Coke Studio’s “Rangabati” is an insult and assault on folk music and linguistic sanctity

By Saswat Pattanayak

The “Rangabati” version that is being touted as putting Odisha on the world map is instead designed to take Orissa off the map.

Credited to Ram Sampath, Sona Mohapatra and Rituraj Mohanty, this modern incarnation of Rangabati is problematic in more ways than just one. In the guise of promoting Oriya culture, what this rendition does is undermine the history of struggles behind linguistic uniqueness of Oriya itself and promotes a bunch of profiteering corporate pawns in their self-aggrandizement.

Firstly, by titling it as “Rangabati” while remixing it with “Vande Utkala Janani”, it vulgarizes the very national anthem of the Oriyas. The team behind MTV Coke has quite possibly forgotten the relevance and sanctities attached to the state anthem that played pivotal part in freedom struggles of the Oriyas. Behind the creation of Orissa as the first linguistically formed state in India, lies the power of “Vande Utkala Janani”. What is evident in the Coke Studio version is sheer deplorable trivialization of the classicism associated with the song that eventually led to preservation of Oriya language and its distinct attainment of classical status.

When Bengal and Bihar had colonized Orissa, it was not just a geographic mass that was exploited – it was a language that was denied to the people of Orissa back then. Thanks to the Utkal Sammilani and the freedom fighters associated with it, Orissa had been able to reclaim its unique glory. When Oriya was not considered as a separate language, these stalwarts had ensured that the new province would be formed precisely based on the language that was more unique and far richer than the ones that had dominated over it employing British mischiefs.

It was in 1882, long before the first Utkal Union Conference (Utkal Sammilani) was formed that Madhusudan Das (along with Gaurishankar Ray) championed the cause of Oriya people through Utkal Sabha (the Orissa Association). As its president, Madhusudan Das fought against imposition of Hindi in the place of Oriya in the official works at Sambalpur. How ironic, that today, under the garb of promoting a Sambalpuri folk song, the struggle behind linguistic identity would be so opportunistically forgotten!

In 1903, when the first Utkal Sammilani was held in Kanika, it had representation from all over Orissa – Kanika, Keonjhar, Cuttack and Sambalpur. It was proudly declared as “the Parliament of people inhabiting Oriya speaking areas, not withstanding caste, creed, language and administrative divisions.” When Bengal Government restricted Oriya officers from attending the Conference, Madhu Babu demanded that they be allowed.

When Orissa was not a political entity and Oriya was not officially a language, it was Madhusudan Das who thundered: “According to history, people from different places came to England and settled there. This union helped in the making of the English race. The English people had great contribution to the progress in Europe. We must consider this in the context of our motherland. Now looking at the suffering of mother Utkal who amongst us would be thoughtless? Hence we all being united would share her suffering and serve her. While in this deep service we must remember a statement of the Prophet Muhammad – for the spread of love one should give up impure element from the heart and allow pious blood into it. My dear brothers and sisters who want to dedicate their lives for the service of the mother Utkal must at first give up – conceit and selfishness. The race or nation is eternal, you and myself have temporary existence. The only way to progress is to give up selfishness. It will be admitted by all that the water of the river and lake coming from different direction would enter into the ocean where it would take one shape and one colour. It would be called the water of the ocean and would take the name of the great ocean.”

In such a backdrop of relentless struggle to claim Oriyas as a distinct “race”, the classicism of Oriya language inherently remained. It is in such a context that the unique diversity of Orissa remained preserved while the language is fiercely protected. And it is in this context that Kantakabi Laxmikanta Mohapatra’s “Vande Utkala Janani” is treated inviolable – as the national anthem of a race of people who battled political, economic and cultural subjugations to retain their uniqueness.

And it is in this context that it was declared on December 19, 2002 by the Speaker of Orissa Legislative Assembly, Mr. Sarat Kumar Kar that whosoever shows any disrespect to “Vande Utkala Janani” shall face penal action.

In the name of artistic freedom, experimentations and fusions, “Vande Utkala Janani” rendition has been improper at the technical level in the latest YouTube sensation, while commercially exploited to suit a corporate agenda at the level of intent.

Rangabati singers

(L-R) Singers Jitendra Haripal, Krishna Patel, lyricist Mitrabhanu Gountia and music director Prabhudatt Pradhan.

Equally deplorable is the cultural misappropriation of Jitendra Haripal and Krishna Patel’s brilliant composition “Rangabati”. Haripal is a Dalit artist duly recognized by the state for his immense contribution to folk and patriotic music. A purist practitioner of folk music, Haripal once said, “The new Sambalpuri songs use crude and indecent expressions and the pure folk we used to create have taken a backseat. I want to keep folk music safe and promote it.”

Rangabati rendition by Sona Mohapatra is neither pure nor is it keeping folk music safe. It is only using Rangabati for the purpose of self-promotion. Bereft of all patriotic feel and folk quality, the electronic appropriation by privileged caste commercial artists, of a Dalit folk singer’s most monumental contribution is at once sad and derogatory. To make matters worse, the fusion of “Rangabati-Vande Utkala Janani” not only abandons folk traditions, and replaces what Haripal once told P. Sainath in The Hindu, “simple love song in pure Sambalpuri style” for a needless mash-up with “Vande Utkala Janani”, it also infuses the non-Oriya rap between the lyrics.

Finally, there is clear case of copyright violation by the MTV’s Coke Studio which has not taken any permission from original lyricist Mitrabhanu Guintia and music director Prabhudatta Pradhan. Not only has the national anthem of Orissa been taken for granted by corporate houses, but even the folk artists and song writers are not compensated before their music are widely abused.

As Oriyas, unable to combat the assaults, atrophy and neglect of our language, many things are no longer surprising to us. But the callous indifference towards commercial appropriation of “Rangabati” as well as trivialization of “Vande Utkala Janani” perhaps indicate that we may be destined to lose both our folk heritage and linguistic historical identity, much sooner than later, if this manipulative Coke Studio production is what we falsely perceive as taking Odia to the world map.

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  1. Pingback: Rangabati in Remix: Nasty Tricks of Avarice Kills the Song, Affects Creative Property Right, Attracts Legal Action | Orissa Matters

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