Chanting of couplets, reading and recital of episodes from the Puranas, narratives like bratakatha, nursery rhymes, and free verses on contemporary ideas which are musically recited can hardly be considered as music unless these are specially rendered in musical formation. This means that there are verses which do not become song even when they are musically recited. And, as such, do not give any idea about folk-music. The Ramayana and nursery rhymes are set to music and produced on commercial phonographic records of modern times. Hence nursery rhyme becomes a piece of song. Musical recital and music proper are thus mixed up in modern rendition of various forms of folk compositions. And there are plenty of instances of imitations, fake compositions, and mixture of borrowed musical phrases, amended tune patterns retouched and reconditioned, rhythmic or metrical presentations. The commercial use of new processes, evolved for preparing good music, are responsible for creating conditions in which words of original verses and musical forms undergo change beyond recognition. Generally, music of popular folk-songs is not named after musical connotation. Therefore, a very few songs convey musical peculiarities unless they are popularized by the names of some typical character.
On the whole, songs generally characterize various subjects, themes of which are often found to overlap. Secular subjects are rare, and religious themes, episodes from the Puranas are interpreted in various ways. Even romantic songs are not free from the background of religious thoughts, and consequently musical forms are considerably influenced by Kirtana forms which are religious. There are only a few terms to mean the tune or rhythm as used in songs. On the other hand, as a result of constant popularization of a few groups of songs the captions like Baul, Bhatiali, Bhawaiya, Bihu, Jhumur songs, Daskathi, etc., are expressive of some styles of music, though in a vague manner or in a wider sense.
Folk-music is known to be based primarily on the dialect of the people. In other words, it is an expression necessitated to communicate ideas through the use of everyday language. Folk-songs generally maintain a natural contrast with the general language of composition. In geographically restricted areas, local words, crude and raucous expressions, occur normally. Chaste words, even if used, are converted into local phonetic characters. Naivet‚ of a dialect combines with ready-made artless music expressions, the forms being rough and terse and some wheat loose. Musical forms interspersed with such expressions can be well recited by local men only. Bhawaiya and Catka are the best instances.
On the other hand, dialects carrying greater percentage of chaste vocabularies, occurring in some popular folk-songs, are liable to be initiated more by general vocalists; of course, these chaste words are often covered by local intonation. Songs of developed type of the central area of Bengal receive the impact of the chaste language directly. This has happened to folk-songs of the middle area of West Bengal where devotional songs of rich variety and Baul songs had their radical growths.
Now the modern languages of the eastern sector of the subcontinent develop on the basis of four morphological characters depending on chaste words adapted from Sanskrit literature:
(1) Vocabularies derived from old forms;
(2) Words borrowed from various sources;
(3) Locally originated words; and
(4) As for Oriya, the language contains a greater percentage of chaste words in its dialect, and the phonetic differences in spoken and written languages are far less than those in other languages.
Oriya has some special character in this regard. The highly cultured language of some popular songs by Kavisamrat Upendra Bhanja in Orissa is easily recited by folk-singers rendered in folk-tunes.
As for Bengali, innumerable varieties of dialects with phonetic peculiarities of different variations cover the entire area of Bengal. So far as collected songs are concerned, popular verses are generally recognized when repeated; e.g. dialects used in Sari songs of East Bengal. The language of a Bhaoaia or Catka songs of the northern area may sound foreign to a man of Midnapore district. The language of some popular songs of East Bengal ballads may be absolutely jarring to the ears of people of West Bengal in spite of the fact that a large number of such songs are fairly known. The tendency of combining chaste and local vocabularies is more in vogue in West Bengal.
Assamese folk-songs indicate a novel feature in the combination of Tibeto-Burman vocabularies with a balanced use of chaste forms in some standard popular songs. Frequent use of derived-forms and local vocabularies in popular folk-songs is a normal character. Historically, we may find that during the spread of Vaisnavic thought in the Brahmaputra valley there was a channel of communication of ideas between Bihar and Orissa through northern Bengal. Folk-music of North Bengal maintains similarity with Assamese folk-songs of its western region to a certain extent. Musical characters, thus, appear to depend on exchange of local characters of the dialect. We need not mention the medieval history here. The closest relation of Koch Kingdom and Kamrupa of the medieval ages does not give here any clue to the establishment of musical affinities. The affinities must have been due to the exchange of religious thoughts and common social ties amongst people.