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NIHAR BARUA (1903-2004)


Nihar Barua was an ethnomusicologist and folklorist of note. She was the sister of Pramathesh Barua. She was married off at the age of 11 to a magistrate and by the age of 17 had borne six children. But this did not slow her down. She had an affinity with animals, played with snakes, tamed elephants and hunted tigers after the custom of her family. She became a collector of the songs, beliefs and customs of the people of Goalpara, where her ancestral home of Gauripur was located. She collected more than a thousand of these songs, documenting each of them with meticulous care and creating an archive of the cultural practices of the unique and endangered culture of the Goalpara Rajbanshis. She began a school in Gauripur in 1935.

She wrote a wide range of essays and articles, some of which have been collected in the anthology Prantobashir Jhuli: Goalparar lokjiban o gan (Songs from the Margins: the culture and music of Goalpara) published by Stree in 2000. These essays, originally published in Desh, Parichay, Baromas, Ekshon and other well known Bengali periodicals, are about the folk customs and beliefs of Goalpara, the land between Cooch Behar, Meghalaya, Assam and Bangladesh. She studied the music of Goalpara, delving into the contexts and customs behind them. The songs are at once earthy and touching, sung by the people to Sonarai, spirit of tigers, or Madankaam, the essence of spring and generation. In the article on marriage songs, she comments on the marriage practices of different communities, and in a section on dances performed by village women to make rain (often in the nude), she paints a picture of female agency and freedom.
 
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