There are more than a dozen songs and
songlets in the film. They create a soundscape that
accompanies the dialogue. Chaturanga is a human drama of
extreme ideals and repressed desires. The songs express
feelings that cannot be uttered. Most of them are from
folk traditions of Bengal and North India that are
eclectic blends of Islamic, Buddhist, and lower caste
Hindu thought. They are a testimony to a syncretic
civilization of the subcontinent that exists to this day
over and beyond the religious intolerance of our times.
The songs, especially those from the
Vaishnav tradition, are erotic. The divine is expressed
in them through allegorical depictions of the illicit
love between Krishna and Radha, who was actually his
aunt. There is a radical side to this blend of eroticism
and divinity. Radha's love for Krishna is beyond all
social norms. It is directly expressed, without the
priest or the Brahmin caste coming in between. When
devotees sing and rejoice in that form of love, it is
thus a popular and democratic process that defies caste
Given that the film is about a self
deluding colonial patriarchy, I also find it amusing
that there is a strong androgynous impulse in the songs.
This is because the feeling expressed in them is that
compared to the singular godhead Krishna, all of us -
young and old, men and women, rich and poor, upper caste
and low caste - are incarnations of Radha. I leave it to
the viewer to connect this to the Sachish-Damini, the
Damini-Sribilash, or the Sacish-Sribilash relationships.
The eroticism is also a counterpoint
to the narrow, superstitious morality of the colonial
Hindu elite, represented in the film primarily by
Sachish's father, elder brother, and Lilananda Swami.
This so called eternal 'Indian' ethos, the "no sex
please, we are Indian" thing is actually a mix of
upper caste Brahminism and Victorian puritanical
attitudes that the British gifted to us. Sachish is a
victim of that. On the other hand, Damini and the music
remind us of a now repressed vitality that produced the
Kamasutra, the breathtaking sculpture of Khajuraho, and
the beautiful poems of the Padavalis.