Young Niharbala.
Photo Credit: Author

Goalpariya Folk culture is one of the most important elements of the greater Assamese culture. Generally it is concentrated in the undivided Goalpara district of Assam. Once upon a time this district was dominated by the Zamindery system. Goalpara went under the Mughal administration in the middle of the 17th century, and formed the eastern part of the Mughal Empire till with the rest of Bengal, it was ceded to the British by the emperors Farman of the 12thAugust 1765. The Goalpariya Folk cultured was expanded by the Gauripur Zaminder.

Goalpariya Folk Art (KuhilaSilpa). 
Photo Credit: Punam Barua

The history of Gauripur’s Zaminder Family has been explained in N.N.Basu’s three volume book “The Social History of Kamrupa”. According to family sources, Kabishekhar received the title of Raja from the Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1622. During the period of Raja Pratap Chandra Bara Zamindery head quarter was shifted from Rangamati to Gauripur in 1860. He died in 1880 leaving no children for which his wife Rani BabaniPriyaadoped a son, named Prabhat Chandra Barua.

The rule of Raja Prabhat Chandra Barua was considered the Golden era of Gauripur. He made significant contributions regarding the development and expansion of education and culture. Raja Prabhat Chandra Barua and Rani Sarojbala have five children; they were Pramathes Chrandra Barua (famous film actor and director of Bengali and Hindi movies), Prakithes Chandra Barua, Pranabesh Chandra Barua, Niharbala and Nilima Barua. Born in 1905, Niharbala was commonly known as “Baro-Rajkumari” (eldest Princes) among the local people. From very early days of her life she closely observed the ethnic culture of the low cast people, especially Koch-Rajbanshi, Mahut, cultivators etc. The literate and elite people of those days considered these cultures as the low stranded culture of the low cast people. Begers often came to Raj Mahal for help and food; they sang and danced for the enjoyment of the royal people. Little Niharbala followed their songs and dance style. “Nihar, What are you doing? These are not for the royal family’s culture. Give up them.” No, she didn’t rather she practised those culture analogously with enormous interest. Her effort later on gave the identity of the Goalpariya Culture among the literate and elite class. She proved that low cast people may be poor, illiterate and untouchable but they are not uneducated .They have their own culture which is owned by birth. It is original and closely related with their life style. Niharbala spent huge time in Santinikatan where she met Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore and noted academician Sukumar Sen. Due to their advice and encouragement she started to write articles about the Goalpariya cultural aspects in reputed journals like “Desh”, “Parichoy” and “Biswabharati”. Later on she wrote a book “PrantabashirJhuli” a collection of her articles regarding the cultural aspects of undivided Goalpara district. Still today this is considered as the valuable document of Assamese folk culture. Niharbala was the paternal aunt of Padamashri Pratima Pandey Barua, noted Goalpariya folk song singer of Assam. Pratima learnt Goalpariya songs from her PeyhiNiharbala at her early age. At the later age Niharbala performed Goalpariya folk dance in Kolkata Doordrashan.

Niharbala was also interested to spread education among the women section of the society. She took the active initiative in introduction of women education in Gauripur. She established NariSamiti in order to provide financial help to the poor and helpless women in the locality. During 1930s she went to England and other parts of our country and later on she built a personal museum at her home with her collected folk materials. She born and brought up in a royal family but her personal life style was very simple and straight forward. She never believed in royal hypocrisy rather she liked to mix up with general public. Today Goalpariya folk culture becomes a famous folk cultural practice both in the academic and entertainment world. Niharbala, the princes of Gauripur, took the first initiative to collect this cultural aspect and established it in a pride position among the educated society of the world.

About the author: The author of the above article is Dr. Kingshuk Chakraborty. [Read more]

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