Guwahati, June 12: Bihu xomrat (King of Bihu) Khagen Mahanta, who became a legend in his lifetime and one among the last of the stalwarts after music maestro Bhupen Hazarika, passed away at his Nigajipam residence here this afternoon.
Family sources said Mahanta, 72, died of cardiac ailment around 3.45pm.
Mahanta’s body will be kept at his residence till tomorrow morning after his son Angaraag (Papon), himself a popular singer, arrives by a morning flight from Mumbai. His cremation is likely to take place tomorrow afternoon.
A state half holiday has been declared on Friday as a mark of respect to the singer. Offices will be open till 1pm.
Mahanta’s niece Moromi Mahanta Goswami said the singer was suffering from heart and asthma problems since November.
“He was admitted to the GNRC Hospitals after the problem recurred two weeks back. Today, he was taken to a private hospital for a check-up in the morning. He had his lunch by 1pm but felt a little uneasy around 3pm. Forty-five minutes later, he passed away,” Moromi told The Telegraph.
Mahanta’s wife, singer Archana Mahanta, his daughter Kingkini Mahanta and his son-in-law Prakash Choudhury were by his side when the singer called time on an eventful musical career. “He had left performing on stage two years back because of health issues,” Moromi said.
His last public appearance was on May 17 when he had gone to inaugurate the Athgaon Bohagi Utsav in Guwahati. On request from those present, he sang a few Bihu numbers for which he was popular.
A pall of gloom descended on Nigajipam as the news of the artiste’s death broke in the afternoon. The 200-metre stretch from RG Baruah Road in Ambikagiri Nagar to Nigajipam was chock-a-block as people assembled to pay their last respects.
The singer’s body was kept in a glass coffin on the verandah of his residence, his trademark Nepali cap and spectacles still on.
Well-wishers, including acquaintances, artistes, politicians and relatives poured in to pay their last respects to the singer.
“Bohag aji uka kagojor dore hol (the month of Bohag will be like a piece of white paper from now). I still remember how we swayed to his Bihu songs in the bihutolis. In fact, Bhupenda and Khagenda were the only ones that took us to the bihutolis,” was how actor Pranjal Saikia described the loss.
“I used to call him mama (uncle) and used to meet him during my addas with Papon at his residence. He was our motivation and his good work will continue to inspire us,” said singer Zubeen Garg.
Among others, actors Nipon Goswami, Biju Phukan, singers Anupam Saikia, Tarali Sarma and Khagen Gogoi paid their last respects.
Governor J.B. Patnaik and chief minister Tarun Gogoi led the state in paying homage to one of Assam’s illustrious sons.
Gogoi visited Mahanta’s house around 8.10pm. Condoling his death, Gogoi said Mahanta’s demise was not only an irreparable loss to Assamese music, art and culture but to society at large. “Mahanta tried to unite people with his music and the people of Assam is pained at his demise.” the chief minister said.
Gogoi also said a committee has been constituted to discuss with Mahanta’s family about setting up of a memorial on the lines of Bhupen Hazarika’s.
Assam ministers Rakibul Hussain, Pranati Phukan, Basanta Das, BJP legislator Prasanta Phukan, GMC mayor Abir Patra, KMSS leaders Akhil Gogoi and Kamal Medhi, members of AASU, among others, visited his Nigajipam residence.
“We have lost a very important part of Assamese society, culture and life,” was how Akhil termed his death.
There was a pall of gloom at at his birthplace in Hemabori neighbourhood in Dolonghat, around 35km from Nagaon town, in Nagaon district.
“He spent his childhood years at Hemabori. He was disciplined, used to sit on the first row during evening prayers at Bori Gojola Xatra where he learnt borgeet, naam, and to play the khol. In fact, the culture that he learnt at the xatra was at the root of what he became later in life,” said Krishnananda Mahanta, a resident of Hemabori and a relative of the singer.
Social media was also abuzz with the “irreparable loss”. Mitali Saikia from Jorhat, who now lives in Calcutta, said in a Facebook post: “Those evergreen songs… They were unique and very melodious.”
Film critic Utpal Borpujari posted, “He was a giant. He could make thousands sing along with him Maa aami xodiyale jaamei (a song that was taught across India through AIR’s on-air musical classes that taught songs from various region to students).
Mahanta will be cremated at Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra tomorrow. Before that, his body will be taken to Rabindra Bhawan where last tributes will be paid.