Remembering Khagen Mahanta

Litterateur HAREKRISHNA DEKA pays homage to singer Khagen Mahanta


With the death of Khagen Mahanta, an era of Assamese music seems to have come to an end. His was the most familiar voice in Assamese music world after Bhupen Hazarika. I still remember I heard him first in a performance at Cotton College sometime in the sixties of the last century and was spell-bound. His fame just began at that time. Keshab Mahanta’s lyric and his music and voice became a unique combination, mixing expressions of Assamese folk mind with lilting folk tunes and the songs always retained freshness even after hundreds of performances. His voice gave a depth to Bihu songs as they were sung by him.


Assam’s nature and rural ambience came alive in the songs of Keshab Mahanta-Khagen Mahanta lyricist-singer duo since metaphors were drawn from Assam’s unique nature and vibrant cultural life in refreshingly colloqualized Assamese idioms and drew the listeners like a magnet. Like Bhupen Hazarika, he too had s unique voice, very individual with masculine charms and having a range that could go low and soft and then in one sweep could rise to a baritone. Asssmese folk music was in the soul of his modern songs and Assamese musical instruments best suited in the background of his songs. He always sang for the people and perhaps this attitude came from his early association with the Gananatya Sangha. In this aspect, he resembled Bhupen Hazarika.


His one life-time dream was to see a project to preserve the entire ouvre of Assamese folk music in a permanent archive for research by the posterity. It may be mentioned that he discovered three schools of Assamese folk music and he called them BARPETA school, NAGAON school and MAJULI school. With his passing the the baton has passed on to a younger generation, of which his son Angarag is one of the most popular exponents. May his soul rest in peace, and let the Assamese always treasure his music as a valuable gift from a master singer.



Harekrishna Deka is former DGP, Assam Police. Deka is also a prolific writer and a Sahitya Akademi award recipient.