Updated: Jan 22
Article written by Zsófia Rideg, Hungarian dramaturg
Translated to English by Johanna Domokos
In April 2019 master Parvathy Baul has endowed the Hungarian interested with two wonderful weeks of experience of the Baul tradition...
In the last three years Parvathy visited Hungary on several occasions, giving concerts, keeping retreats and individual consultations. These visits contributed to the idea to facilitate a separate Hungarian concert tour dedicated to the songs of Rabidranath Tagore. Parvathy Baul supported the idea, that these concerts should includ the contribution of the local guitar artist, Béla Wittek (1.)
The following lines of my indologist friend Prof. Imre Bangha (2.) make understandable, why such a concert and collaboration beared special importance for us, Hungarians :
"Direct cultural contacts between India and Hungary date back to the time of the traveller-scholar Alexander Csoma de Kőrös (1784-1842), the author of the first scholarly Tibetan grammar and dictionary. Csoma worked mainly in Calcutta between 1828 and 1842 and learned Sanskrit and Bengali among other languages. In the nineteenth century — apart from the accounts of some travellers — Sanskrit literature represented the culture of the subcontinent for Hungarians. The only specimen of contemporary literature before 1913 was the English adventure novel '1001 Indian Nights by Sharat Kumar Ghosh' (1883-?) translated in 1908. Tagore’s Nobel Prize informed the larger public in Hungary that contemporary India possessed a dynamic literature, which was, however, mostly perceived as the continuous presence of a timeless India and, in the first half of the century, was represented exclusively by Bengali authors. /…/ Hungarian intellectuals began to reflect on the change in world literature initiated by Tagore's Nobel Prize. Two weeks after the announcement of the Prize a leading Hungarian poet, Mihály Babits (1883-1941), published the prose translation of three poems from English and wrote an article about Tagore, whom — following Yeats — he compared to St. Francis of Assisi. Soon, in 1914 Ferenc Kelen (1869-?), the Hungarian translator of Schopenhauer and Oscar Wilde, produced a volume of Rabindranath’s poems in Hungarian. /…/ On his European tour in 1926, Tagore stayed in Hungary between 26 October and 12 November. His health gave way and he fell sick. He left Budapest for a sanatorium in Balatonfüred near Lake Balaton. The ten autumn days he spent near one of the largest lakes of Europe made a deep impression on him. /…/'I have seen almost all the countries of the world but I saw nowhere such a beautiful harmony of the sky and the water than that I had the privilege to enjoy on the shore of Balatonfured filling my soul with rapture (Tagore).' 'The beautiful promenade on the shore of lake Balaton' was named after Rabindranath Tagore. The world-famous Hindu poet heart disease was treated here in 1926. He completed the ‘Fireflies’ during this stay in Balatonfüred. After his recovery he planted a lime-tree in the health-park. This act was motivated by an old Indian legend saying that if the tree takes root, its planter will live long so that he or she can see the new sprouts. 'If I am not present in this world any more, oh my tree, let your new leaves rustle in spring above those who roam about; the poet loved you until his death.' - wrote the poet. In fact, Tagore lived for another 17 years after having planted the tree. A Hindu grove has been created around the memorial tree and statue of the poet in the past decades. Several presidents of the Indian Republic including Indira Gandhi saluted the memory of Tagore by planting trees.”
Although, Rabindranath Tagore was celebrated in Hungary as a poet only few know that he was also a prolific composer. His about 2230 songs, named Rabindra Sangeet, with their distinctive characteristics are quite popular in India, especially in West Bengal and Bangladesh. In our concert the public could listen the songs from different Tagore’s opus : Gitanjali, Giticharcha, Gitponchashika, Robicchaya. Tagore’s poetry was deeply affected by the Baul songs of his home land.
This is why the Hungarian performances of by Parvathy Baul obtain such a deep meaning. The performance was built upon an imagined dialogue not only between the worlds of Tagore and Fakir Lalan (3.), but between their music and the Hungarian folk songs. These two musical worlds resonate deeply to each other also because of the pentatonic character of the Hungarian folk songs. This special connection might have been felt by Tagore, who was delighted by the local music tradition during his stay.
The concert was prestented four times, first at the master course given by Parvathy in a down-town language studio. During this course Parvathy thought songs by Tagore, the Baul Mukunda Das and the Hindu mysitic Mirabai. Second time the songs were appreciated by an other enthusiastic audience, this time at the international MITEM Festival organized by the Hungarian Naional Theater. For the third time Parvathy and Wittek was performing in the literary framework of the niveau Hungarian literary magazine, „Új Forrás”. And what a nice opportunity it was to close the series of performances in Balatonfüred, the place which Tagor enjoyed so much. In Balatonfüred, Parvathy presented a sacrifice song at the tree planted by Tagore.
Fowllowing these events Wittek confessed that he was waiting since two deacedes for performing together with such a high quality performer. And for me, it was an unspeakable feeling to be with my master Parvathy on the same stage, as the Hungarian translator of the texts, who was reciting the translations following by the originals. This feeling can be best described by the words of Tagore, who confesses :
"I know not how thou singest, my master!
I ever listen in silent amazement.
The light of thy music illumines the world.
The life breath of thy music runs from sky to sky.
The holy stream of thy music
breaks through all stony obstacles and rushes on.
My heart longs to join in thy song,
but vainly struggles for a voice.
I would speak, but speech breaks not into song,
and I cry out baffled.
Ah, thou hast made my heart captive
in the endless meshes of thy music, my master!”
(Rabindranath Tagore: Gitanjali, 38.song)
1. Béla Wittek graduated as a classical guitar player, from the Liszt Ferenc Music Academy in Budapest, 1987. From 1994, he was taught classical Indian music and playing the sitar by András Kozma, the former pupil of Ravi Shankar. In 2000, he founded the band called Talea, of which repertoire consists of arrangements of middle age and renaissance tunes, 16-17th century court music from Transylvania and Upper Hungary as well as Hungarian folk music. Béla Wittek has learnt to play several other instruments in an autodidact way. For the present concert he composed musical accompaniments of Tagore and Lalan’s songs, which he played on Arabic oud.
2. Imre Bangha - The Tree that Set Forth : The Hungarian Tagore
(Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford, The Oriental Institute, Pusey Lane, Oxford)
3. Lalan (1772(?) – 17th October 1890) was one of the most influential Baul singers, called saint, fakir, sahn or mahatma as well. He was a social reformer and thinker, he wrote songs, and became an iconic figure of Bengali culture. Lalan sang about a world, where every religion and belief lived in harmony with each other. The last period of his life, he spent on the Tagore family’s estate, where the ink drawing (above) was made by Jyotirindranath, the brother of Rabindranath. This is the most credible memory of Lalan. The number of his songs is estimated between about 2000 and 10000, but only 800 is verified as surely originating from him. The songs were not written down by him; rather his apprentices orally passed them on or noted them down. Rabindranath Tagore was the first to publish some of them.
Photos credits : Zsolt Eöri-Szabó, Ágnes Gesztes