The 'bard of Brahmaputra' is now a Bharat Ratna. Bhupen Hazarika had the ability to weave magic out of traditional Assamese music and gave us songs like 'Dil Hoom Hoom Kare' and 'O Ganga Behti Ho'. He inspired millions across generations with the power and passion of his voice. A poet, music composer, singer, actor, journalist, author and filmmaker, the self-proclaimed Jajabor (wanderer) took the rich folk heritage of Assam and interpreted it beautifully for the world through his songs. One of its few balladeers, he was cherished in Dhaka as much as in Guwahati and Kolkata.
Born in 1926 in Sadiya into a family of teachers, the academically-talented Hazarika completed his basic education from Guwahati in 1942, BA from Banaras Hindu University in 1944 and MA (Pol Sc) in 1946. He did his PhD in Mass Communication from Columbia University. He also received the Lisle Fellowship from Chicago University, United States, to study the use of educational project development through cinema.
During his stay in the US, he met the legendary black singer Paul Robeson, whose famous number Old man river was successfully transformed to the megahit Bistirno Parore (O Ganga Behti Ho in Hindi), a virtual anthem for generations of pro-Left activists. He attributed his singing to tribal music.
Hazarika, the Dadasaheb Phalke winner, sang his first song Biswa Nijoy Nojowan (in the second Assamese film Indramalati) in 1939 at the age of 12.
In addition to his native Assamese, Hazarika composed, wrote and sang for numerous Bengali and Hindi films from the 1930s to the 1990s besides other songs. He was also one of the leading author-poets of Assam with more than 1,000 lyrics and several books on short stories, essays, travelogues, poems and children's rhymes.
The legend produced and directed, composed music and sang for Assamese films like Era Batar Sur, Shakuntala, Lotighoti, Pratidhwani, Chick Mick Bijuli, Swikarokti and Siraj. His most famous Hindi films include his long-time companion Kalpana Lajmi's Rudaali, Ek Pal, Darmiyaan, Daman and Kyon, Sai Paranjpe's Papiha and Saaz, Mil Gayee Manzil Mujhe and MF Husain's Gajagamini. He also lent his voice to film Gandhi To Hitler, where he sang Mahatma Gandhi's favourite bhajan Vaishnav Jan.
Hazarika came to Mumbai to work in the Indian People's Theatre Movement (IPTA) with Salil Chowdhury, Balraj Sahni and other Marxist intellectuals. He soon made the city his second home.
The music maestro received the National Award for Best Music Director in 1976 for Chameli Memsaab and President's medal for his films Shakuntala (1960), Pratidhwani (1964) and Lotighoti (1967).
The cultural icon was awarded the Padmashri in 1977 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1987. He was the chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi from 1999-2004. The musician-singer was also a significant part of the Assam Film Development Council and the Central Board of Film Certification. In 2003, he was appointed the member of the Prasar Bharati Board.
Talking about his short-term political career, he was a member of the Assam Legislative Assembly from 1967-72. Besides, he had unsuccessfully contested the Guwahati Lok Sabha seat on a BJP ticket in 2004. He was an independent MLA in Assam during 1967-72.