Fatal Hunt details

THE FATAL HUNT (Kalmrigaya)

by Rabrindanath Tagore


Rishi Kumar: Young son of sage Andho Muni

Leela: Young girl (her name also meaning ‘Creation’)

Andho Muni: A blind Sage, father of Rishi

Dasharath: King of Awadh and father of Lord Rama

Bidhushak: A fat, lazy opportunist companion of Dasharath

Hunters: Dasharath’s men

Forest Gods/Goddesses: Harbingers of Fate

The Story

Scene 1

It is evening and deep in the forest, Rishi calls for Leela. He wishes to play with her. Leela points out to him the beauty of the flowers which they can offer to Lord Shiva. She tells him her mother wants to dress up him up as a sage.

Scene 2

The Forest Goddesses sing about the approaching night – the shining of two stars; the swooning river Saraju; the slumbering flowers in the soft breeze; the call of the cuckoo; the approach of dark clouds. They must fashion flowers for Rishi to pick and don’t know why their souls weep.

Scene 3

Andho Muni, the blind Sage, feels thirsty and asks his son to bring him water. But a sudden clap of thunder changes his mind. Rishi tells his father not to worry. The Saraju is only a short distance away, and he will return soon.

Scene 4

In the flashing violence of the monsoon and the dark distress of the creatures, Rishi is lost. The Forest Gods and Goddesses beseech him to turn back but he presses on to fetch water for his father.

Scene 5

King Dasharath and his hunters comb the forest, massacring all animals in their path. In fear, the wailing Bidhushak tries to distance himself from the expedition but the hunt continues in earnest as the dead animals pile up.

The king pursues what he thinks is a baby elephant. Arriving by the Saraju, he hears drinking. He shoots in the direction of the sound killing Rishi. With his dying breath, Rishi begs Dasharath to carry him back to his father.

Scene 6

In his hut, the Sage and Leela are waiting anxiously. The remorseful Dasharath enters bearing the body of Rishi. He breaks the news to the Sage that he has unwittingly killed his son. Devastated, the Sage curses the King and even though Dasharath begs for the Sage’s forgiveness, the curse lives on in the Ramayana.

The full script in English is freely available on www.fipa.org.uk

English subtitles can be found on the DVD.


Rabindranath Tagore is one of India’s most famous cultural icons. He was poet, writer, artist, playwright, and composer in the late 19th century and early 20th century. He began writing at the age of thirteen. By the age of seventeen, he was quite well known.

Tagore was surrounded by music in his childhood. In his time, wealthy families kept troupes of young male actors. One of his uncles was a patron and indeed trainer of such a troupe. Performances of musical plays would take place in Tagore’s house from time to time. Tagore heard much reciting and singing in his home. His father had numerous musicians as friends. They would come by and often stay, playing classical Hindustani music on a wide range of musical instruments.

Tagore was very musical. He could easily pick up a tune or song and fix it in his head. He also took singing lessons as a boy, learning many

Bengali and Hindi songs. In the evening, the family would sit out on the verandah facing the garden, and his father would get Tagore to sing. This was very much like families in Victorian England gathering in their parlour to entertain themselves, singing and playing music.

In 1878 at the age of seventeen, he and his second eldest brother Satyendranath set sail for England. He became a student in a public school in Brighton. A year later, he went on to study law at University College London. Whilst in England, Tagore first heard opera and the Western singing style. He wrote in his diaries that he was very struck by the Prima Donna’s powerful voice, and he was amazed at how perfect the performance was. Although he admired the singer’s vocal ability, he did not like the soprano voice but preferred the tenor voice. He began listening to and learning more about European music.

During the Victorian period in England, parlour song (or drawing room song) was a popular form of music. They were the pop songs of the day. Parlour songs began from around the 1850s and the music came mainly from ballads or songs that were performed on stage at the Music Hall or the opera. 18th century English ballad operas were comic musical plays that had songs set to well-known opera arias, church hymns and folk tunes of the time.

These songs were easy and fun to sing, and they became the source for parlour songs. Sheet music was an effective way to spread the songs. In the second half of the Victorian period, pianos were cheaper to buy. They were commonly found in the drawing room and parlours of rich and middle class homes. As people had more leisure time, parlour songs became a very popular form of home entertainment. Usually, everybody in the family joined in, either by playing on the piano, accompanying the tunes on other instruments like the violin or flute, or singing along. Sheet music was bought in large amounts much in the same way that CDs are bought today. More new parlour songs were composed at the end of the 19th century.

As parlour music was very fashionable during the time Tagore was in England, he must have heard many parlour songs apart from opera. Being very musical, Tagore quickly learned the Irish, Scottish and English tunes he had heard in London and Brighton. Indeed, when he returned to Kolkata two years later, he enthusiastically sang some Irish melodies to his family that he had learned. They thought he sounded funny and foreign.

Soon after Tagore returned from England to Kolkata, he began composing his first musical play, Valmiki Pratibha (The Genius of Valmiki). For this, he adapted some of the parlour songs he remembered and set Bengali texts to their tunes. The play’s success encouraged him to compose another musical play entitled Kalmrigaya (The Fatal Hunt).

Just as in his first musical play, Tagore also used some well-known British parlour songs in Kalmrigaya. As he was very familiar with many different types of classical Hindustani music and Indian folk songs, he also composed and adapted these to his plays. His brother Jyotirindra who played the piano composed some songs for both Tagore’s plays. Tagore himself also took a leading part in the performance of these musical dramas, both of which were very well received.

British Songs

The songs Tagore used in The Fatal Hunt were “The British Grenadiers”, “The Vicar of Bray”, “Auld Lang Syne”, “Ye Banks and Braes”, “Go Where Glory Waits Thee”, “For He”s A Jolly Good Fellow”, and “Robin Adair”.

The “British Grenadiers” was a marching song of the grenadier guards of the British army from 1706. The tune of this song is thought to date back to the 1600s, to a song entitled “The New Bath” published in dance books printed by the music publisher John Longford. It was also suggested that the tune of this song was derived from the Dutch march “The Young Prince of Friesland” as the first notes of this tune are similar to that of the British Grenadiers. It was a popular tune throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and it is still played at Trooping The Colour today.

“The Vicar of Bray” tells of the story of the vicar of Bray, who changed his political and religious opinions according to the different governmental and church rulers of his day in order to keep his official position. It poked fun at the English church and political rulers of those days and is known as a satirical or parody song. Its melody is from the song “Country Gardens” found in The Quaker’s Opera, a comic ballad opera written in 1728. “Country Gardens” was later collected by the English folk song collector Cecil Sharp in the early 20th century, and was arranged as a piano piece by the composer Percy Grainger in 1918. This tune is still very much used amongst Morris dancers today.

The words of “Auld Lang Syne” were written in 1788 by the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) and set to the tune of a traditional folk song. It is thought to be originally a tune for the strathspey, a type of stately Scottish dance in 4/4 time. Today, this song is frequently sung in Scotland (and now everywhere in the world) at reunion and farewell parties and particularly at midnight on Hogmanay (New Year’s eve) to welcome in the New Year.

Robert Burns also composed the words to “Ye Banks and Braes”. Burns was a lover of Scottish folk song and helped to collect and preserve them. He wrote over a hundred lyrics for The Melodies of Scotland, and made major contributions to other published folksong collections such as A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice and The Scots Musical Museum. Burns set this song to the tune of an old Scottish Air entitled “The Caledonian Hunt’s Delight”, which was said to be written by an unknown writer and office clerk James Miller. This tune is still much sung in both Scotland and Ireland today.

“Go Where Glory Waits Thee” was written by the Irish poet and folk song collector Thomas Moore (1779-1852). Moore was also a skilful musician and writer of songs, which he set to Irish tunes of the 18th century. His series of songs, entitled A Selection of Irish Melodies, was published in ten volumes between 1808 and 1834. “Go where Glory Waits Thee” is the first song in volume 1, and the tune was based on an Irish melody “Maid of the Valley”. Tagore had a volume of Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies at home. His literary companion Aksay Chaudhuri often recited the poems in the collection to him, so Tagore was familiar with the lyrics. But he did not know their melodies as they were not heard in India. Tagore wrote in his memoirs that he used to invent his own tunes to the words, imagining that he was being accompanied by the harps seen in the pictures. When he went to England, he finally heard some of the Irish melodies sung, and “Go Where Glory Waits Thee” was probably one of those he learnt to sing.

“For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” was an 18th century song based on a French nursery song “Malborough s’en va t’en guerre” (Malborough Goes to War) that was composed in 1709 following the rumour that the Duke of Malborough had died in the Battle of Malplaquet. It was said that Queen Marie Antoinette heard the song sung by the nurse of his son (later King Louis XVII of France) and liked it so much that she sang it regularly. It then gained a foothold in France and spread to England. It was later adapted into English in the song “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”. Today this version is translated into many languages and sung worldwide to congratulate a person on a special event such as a birthday, retirement, the winning of a game, and similar occasions.

The words to the song “Robin Adair” were said to be written by a Lady Caroline Keppel around 1760 about her affair with one Robert Adair whom she was not allowed to marry until a couple of years later. The original tune is an old song of Irish origin titled “Eileen Aroon” that can be traced back to the 14th or 15th century. Both songs were very fashionable from the late 18th century to the 20th century. There were many different versions in Gaelic and different English lyrics. Robert Burns borrowed this tune for his own poems “Phyllis the Fair” (1793) and “Had I a Cave”; Thomas Moore used a variant of this melody for “Erin! The Tear and the Smile in Thine Eyes” in volume 1 of his Irish Melodies. Both “Robin Adair” and Eileen Aroon” also traveled to America with Irish migrants in the late 19th century and were performed there. In 1998, Bob Dylan sang a version of “Eileen Aroon” arranged by the Irish group Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

Researcher: Dr. Hwee San Tan

Script Translator: Ash Mukherjee

CD of British Songs – Recorded in Kolkata in English

Singers: Debashish Raychaudhiri, Rohini Raychaudhuri

Pianist: Hamish Hossain

DVD of The Fatal Hunt

Performers: Ash Mukherjee, Ni Madé Pujawati, Cid Shaha

Singers (from the UK Bengali community): Dr. Ananda Gupta, Rishi Banerjee, Sajib Choudhury, Snigdha Choudhury, Tanushree Guha, Shahadat Hossain, Bithi Purkayastha

Musicians: Pandit Biplab Mondal (tabla), Dipankar De Sarkar (Esraj), Mebhoob Nadeem (sitar), Jyotsna Shrikanth, (violin), Hi Ching (computer)

Puppets: Cid Shaha, Hi Ching

Video: Cid Shaha, Hi Ching

Produced by

FIPA, Foundation for Indian Performing Arts.