Bhupen Hazarika, born on September 8, 1926, was a remarkable Indian personality known for his versatility as a playback singer, lyricist, musician, poet, actor, artist, editor, filmmaker, professor, and politician from Assam.
He was widely recognized as “Sudha Kontho,” meaning “nectar-throated,” owing to his melodious voice and profound contributions. This article delves into the life and legacy of this iconic figure.
Bhupen Hazarika’s Early Life and Musical Roots
Bhupen Hazarika was born to Nilakanta and Shantipriya Hazarika in the town of Sadiya, Assam, along the banks of the Brahmaputra River. He was the eldest of ten siblings and was deeply influenced by his mother’s lullabies and traditional Assamese music during his upbringing.
His musical journey began at the age of 10 when he was discovered by Jyotiprasad Agarwala, a renowned Assamese lyricist and filmmaker, and Bishnu Prasad Rabha, a celebrated Assamese artist and poet. Young Bhupen sang a traditional Borgeet at a public event in Tezpur, marking the start of his artistic development.
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Bhupen Hazarika Passing Away and Legacy
In 2011, Bhupen Hazarika was hospitalized in Mumbai’s Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital due to health issues. On November 5, 2011, he succumbed to multi-organ failure.
His funeral was attended by an estimated half a million people. He was laid to rest near the Brahmaputra River, on a plot of land donated by Gauhati University, marking the end of an era in Indian music and culture.
In 2011, Hazarika got very sick and had to go to a hospital in Mumbai. He was put in a special unit for seriously ill patients on June 30, 2011. Sadly, he passed away on November 5, 2011, because many of his organs stopped working.
After he died, his body was placed for people to say their goodbyes at Judges Field in Guwahati, and then he was cremated on November 9, 2011, near the Brahmaputra River. A lot of people came to his funeral, around half a million.
Bhupen Hazarika was known for his deep singing voice, his beautiful lyrics that talked about love and important issues, and his music that used traditional folk sounds. Every year on November 5, people remember and honour Bhupen Hazarika, a very special and talented artist:
My humble tribute to ‘Bard Of Brahamaputra’ Bharat Ratna Dr. Bhupen Hazarika ji on his death anniversary.
Bhupen Hazarika took Assam to the world and brought world into Assam through his songs. His music promoted universal brotherhood bringing all of us together for peace. pic.twitter.com/elFOyII5Tg
— Sushmita Dev সুস্মিতা দেব (@SushmitaDevAITC) November 5, 2020
In a survey in Bangladesh, one of his songs, “Manush Manusher Jonno” (which means “Humans are for humanity”), was the second most liked song after their national anthem. Some of his famous songs were inspired by American Black Spirituals that he learned from his friend Paul Robeson, whom he met in New York City in the 1950s.
Bhupen Hazarika Education and Career
Bhupen Hazarika pursued his education at various institutions, including Sonaram High School, Dhubri Government High School, and Tezpur High School. He completed his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Political Science from Banaras Hindu University.
His academic journey led him to Columbia University, where he obtained a Ph.D. with a thesis on Proposals for Preparing India’s Basic Education to Use Audio-Visual Techniques in Adult Education.
During his time in New York, Bhupen Hazarika befriended Paul Robeson, a prominent civil rights activist. Robeson’s influence inspired Hazarika to use music as a tool for social change, reflecting the belief that the guitar he played was not just a musical instrument but also a “social instrument.”
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Bhupen Hazarika’s Musical Career and Contribution
Bhupen Hazarika composed music that championed themes of communal harmony, universal justice, and empathy. His songs resonated deeply with the people of Assam, West Bengal, and Bangladesh. He played a pivotal role in introducing the culture and folk music of Assam and Northeast India to Hindi cinema at a national level.
Some of his famous songs include “Bistirno Parore,” “Moi Eti Jajabor,” “Ganga Mor Maa,” and “Manuhe Manuhor Babey.” These songs, primarily in Assamese, carried messages of unity and social justice:
Remembering the ‘Sudha Kontho’, the Bharat Ratna, Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, on his birth anniversary. His timeless songs resonate with humanity and universal brotherhood and bridge hearts. Let’s celebrate the legacy of this musical maestro whose melodies continue to inspire… pic.twitter.com/pGVan9fFmr
— ABVP (@ABVPVoice) September 8, 2023
Bhupen Hazarika Awards and Recognition
Bhupen Hazarika received numerous accolades during his lifetime, including the National Film Award for Best Music Direction in 1975, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1987, Padma Shri in 1977, Padma Bhushan in 2001, and the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 1992.
He was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan in 2012 and the Bharat Ratna in 2019:
Late Dr. Bhupen Hazarika of Assam was a singer, lyricist, filmmaker, musician and poet.
One of India’s best, he was awarded with the Bharat Ratna, Padmashri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhusan, Dada Saheb Phalke Award, Sangeet Natak Academy Award and many more.#NorthEastMatters pic.twitter.com/LCfnT9lgni
— Udipta Goswami (@GoswamiUdipta) June 27, 2020
Bhupen Hazarika’s Social Struggles and Personal Life
Throughout his life, Bhupen Hazarika fought against the casteism that sought to limit his achievements as a Koibarta community member. His marriage to a Brahmin woman was seen as a statement against a caste-ridden society.
In the 1970s, he crossed paths with Kalpana Lajmi, a filmmaker, who became a significant part of his personal and professional life. They collaborated on several films, including “Ek Pal” (1986), “Rudaali” (1993), and “Daman: A Victim of Marital Violence” (2001).
Bhupen Hazarika was elected as the President of the Asam Sahitya Sabha in 1993, reflecting his deep connection to Assamese literature and culture.
He also entered politics and served as an MLA (Independent) in the Assam Legislative Assembly from 1967 to 1972. He contested in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate but did not secure a victory.
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Bhupen Hazarika’s life and work left an indelible mark on Indian music, culture, and society. His contributions as a versatile artist, a promoter of unity and justice, and a social activist continue to inspire generations. His legacy lives on through his timeless songs and his enduring impact on the rich tapestry of Indian art and culture.