Rajanikanta Sen

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Rajanikanta Sen
Rajanikanta Sen.jpg
Native name রজনীকান্ত সেন
Born (1865-07-26)26 July 1865
Bhangabari, Belkuchi, Sirajganj (previously Pabna), British India
Died 13 September 1910(1910-09-13) (aged 45)
Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India
Occupation Lyricist, music composer, singer
Language Bengali
Nationality British Indian
Genre Song, poems
Literary movement Bengal Renaissance
Notable works Kantageeti, Bani, Kalyani, Amrita

Rajanikanta Sen (26 July 1865 – 13 September 1910) was a Bengali poet and composer, known for his devotional (bhakti) compositions, as well as his patriotic songs.[1]

Early life and education

Sen was born in the village of Bhangabari, Sirajganj of Pabna district, presently situated at Bangladesh[2]. He was the third child of Guruprasad Sen and Manomohini Devi. Guruprasad served as sub-judge in many parts of Bengal, during which period he published a collection of 400 Vaishnava brajabuli poems, padachintamanimAlA. Guruprasad was posted in Katwa when Rajanikanta was born. Guruprasad's elder brother, Govindanath, was an advocate.

Sen studied in Boalia Zilla School (now Rajshahi Collegiate School). He learned Sanskrit from Rajnath Tarkaratna, a neighbour in his village Bhangakuthi during school vacations. He got Gopal Chandra Lahiri as his academic mentor. He passed the entrance examination in 1882 with second division. He passed FA in 1885 with second division. He completed BA and BL degree in 1891 from Kolkata City College.[1] He then started practising law in Rajshahi.[1] His father's elder brother was a lawyer in Rajshahi then. Rajanikanta earned reputation quickly. However, his passion lay in cultural activities like music, literature, acting in plays etc. In this he was supported by friends like the noted historian Akshay Kumar Maitreya,[1] and also his wife[2]. He worked as a munsif for some days in Natore and Naogaon.

Contribution to Bengali music and literature

Sen's mother Manomohini Devi had interest in Bengali literature. She used to discuss it with young Rajani. This influenced his future compositions a lot. Sen got interested in music from Tarakeshwar Chakrabarty, his friend in Bhangakuthi. He was fluent in writing poems in Bengali and Sanskrit from childhood. He started composing music for his poems and singing those along with playing musical instruments later. Rajani's poems were published in local magazines – Utsaha, Ashalata many times. He used to compose songs for inaugural and closing ceremonies for various assemblies in his college days. He wrote his notable song within a very short period of one hour for such an assembly in Rajshahi library:

তব, চরণ নিম্নে, উৎসবময়ী শ্যাম-ধরনী সরসা;
উর্দ্ধে চাহ অগণিত-মনি-রঞ্জিত নভো-নীলাঞ্চলা
সৌম্য-মধুর-দিব্যাঙ্গনা শান্ত-কুশল-দরশা ৷

Beneath your feet lies the prosperous and bountiful earth
Behold the blue sky engraved with countless gems above
She is like a sweet and graceful angel

There was an assembly in Calcutta town hall on 7 August 1905 for protesting against Partition of Bengal. The boycott of British goods and using Swadeshi (Indian) items were decided by eminent Bengali leaders. Indian common men started using clothes manufactured in India (Ahmedabad and Bombay mainly). However, those were not so fine as compared to British ones. This made some of the Indians unhappy. In this context Rajani wrote his famous song:

মায়ের দেওয়া মোটা কাপড় মাথায় তুলে নেরে ভাই;
দীন দুখিনি মা যে তোদের তার বেশি আর সাধ্য নাই ৷

My brothers, please accept the coarse clothing offered by your mother
As this is all your poor mother(nation) can afford

The song became popular across entire Bengal and so was Sen. The song was a major source of inspiration for the participants of the contemporary Swadeshi movement as well as for the Indian freedom fighters in the years to come. He wrote another popular song with similar intention:

আমরা নেহাত গরীব, আমরা নেহাত ছোট,-
তবু আছি সাতকোটি ভাই,-জেগে ওঠ !

We are extremely poor, we are extremely small
Yet we are seventy million brothers, rise up

Sen wrote books including Vani (1902), Kalyani (1905), Amrta, Abhaya (1910), Anandamayi (1910) and Bishram (1910), Sadbhabkusum (1913) and Shesdan (1916). Vani and Kalyani are collections of his songs.[1]> Amrita contains short poems to inculcate the right values in children. Rabindranath Tagore's Kanika influenced him to compose these poems. He composed satirical songs influenced by poet Dwijendralal Ray.[1]

Sen's major contribution towards Bengali literature and music was the immortal devotional songs which were written and composed by him. His songs were set to Hindustani classical style, mixing Kirtan, Baul and Tappa. He became well known as Kantakabi[1] and his songs are often called Kantageeti.

Singers of Kantageeti

Many singers from India and Bangladesh have sung his songs. They include Krishna Chattopadhyay, Neela Majumdar, Pannalal Bhattacharya, Anup Ghoshal, Nishith Sadhu, Hemanta Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Nupurchanda Ghosh, Arghya Sen, Juthika Roy, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Aarti Mukherji, Manna Dey, Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, Chhabi Bandyopadhyay, Iffat Ara Dewan and Utpala Sen.

Personal life

Rajanikanta's Letter To Sharat Kumar Ray describing his interest in music

Rajani's father Guruprasad retired voluntarily in 1875 from the post of subjudge of Barishal. The entire family was dependent mainly on Guruprasad's elder brother's sons Baradagobinda and Kalikumar. Both of them died suddenly in quick succession in 1878. Rajani's younger brother Janakikanta had also just died of hydrophobia. Suddenly the prosperous family plunged into a financial crisis. Rajani had to study law to earn money soon to support the family. He married Hiranmayee Devi in 1883. She used to discuss with Rajani regarding his poetry and sometimes suggested themes for the poems. Together they had four sons – Shachindra, Gnanendra, Bhupendra, Kshitindra and two daughters Shatadalbasini and Shantibala. Bhupendra died at a young age. Rajani's firm belief in God is reflected in the following song composed on the next day:

তোমারি দেওয়া প্রাণে তোমারি দেওয়া দুখ,
তোমারি দেওয়া বুকে, তোমারি অনুভব ৷
তোমারি দুনয়নে তোমারি শোক-বারি,
তোমারি ব্যাকুলতা তোমারি হা হা রব ৷

You (God) gifted life but filled it with sorrow
You filled our hearts with faith in you
You gave us eyes and filled them with tears
You make me perplexed so I cry helplessly

Last days

In 1909, Rajanikanta started suffering from throat problems. On 10 September, he was forced to move to Calcutta along with some family members. A British doctor examined him and diagnosed it as Larynx cancer. He consulted various doctors in Calcutta but his condition did not improve. As a last resort, he spent a couple of months in Varanasi with the hope of divine intervention. He had to sell off copyrights of his published books Vani and Kalyani to arrange for the trip. He had to return to Calcutta as his condition had worsened much. He underwent Tracheotomy operation by Captain Denham White on 10 February 1910 in Calcutta Medical College. He survived the operation but lost his voice forever. He spent the remaining days of his life in the cottage ward of the hospital. He used to write in his diary quite regularly during his stay in the hospital. He also started writing an autobiography which was written only up to the first chapter. Some poetry lovers and some of the students of the Calcutta Medical College tended after him, Maharaja Manindra Chandra Nandi and Sharat Kumar Ray helped him financially. On 11 June 1910 Rabindranath Tagore visited the hospital to meet Sen. Sen's son Kshitindranath and daughter Shantibala sung a song composed by him and he accompanied by playing harmonium. This is reflected in the following song composed on the day Rabindranath met him:

আমায় সকল রকমে কাঙ্গাল করেছে, গর্ব করিতে চূর,
তাই যশ ও অর্থ, মান ও স্বাস্থ্য, সকলি করেছে দূর ৷
ঐ গুলো সব মায়াময় রূপে, ফেলেছিল মোরে অহমিকা-কূপে,
তাই সব বাধা সরায়ে দয়াল করেছে দীন আতুর;

I am impoverished by all means, my pride shattered,
I am devoid of fame, riches and my complete well being.
I was disillusioned and had descended into the dungeon of pride;
His kindness has lifted the obstacles and humbled me.

As gratitude towards Tagore's for visit in the hospital, Rajani kanta wrote a letter and another poem, "এই মুক্ত প্রাণের দৃপ্ত বাসনা তৃপ্ত করিবে কে ", and sent to Bolpur. Tagore wrote a letter to him on 30 July. In this, he appreciated Sen for his literary talent. During this period, he also composed a few Agamani-Vijaya songs. He died on 13 September 1910 in Kolkata.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Islam, Sirajul (2012). "Sen, Rajanikanta". In Islam, Sirajul; Sayeed, Abul. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. 
  2. ^ a b "Rajanikanta Sen" (in Bengali). Abasar. Retrieved 4 September 2017. 
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