History of Kavigan
Kavigan was born out of a synthesis of various art forms prevalent in different parts of Bengal at different times having peculiar names such as tarja, panchali, kheur, akhrai, half akhrai, full akhrai, danra kavigan, basa kavigan, dhap kirtan, tappa, Krishna jatra, tukkagiti etc.
The existence of kabi songs may be traced to the beginning of the 18th century or even beyond it to the 17th; but the flourishing period of the Kabiwalas was between 1760 and 1830. As the religious and ritualistic content in Bengali poetry wore out there was a tendency to break away from the traditional Vaishnava poetry but the real breakthrough came only with the introduction of the printing press in mid - 18th century. From the close of the 18th century for more than half a century the new kavi - poetry and panchali reigned supreme in the Kolkata region and almost threatened to sweep everything else in literature. However, while Kavigan lost its supremacy in Kolkata, it retained its position in the villages of West Bengal
Forms of Kavigan
Kavigan is actually sung by two given groups. Each group is led by sarkar or kaviyal. The accompanying singers are called dohars, often repeat what the leader said. A kavigan generally starts with bandana (Evocation) or gurudever geet (song of the sect patron). The bandana can be carefully directed to or be in praise of Goddess Saraswati, Lord Ganesha, people, and the audience, as deemed fit by a particular kaviyal. This is of course followed by songs related to Radha - Lord Krishna, some call it agamani. Then the four subjects are sung: Sakhi sambad, biraha, lahar and kheur. Finally, the competitive part starts. In kavigan, also referred to as kabir larai, two people who are lyricist plus composer at the same time answered each other in form of songs.
There are actually quite a number of kaviyals that has attained fame and popularity. In the Birbhum district of the Indian state of West Bengal, there were about three hundred kaviyals from the 18th-20th century. Amongst the earliest known kaviyals were Gonjla Guin, born in the 18th century and his contemporaries: Lalu - Nandalal, Raghu and Ramji. The famous kaviyals of Kolkata in the nineteenth century were Haru Thakur (1749-1824), Nitai Vairagi (1751-1821), Ram Basu (1786-1828), Bhola Maira, and Anthony Firinghee.
Some of kaviyals in other parts of Bengal were Balahari Roy (1743-1849), Sambhunath Mondal (1773-1833), Tarakchandra Sarker (1845-1914), Haricharan Acharya (1861-1941), Ramesh Chandra Shil (1877-1967), Rajendranath Sarkar (1892-1974), Bijaykrishna Adhikari (1903-1985), Nishikanto Raysarkar.
Mukunda Das, more well-liked as a charan kavi, was also a kaviyal. His character was featured in a popular Bengali film Balika Bodhu, wherein the songs of Mukunda Das inspired the rural masses during the independence movement.