Bhawaiya is a genre of North Bengal folk songs sung primarily in the Rajbanshi dialect of Bengali. The subjects are closely interwoven with the Rajbonshi community’s rural life. The songs reflect their joy, sorrow and the experience of living in harmony with nature.

Bhawaiya Featured Artists

History of Bhawaiya

Bhawaiya has its origin in parts of Bangladesh and the northern region of West Bengal. It is intimately associated with the culture of the Rajbangshi community. It is said that Bhawaiya came from Cooch Behar and Rangpur and gradually covered a vast area of undivided Bengal — from Jalpaiguri, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Nilfamari, Kurigram, Lalmonirghat, Thakurgaon, northern part of Bohoru and Rajshahi to Dhubri and Goalpara of Assam. Bhawaiya is a mainstream folk music of Dholla, Dhudhkumar and Teesta-Torsha-Brahmaputra river basin area.

Traditionally, Bhawaiya songs are sung by farmers while tilling the land. There are many explanations for the origin of the name.

Some say that it came from the term ‘Bhava’ meaning ‘emotion’, while others point at the word ‘Bao’ meaning ‘breeze’. Another set of opinion claims that the key word is ‘Bhawa’ meaning ‘low lying lands’ that are used to grow vegetables. The songs reflect the experience of rural life in North Bengal, the different occupations of people, their joy, sorrow and harmony with nature.

Elements of daily life and livelihood are intrinsic to the lyrics of Bhawaiya songs. The main themes are spirituality, hardships of life, desire for affection, sufferings of early widowhood, and desire for pre-marital encounters. Other popular themes are ‘Garial’ and ‘Mahishal’ and the eternal love of Radha and Krishna.

Three variants

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.