contents centring on devotion to Krishna and the exquisite literary craftsmanship of the texts but also for the excellence of the musical moulds in which they are cast. In fact, the bargeets represent a distinctive school of music which boasts of its own system of ragas and talas and a style of presentation peculiar to itself so much so that many knowledgeable bargeet enthusiasts see in them an independent system of Indian raga music which they would like to call the Kamarupi system as distinct from both the Hindustani and Karanataka systems. Ahir, asowari, dhanashri, kalyan, kamad, basanta, mahur, suhai shri, etc. are the names of some of a few of the large number of ragas to which bargeets are set. True, these are familiar raga names in the field of Hindustani classical music. But except in a very few cases— dhanashri and kalyan for instance — the raga forms in the bargeet system are substantially different from those in the Hindustani system. Similar is the case with the talas. There are in the bargeet system of music talas like ektal rupak, yati, pari, kharman and so on. Of these, ektal and rupak have their Hindustani counterparts. But apart from having identical names, the respective talas in the two system share little else in common. The ektal or etali of the bargeet system as found in some satras has 24 matras while in some others it has 12 matras. But the movement in either case is substantially different from that of the Hindustani ektal. Similarly, the rupak tal of bargeets, which has 12 matras, is structurally very different from the Hindustani rupak tal which has seven matras. It has rather some affinity with the Karnataka rupaka tala.

Usually the singing of a bargeet starts with rag diya or rag tana which a kind of delineation of the raga in which the song is to be sung — something akin to alap. There are also rules regarding the appropriate times for the singing of particular ragas. Thus ahir, kou, shyam, lalit, etc are morning ragas, asowari, belowar, sareng, suhai, sindhura, etc are evening ragas while bhupale, kamod madhyavali etc, are late-night ragas. These rules are, however, not equally strict in all cases. There are also rag-malitas which are a class of lyrics describing the origins of different ragas — something akin to raga dhyanas. It is a technique by which the structure of a raga is sought to be outlined. Satras or Vaishnava monasteries have close association with Vaishnava devotional music. In fact, the music heritage associated with the bargeets has been preserved and nourished in the satras which have served through centuries as the citadels of a highly refined and enriched indigenous artistic tradition. Generation after generation of gayans (vocal specialists) and bayans (instrumental specialists) have been trained up in the Satras since the days of the great saint artists. Strange as it may seem, the traditional exponents have no knowledge of musical notation, they do not even use the names of the swaras in their system : the raga structures are just got by heart by the learner through years of constant listening and practising. This method of preserving the raga structure is obviously not fool-proof and vulnerable to various kinds of deviations. Yet it is remarkable that with this rather loose method the bargeet heritage has not only been saved from being lost but has been kept vigorously alive through these four hundred years or so. It is a measure of the devotion and dedication of those connected with satra institutions and also, perhaps, of the quality of the music itself.
Although the satra based exponents are the true representatives of the bargeet system of music, it must be admitted that their mode of presentation often betrays a lack of finish and as such might not be agreeable to the ear initiated to the system. One big factor responsible for this apparent lack of finish is the fact that no string or wind instrument, not even anything like the tanpura to keep the scale is used by the traditional singers. References to some string instruments being used for accompaniment in the past are to be found in the old texts. But since quite a long time past, the only instruments that have used to accompany the singing of bargeets have been the khol (a kind of drum and the tal (cymbals)).

However, the modern singers of bargeet do take the help of such instruments as the tanpura, the flute, the violin and so on, and their rendering being musically more presentable are becoming increasingly popular with all sections of people except the most orthodox who see in such ‘unconventional’ renderings a deviation from tradition. Not only do modern renderings of bargeet constitute important elements of the programmes of the Gauhati and Dibrugarh stations of Akashvani, they have also made their impact on music lovers at large through other mass media like the cinema, the gramophone records, the cassettes, the television and so on.
It may he mentioned here that although the bargeet tradition as a whole represents one single music system, there are considerable variations in style within the system. Centering round some important Satras in which the bargeet tradition has been zealously maintained, such variations in style are not always confined to the modes of rendering the songs but occasionally extend to the raga structures as well. And of course there are the distinctive styles of individual exponents who have been accepted as authorities. Some well recognized stalwarts of the recent past have been the late Maniram Gayan Muktiyar of the Kamalabari Satra, the late Dayal Chandra Sutradhar of Barpeta Satra the late Gahan Chandra Goswami of Nikamul Satra, the late Girikanta Mahanta of Sravani Satra, the late Jadab Chandra Pathak of Sundaridiya Satra and the late Gandhoram Bayan of Sualkuchi. Each of them had an unmistakable distinctive style that was inimitable in its own way but that was at the same time truly faithful to and representative of the time-honoured tradition. Unfortunately such musical giants are getting rarer and rarer with the passage of time.

It is perhaps an index of the attachment of the Assamese people to the bargeets that many of them have been cast in easier and more popular music modes in place of the orthodox ones. Sometimes this has been done simply from a zeal for innovation and sometimes with the purpose of bringing bargeets to the easy reach of lay enthusiasts for whom the intricacies of the orthodox raga and tala systems often prove too elusive. Needless to say, such attempts at innovation and popularization have been frowned upon by the traditionalists.
The bhaonas which are traditional dramatic performances of the model set up by Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva constitute one of the most popular entertainment media of rural Assam. In these there is a fine blending of acting, dancing and singing. Bargeet-like songs come every now and then throughout the performance of a bhaona. It is often through these bhaonas that the villagers have a nodding acquaintance with the bargeet system of music.
In fact the bargeet system incorporates within itself the songs of the dramas composed by Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva. Usually referred to as natar git or ankar git, these songs of the dramas are also sung in the same manner as bargeet proper. The only difference is that while in a bargeet the ragas alone is fixed — the singer being free to sing it in any tala or combination of talas, both the raga and tala are fixed for a natar git or ankar git. Interestingly, there is a convention prevalent in some satras according to which an accomplished bargeet singer is expected to sing a bargeet in all the better-known talas.
Now according to the convention associated with the traditional Vaishnava dramas of Assam, the last song of a drama is almost invariably a composition that is in the kalyan raga and set to kharman tala. In fact, in the world of Vaishnava music and drama of Assam, the expression Kalyankharman carries the sense of a finale.

· Bhatima
Deva bhatima -- panegyrics to God
Naat bhatima -- for use in dramas
Raja bhatima -- panegyrics to kings (to king Nara Narayan)


Shrimanta Sankardeva composed ankiyageet for ankiya-nats or plays. These are sung on special occessions like Doul festival,anniverseries of the two gurus and other festivals.
Ankia-nats are musical extravaganzas, divided into categories of songs – Artha-bhatima, Nandi-bhatima, Pravesh geet, Poyer, Muktawali, Pitambari and other songs. These are called ankia-geets. Songs or geets of the ankia-nat are also a special type, which are called ‘ankar-geet’ and Borgeets, Today, lechari, Ghoshas are also used in some plays. The ankar-geet bears a dhuwa or refrain as it bears ‘rags’ with ‘Tal-maan’. There are various tunes in bhaona-geets. Such as Aswari, Ahir, Bhupali, Dhansiri, Belwar, Gandhar, Kalyan, Shyam, Ramgiri, Mahura, Suhai, Borari, Sindhura, Gouri, Rashak, Bhairabi etc. These tunes are used in all borgeets and other songs of Sankardeva and Madhabdeva. The actors are called ‘Bhawaria’ who produced Bhaba or emotion. The skilled village artists are called ‘Khanikar ‘ who are experts in making wooden and earthen images of God. They also prepare ‘cho’ (effigies) and masks (Mukha) life size of grotesque type masks such as Ravana, Yama, Kumbhakarna, Hanuman, Kali-Nag, Garunda-pakhi etc. These are made by Khanikar, which are essential elements in Bhaonas. Actors are to paint for their make-up befitting their roles. For the makeup ‘Hengul’ (cinnabar) and ‘Haital’ (yellow-orripment) are used with some necessary colours such as blue and red. In this way the Bhaona culture is performed in Assam.

Zikir and Zari:Sufi songs of Assam

Syed Shah Miran, a man of Bagdad with profound mastery over the Quran, the Hadithes and Islamic philosophy and lore, migrated to Assam, via Ajmere and Delhi, with the holy mission of preaching pure and undiluted tenets of the Islamic faith to the followers of the same faith in this land. He settled in a place called Chunpora with his followers and associates and built a mosque there. From here he started to call the followers of the Islamic faith to gather at the mosque to perform namaj five times a day. This Ajan or call to prayer, something rather new and unfamiliar, is said to make Shah Miran popular as Ajan Fakir.Ajan Fakir in his mission to educate the people about the fundamentals of Islam composed a good number of Jari and Jikir geets, which have occupied a prestigious position of their own in Assamese folk literature. Bearing a message related to the Islamic way of life, their appeal is primarily humanitarian and secular. His call is to lead an unostentatious and pure life, to shun greed and avarice, to pray for the mercy and forgiveness of God for sins committed consciously or unconsciously, to practise tolerance and goodwill, to respect all religions and faiths, to remember that death is unavoidable for all creatures and to submit to the will of God who is always kind and just
Zikir and Zari represent a musical genre of Assam. they are a group of devotional songs prevalent among the Muslims of Assam.Although Zikir and Zari are similar in tune, Zikir songs embody the teaching of Islam whereas the Zari songs are based on the tragic episodes of the Karbala tragedy.

The termZikir, derived from Arabic “Ziqr”,literary means singing or remembering Allah’s name.It applies both to the musical genre and to the occasion of its performance, the devotional assembly of Islamic mysticism or Sufism in Assam. Zikir, took root in Assam during the 17th century within the socio-cultural framework instituted by Bhakti movement of Saint Srimanta Sankardev (1449-1568) and under the patronage of Ahom (1200-1800) kings.

Zikirs were mainly composed and popularized by the 17th century Sufi saint and poet Hazrat Shah Miran, popularly known as Ajan Fakir. Ajan Fakir came to Assam from Bagdad accompanied by his brother Shah Navi, and settled in Suwaguri Sapori, near present Sibsagar town.According to a legend, Hazrat Shah Miran received the name “Ajan Fakir” or Ajan Pir (Saint) because he was the one who taught the Assamese Muslim to recite “Azan” as its part of Muslim ritual. The time of Ajan Fakir cannot be stated positively but from references in two Assamese chronicles and some Zikirs prove his stay in Assam in 17th century. In the following Zikir,Ajan Fakir described the time he composed Zikir and the Quran the source of the Zikir.

Dah xa dukuri nabison hijiri/
aru pase bosor jai/
Ajan Fakire ai zikir korile/
Koran kitapot pai.

Ajan Fakir composed the Zikir in 1038 Hijri (1636).The Quran is the source of this Zikir.
It is known from history that Muslim settlers stepped in to Assam as Mughal and Pathans invaders.The Badshahs and the Sultans of Delhi made many attempts of expedition to conquer Assam and as a result a small number of Muslims stayed back as a prisoners of war. Apart from these invasions, during the Ahom reign some Muslim artists of special skills were imported from various part of India.A considerable number of these Muslim settler married local Assamese women and also adopted Assamese culture. Though the underlying motivation of Ajan Fakir was the preaching of Islam,he was very influenced by the Vaisnavite thoughts,teaching and music of Sankardeva. Singing the glory of Allah and Islam in high lyrical terms often came down in part to explaining the ideas and issues in terms of events and activities of daily life of the common people. It is also interesting to note that the Zikirs have been able to build a bridge in ensuring the harmonious relationship between Islam and Hinduism,particularly with Vaisnavism. One of the most impressive example of Bhakti doctrines preached by Ajan Fakir to express admiration for this sect of Hinduism as follows.

Sankardeur jiyari Madhavdeur buwari
Rahpur nagarat ghar
Rahpur nagarat rasak nami ani
Diya sakaloke bati

She is the daughter of Sankardeva and daughter-in-law of Madhavadev; and she dwells in the city of Rahpur or land of rasa (aesthetics); that is, the sentiment of love and devotion; bring down the rasa from the city of Rahpur and distribute in among us all.

Ajan Fakir had encountered much difficulty in stabilizing Islam as prevalent in Assam during the 17th century; it had already deviated here from its main principles and practices. It is stated that during that period the local Muslims used to take part in the singing of Kirtana-songs for community prayer composed by Sankardeva, for the purpose of propagating Vaisnavism.The Muslim also took mah-prasads (uncooked eatables generally consisting of gram, sugarcane, coconut, ginger and fruits) distributed at the end of the community singing of Kirtana. With a view attracting these Muslims towards Islam,Ajan Fakir introduced the custom of distribution of sinni (considered food prepared out of rice) at the end of the community singing of Zikir and Zari song Apart from Vaishnavite music,Ajan Fakir was also greatly inspired by the regional music of Assam such as the tone and spirit of other Assamese folk genre like Oja-pali and Deh bicarar geet.

Ajan Fakir adopted the practice of Vaisnavite lyrics, one often comes across lines

“Savaro ghate ghate Alla” evidently borrowed from Vaisnavite poetry.

Ajan Fakir himself was a good singer and poet; he composed one hundred and sixty Zikirs in Assamese.
Although Islam does not promote music and dance for entertainment,from the religious perspective there is no restriction as such. At that time dance and music constituted a very popular way of praying to God among the Hindu and the Muslim communities of Assam. Ajan Fakir and his disciples, popularly known as “Bhakat”in Assamese,performed Zikir,dancing and singing with hand clapping like folk performance such as Diha nam, Husori, etc.Even today Zikir songs are performed with dance in some areas ofAssam.

Language of Zikir
Until the middle of the last century, Zikirs were not written down, but handed over from mouth to mouth for generations.There was some kind of prejudice against writing Zikirs down. Since they are transmitted orally from generation to generation, the authenticity of tune and poetry may not be exactly whatAjan Fakir had composed. It is worth mentioning here that language of Zikir, except for a few Arabic and Persian words is colloquial Assamese.

Lyrics of Zikir
Though being couched in the sprit of Sufism, the Assamese Zikir sing the glory of Gurus or religious preceptors and urge upon the detachment from mundane pleasure for the sake of the selfless services to God.The Vaisnavism preached by Sankardeva is also known as “nama-dharma”, because it gives utmost importance to sravana kirtana or the listening to and reciting of the name of God with intense love and devotion. An Assamese Vaisnava regards it as superb mode of worship.
The Zikir also uphold this mode in the same vein.Thus the highlights of Zikir appears to reconstruct Assamese Muslims society by their faith and love for Islam in such a way that there will be no discord in their age-old harmonious relation with Hindu society

Mor manat aan bhav nai o Alla
Mor manat bhin par nai
Hindu Musalman, ek Allar farman
Gorethane kabar sari sari
Hinduk puribo Mominal garibo

In my mind, Oh dear AllahI have no different thought/
Hindus and Muslims are bounded by the same act of divine rules of Allah/
the act of cremating a Hindu and the entombing of a Muslim only
signify one end-death for all.

Ajan Fakir composed around hundred and sixty Zikirs, out of these very few has been collected from different sources specially by the scholar and writer Late Syad Abdul Mallik, renowned literature of Assam, under the title “ Asamiya Zikir aur Zari” (Assamese Zikir and Zari). In this book collector included the available Zikirs collected from all over Assam.

Message in the Zikirs :
The Zikirs may be termed as spiritual songs of Islam. They are of three categories. First are those Zikirs in which the prescribed rules of Islam are narrated. These were meant for teaching 'Farz' 'Sunnat', 'Wazib' etc. to the Muslims. The common people understand these Zikirs easily. Second are those that deal with the philosophy of Islams. Sufism is at the center. These Zikirs speak of four stages of spiritual meditation; They are 'Sariat', 'Tarikat', 'Hakikat', Marifat successively. One can feel the union of the soul Absolute (Atma and paramatma).
Here one needs the guidance of a sheikh or an efficient teacher. Sariat means following the eternal rules of Islam. Practicing the strict and solemn vibes taught by the spiritual guide is Tarikat. Hakikat is realization of the final truth through lofty meditation relationship of the soul with relationship for eternity is 'Bakabillah' The entire process of hard penance is called Marifat.
There are those which resembles the indigenous folksong Dehbicharar geet. The chief contents of such Zikirs are futility and transitoriness of human life.

Matre and literary beauty:

Most of the Zikirs are composed in matras such as 'Chabi', 'Dulari', 'Pada' which were used by the Vaishnavite poets. Apart from Assamese vocabulary, we find many words of Parsi, Arabic, and Urdu origins in the Zikirs and these foreign words have helped express the Islamic ideas in a way very vivid and graphic. What is striking is that the Zikirs are coloured with prevalent folk songs like Nam-Kirtan, Ujapali, Deh-Bicharar geet etc.Application of their tunes and Assamese phrases have enhanced the literary beauty as weal as popularity of the Zikirs.
The Zikirs have universal appeal ; they champion the cause of peace for entire universe. They are free from the barriers of caste, creed, community etc.

How Zikirs are Sung:
The present system of singing Zikirs was not in vouge in olden times. Zikirs were sung with great reverence and religious solemnity. Groups of singers were invited to the villages. Before singing they purified themselves taking bath and prayed to Allah and the prophet. Singing in silence of midnight was the usual practice. The host offered tamul-pan (areca nut and battle leaves) to them. The listeners sat around them. After singing them all offered "Murazat " ( a kind of Islamic way of asking divine blessing) to Allah, and finally the host arranged light refreshment. No remuneration was given to the singing group. Zikirs are usually sung on special occasion like death and wedding. The singing group consisted of an oja ( The chief) and thirty or forty of his palis (helpers). A Ghosa is there with each and every Zikirs. The oja begins and the palis singing the Ghosa in chorus. The oja alone sings the main Zikirs. Each Zikirs has its own tune and way of singing, clapping of hands was the tradition, Ektara (a musical instrument) was played. Zikir singing sound like singing Nam-kirtan from a distance.
But Zikir presentation has undergone some changes. The Late Rekibuddin Ahmed made the Zikirs extremely popular ; he blended classical and folk music in the Zikirs to lend them a new dimension. In some places Zikirs are accompanied by a very difficult dance

Ajan Fakir came to Assam for propagation of Islam,there are evidence to indicate that there weresome other Muslim missionaries working in the same line before him. But none of them had the sustained influence likeAjan Fakir.His Zikir are popular and sung by the folk singers of all communities. Gradually they have made their entry into the cultural arena of the urban society. It is probable that some Zikirs were also composed by poets contemporary or prior to Ajan Fakir. According to the Vaisnava literature of Assam Chand Khan or “Chand Sai”, disciple of Vaisnava Saint Sankardeva (dates?) composed spiritual lyrics more like
Borgit’s of Sankardeva and Madhavadeva. But Zikir’s of Ajan Fakir are the foremost of all. It is a group song performed by the group of singers, professional performing group led by one or two solo singers and accompanied by handclapping and two musical instrument dotara.The poetry is colloquial homey Assamese with fewArabic and Persian in a fluid style of alternating solo and group passages characterized by repetition.The goal is to repeat almighty Allah’s name again and again, create awareness among audience for
divine love and power.

Zikir singing considered as an occasion is a gathering for the purpose of realizing ideals of Islamic mysticism through listening. The assembly is usually attended by Sufi devotees through it is open to all comers. Zikir assemblies commemorates the death anniversary (urs) of the Sufi saints at their shrines, private gathering and functions organized for any festive occasion, most often accompanied by appropriate dances.The women performer also takes part in the private function but they do not dance.

The “Zari” derivation of “Jari” is translated in Persian and Urdu dictionaries as “ crying, groaning, wailing”. Such demonstrative expressions of grief are an important part of Muharram celebrations.
The Jari is also popularly known as “Jarigan”, the songs concern to Karbala episodes “Hasan-Hosein” and stories from Islamic history and legend. The devoted Muslims enjoy listening to “Jari gan” till late hours of the night. Some of the Assamese Zari may be called independent ballads giving the stories of Haidar Ghazi.
These songs are sung by men with accompanied by musical instrument dotara (two string instruments) in the month of Muharram and has similarities with Oja pali (storytelling tradition with music and dance) performance of Assam.These songs are choral singing group with lead singer like the Oja(leader) who indicates the singing and is later joined by members of the group like palis (group).As the group sings, they move in a circle, clapping and following rhythmic steps.Lyric of these songs are Arabic,Persian and colloquial
Assamese words, which reflect the cultural assimilation that has taken place over time in Assam.

#########################################(By Dr. Utpal Bora) #####

Modern music

* Contemporary music

Music of Assam is related to the culture of Assam. Since Assam been home to people coming from different parts of India, their culture have also assimilated in the mainstream culture of the state. The people of Assam while participating in the song and dance performances, use a number of musical instruments like pepa, gogona, taal, dhaol and other accompanying instruments. There are numerous groups in the music of Assam. Assam modern music is very popular among the current generation. The modern music of Assam consists of the songs that are sung very recently for the past few decades and more. This genre of music is mainly sung by the upcoming singers of Assam. By Assam Modern Music, the contemporary music of Assam. Beside the popularity of the traditional music of Assam like the ethnic music of Bihu, Bhakti music and different regional folk music, the music lovers of Assam always welcome the new trends in the music. Among the Assam Modern Music, there are a number of singers of Assam that have made their name in the world of music. They have become famous not in India but some of them have acquired fame outside India. Singers like Bhupen Hazarika, Utpalendu Choudhury, Khagen Mahanta and Nirmalendu Choudhury have adopted the modern trends in their songs and music. The Assamese singer Debojit Saha has earned a lot of fame in the world of music. Other singers like Jitul Sonowal and Zubeen Garg are sensational names in the world of music.

Musical instruments

* Dhol
* Gogona
* Marcus
* Pepa
* Taal
* Toka
* Xutuli
* Khol
* Mridanga
* Madol
* Dotara
* Dogor
* Baanhi (Flute)
* Nagera

Exponents of Assamese music

* Luit Konwar Rudra Baruah
* Padmabhusan Dr Bhupen Hazarika
* Jayanta Hazarika
* Rupkonwar Jyoti Prasad Agarwala
* Kalaguru Bishnu Rabha
* Parboti Prasad
* Khagen Mahanta
* Samar Hazarika
* Zubeen Garg

Some other prominent composers and singers

* Mahendra Hazarika
* Jitul Sonowal
* Krishnamoni Chutia
* Krishnamoni Nath
* Jayanta Das
* Kumar Bhabesh
* Bijoy Bhuyan
* Shanta Uzir
* Deepali Borthakur
* Arun Das
* J. P. Das
* Bhupen Uzir
* Ridip Dutta
* Pulak Banerjee
* Queen Das
* Sandhya Menon
* Sadananda Gogoi
* Rameswar Pathak
* Dhanada Pathak
* Sangita Kakoti
* Pratima Pandey

for more information on them, please check links from Bipul Jyoti Saikia's informative website:

Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla Navakanta Barua Rudra BaruaParvati Prasad Baruva Hiren Bhattacharjya Nirmalprabha BordoloiZubeen Garg Bhupen Hazarika Keshav Mahanta

Romen Barua Rudra Barua Parvati Prasad BaruvaPratima Barua-Pandey Birendranath Datta Zubeen GargBhupen Hazarika Jayanta Hazarika Khagen MahantaRameswar & Dhanada Pathak Dilip and Sudakshina SarmaPrabhat Sarma Dipak Sharma Parveen Sultana


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Devajit said...

Dear Shri Mofid Rahman,

I am writing from Sangeet Natak Akademi, the National Academy of the Performing Arts, Ministry of Culture, Government of India. We might possibly need to use one or more photographs of the musical instruments of Assam posted in your blog. If in case they are subject to copyright, kindly give us the permission to reproduce them in the next issue of the Akademi's English journal, 'Sangeet Natak,' Vol XLIV, No. 2. Also please tell us how you would like the copyright acknowledgement to be worded. Finally, if higher resolution bromide prints be available with you, we would appreciate your sending the same to us with proper captions.
Yours sincerely,
Ankur Acharya,
Sangeet Natak Akademi,
New Delhi

Mofid's blogspace said...

Dear Mr. Acharya,

Soory for the late can surely use this and it will be a great pleasure on my part if it helps you to project Assamese Culture in a better way.


Mofid's blogspace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mofid's blogspace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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