ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Resistance, Rebellion and Unification: The Emancipatory Poetics of Bishnu Prasad Rabha


Barua Suranjana - Indian Institute of Information Technology Guwahati (IIITG), Humanities and Social Sciences, Guwahati, India


26 – Radical Poetics in the Literary Cultures of South Asia


 In the socio-cultural and political history of Assam, few have reigned in the public consciousness as solidly as Bishnu Prasad Rabha (1909-1969). Yet, the poetic idiom of the multifaceted Rabha-dancer, painter, composer, musician, dramatist, actor, movie director, communist ideologue and politician- has remained underrepresented in academic scholarship. Appropriated today as a socio-cultural icon in Assam, Rabha’s songs and poems are a microcosm of his intellectual standing for egalitarianism. Branded an anti-imperialist, anti-nationalist,  revolutionary and communist, Rabha’s poetic sensibility though, defies all identifications and emerges as a constant voice for the emancipation of the exploited. His articulations of a tribal identity ensconced within his concept of a ‘Bor Asom’ imply an ideology of universalism. This paper uses a socio-historical approach in placing Rabha at the quadrilateral intersections of India’s freedom movement, the rise of a new consciousness, the emerging Left movement and the nascent cultural renaissance in mid-20th century Assam. In doing so, it establishes his poetry as belonging to ‘the custodians and bearers of Assamese culture…the tillers, workers, the lower middle class, the weaker section, the exploited, the repressed, the oppressed and the downtrodden’. Although his romantic poetry and songs remain unparalleled in popularity, it is the emancipatory poetics and inherent humanism of Rabha that define his unique brand of intellectualism.