There are essentially two types of Bhawaiya songs. The first, ‘Dariya’, is based on a 4/4 rhythm and is associated with a melancholy mood. The second is ‘Chatka’, in 6/8 rhythm, reflecting a joyous mood. There is another variety, ‘Teora’, based on the unusual 7/8 rhythm.
Bhawaiya presentations include both Lokonatya (folk drama) and Lokonritya (folk dance). Lokonatya is based on folk and mythological stories, such as Kushan Pala, Bishahari Pala, Chorchunni, Sonaray, Noukabilash, Gorakshanath and Palatia. The duration of these shows range from 2 to 3 hours. Lokonritya includes Bairati dance, Kushan dance and more. Bairati dance is performed during weddings to welcome the groom and his relatives — called ‘Bairat’ in the local language. The dancers are called ‘Bairati’ — the ones who welcome the guests with Bhawaiya songs.
Bhawaiya songs were historically made popular by renowned exponents like Abbasuddin, Abdul Karim and Pratima Baruah. The genre continues to inspire composers and songwriters of mainstream Bengali music and popular Bengali films. Over 2,000 artists engaged with Bhawaiya in Cooch Behar and Alipurduar districts are now part of the Rural Craft and Cultural Hubs (RCCH) project of West Bengal Government’s Department of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) and Textiles, undertaken in association with UNESCO. Today, there is a learning system in place for these artists and young aspirants. There is also growing interest about Bhawaiya. Artists are getting opportunities to perform at events far and wide, including fairs and festivals. Training and capacity-building workshops on Bhawaiya as well as traditional musical instruments are also being organized. Bhawaiya artists are now respected by other communities who also take interest in their music.