Within Jhumur tradition, there are specific melodies and rhythms that are unique to Jhumur. One of the special characteristics of Jhumur songs is its strong rhythmic component. The rhythmic cycles (talas) appear to be simple but are actually complex with a great deal of variety and subtlety.
Jhumur can be divided into three variants — Adi (old traditional), Maddhaya (Central/Middle era) and Adhunik (contemporary). Adi is the oldest style when it was primarily an oral tradition. The period after the time of Sri Sri Chaityanaya Deva (who brought in major societal reforms to abolish caste system) saw radical changes in people’s thoughts and this got reflected in Jhumur songs of the time. This is referred to as the middle era or Maddhaya. The period after Independence saw large-scale economic, social and political changes. These were reflected in the songs of those times. This is referred to as modern or Adhunik.
There are various kinds of Jhumur songs, usually named according to the season in which they are sung or the characteristics of the composition, dance or rhythmic pattern. But broadly, Jhumur is divided into three categories — Bhaduria Jhumur, Darbari Jhumur (court Jhumur) and contemporary Jhumur.
This form is sung in the Bengali month of Bhadra (mid-August to mid-September). The songs are generally very short with a repeated refrain. Pathos predominates Bhaduria Jhumur. There are many types of Bhaduria Jhumur, such as Jhingaphulia, Udasia, Rosrosiya, Kamaria etc., named after specific characteristics. This form of Jhumur mainly accompanies Pata or Danrh dance. That is why Bhaduria Jhumur is also known as Danrh Jhumur. This Jhumur is sung in different tunes and rhythms. Many of these have been lost over time but some can still be heard — like Daharwa, Patartula, Bengari, Pathiameta, Rindhameta, Jhumra, Jhumtha, Mudiari, Goloari, Ekdanria, Malharia, Nappuria, Tamaria, Shikharia, Panchpargania etc. Bhaduria Jhumur dance competitions are organized during Karam festival in the bordering villages of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha.
The post-Chaitanya era saw the merging of colloquial Jhumur with classical forms and Kirtan tunes, leading to the development of Darbari Jhumur and Naachnisalia performed in the courts of kings and landlords. The tunes, language, emotion and contents are totally different from other forms of Jhumur. The main contents of this genre are love of Radha-Krishna and Bhaktitatva of Vaishnavism.
Contemporary Jhumur, without Vaishnavism, Radha-Krishna, social rituals and festivals, came into being after Independence. Contemporary Jhumur reflects everyday problems of life, social and political issues, rights of women, public hygiene issues like sanitation and awareness on prevention of HIV/AIDS. Although the tunes have not changed much, it has become more contemporary and captivating. The instruments, too, have changed with time.
Today, Jhumur is best known for the Radha-Krishna motif, their love, separation and union. Episodes from the Ramayana have also been often used in these songs. This genre is hugely popular across castes and classes for its rhythmic pulse, infectious melodies and its theme of erotic love or ‘sringara rasa’. The sringara rasa could be either devotional (the adoration of Krishna) or about everyday romance between men and women. It is the most common ‘rasa’ used by contemporary Jhumur composers.
Chaitali and Udhuotha songs are sung in the Bengali month of Chaitra, corresponding to the Western calendar months of March and April. Farmers sing Kabi Jhumur while sowing paddy.
Till around 2010, Jhumur was in a state of decline. There was little interest among new generations, a very limited scope to perform, no recognition for artists, and a virtual absence of skilful Gurus. Artists were forced to double up as labourers to earn a livelihood, and local recording companies cheated artists of their money.
In 2005, the Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre (EZCC), under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, started supporting an initiative to revive and revitalize performing folk art forms as a means of providing sustainable livelihood to the performers. The project facilitated skill nurturing in the Guru-Shishya Parampara (master-disciple tradition). The initiative included composing new songs, using different modern musical instruments, and learning the significance of language used in the songs, its notations, scale, rhythm and pitch. Artists purchased instruments and costumes from the surplus funds. Altogether 1,100 Jhumur artists of Bankura and Purulia districts of West Bengal benefited from this project.
By 2017, renewed marketing and promotional initiatives provided Jhumur artists a direct link to event organizers in cities. The artists started getting invitations to perform at festivals and also events in schools where children became aware of this rich heritage. Jhumur songs have now been documented, published as books and distributed among artists. Video documentation of Darbari and other styles have been shared with artists, local communities, media and interested individuals. With a renewed interest in Jhumur, schools are coming up with leading artists and Gurus teaching the new generations.
Researchers like Sunil Mahato and Subhash Ray have penned books on Jhumur and are encouraging young scholars to do research on Jhumur. Sunil Pal and other Gurus are running schools.