Rasoolan Bai : the Other Song

On 29th August, 2009, a documentary film was screened at the Bangalore International Centre in Bangalore. The documentary, The Other Song, directed by a young Saba Dewan narrates the story of a lost song recorded in 1935. The singer was the famous Thumri singer of Benares, Rasoolan Bai. The ‘other song’ is a variant of the celebrated Bhairavi Thumri sung by Rasoolan Bai, “Phool gendawa na maaro, lagat karejwa mein chot“. But for once she sang jobanwa instead of karejwa in that recording. Till the middle of the 20th century, dancing girls or tawaifs were the only professional women musicians of India. They were highly educated women adept at the arts, literature, poetry and music, when large sections of Indian women were illiterate. Those were also the years when the purists of Indian classical music laid down the norms that formed the musical standards for the time. Describing such songs as ‘immoral’ and ‘explicit’, the music of the tawaif became immodest for respectable households. No wonder the song got banished into oblivion.

Rasoolan Bai, an excellent singer of the Poorab Ang Thumri, Dadra, Chaiti, Hori and Kajri, was born in 1902 in a village near Benares. She was a celebrated singer of her time and was much in demand in the courts of princely states. She formed the quartet of singing queens of that time along with Begum Akhtar, Badi Moti Bai and Siddheshwari Devi. Rasoolan Bai won the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1957, the second woman to be so honored after Kesarbai Kerkar.

Bhairavi – Phool Gendawa Na Maaro, Lagat Karejwa Mein Chot :  Download

Dadra – Aan Baan Jiyara Mein Lage :  Download

A Sanskrit scholar and a connoisseur of music mentioned to Saba Dewan, Rasoolan Bai‘s famous Thumri and dared her into finding the version which had jobanwa and not karejwa. The film which sets out to be Saba Dewan’s search for the lost Thumri gradually unravels the many concealed layers, the tawaif as the treasure house of the Thumri, her way of life, her glorious years, now pushed to the margins, and the ‘other song’ right at the bottom of it all. In a moving section, the film recounts the efforts by the tawaifs to contribute to the non-cooperation movement, in response to Mahatma Gandhi‘s call in the early 1920s. When told, Mahatma Gandhi was furious with them. He would not accept them as workers, or take their donation, unless they gave up on their ‘unworthy profession that made them worse than thieves’.

Thumri Piloo – Saiyan Bides Gaye :  Download

Dadra Piloo – Kankar Mohe Lag Jaihe :  Download

It was obvious that Rasoolan Bai never sang the ‘other’ song again. She eventually ended up in penury, running a small tea stall in Allahabad, ironically right next to the All India Radio building where she once sang. She died on 15th December, 1974. Not more than 15-20 of her recordings are available now. Which brings us back to the missing recording. Saba Dewan did eventually track it down, thanks to another dogged sleuth, a professor of English in Kolkata, who listened to each Rasoolan Bai record in his collection and found the jobanwa version.

.. more Rasoolan Bai Songs »


Sounds of the Strings : Sitar

From rudimentary folk beginnings, string instruments of India have now reached the heights of concert glory, giving endless moments of ecstasy and delight to listeners. The strumming of a series of taut metallic strings is capable of creating an enthralling experience of vitality and emotion. As the player slides over the notes, the listener experiences moments of pure bliss. There is an entire tradition in Indian music where musical instruments of the stringed variety form a separate classification, termed as ‘Tata Vadya‘ or the sound of the strings. These instruments are also termed as chordophonic, which means string sounds.

Kanwar Sain Trikha – Raga Bageshri :  Download

Nikhil Banerjee – Raga Malkauns :  Download

In the western world the Sitar is perhaps the most well known musical instrument of India. The Sitar is a plucked string instrument that uses sympathetic strings and a long hollow neck along with a gourd resonating chamber in order to produce a very rich musical sound along with a complex harmonic resonance. The Sitar is predominantly used in Hindustani classical music. This instrument is one that has been used all throughout the Indian sub continent, particularly in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. What’s not known is its exact origin. The Sitar has been in existence for thousands of years in one form or another, but there are several theories as to who invented it.

Rais Khan – Raga Darbari Kanada :  Download

Usman Khan – Raga Kaushik Ranjani :  Download

There is a common story attributing the invention of the Sitar to Amir Khusrau. Amir Khusrau was a great personality and is an icon for the early development of Hindustani classical music. He lived around 1300 AD. As common as this story is, it has no basis in historical fact. The Sitar was clearly nonexistent until the time of the collapse of the Mughal Empire. Most people agree that the modern Sitar first appeared in the 1700s at the end of the Mughal Empire.

Raga Bairagi at a Sitar shop in Paharganj, New Delhi :  Download

Legendary musicians associated with the Sitar include Vilayat Khan, one of the most prominent Sitar players of the 20th century, and of course Ravi Shankar, who brought the Sitar to Woodstock.


Four Random Songs 7

It has always been my conscious effort to include music samples of as many artists as possible. Some of them may be young or not as well known as their famous peers, but are in no way less talented. The purpose is to initiate the common man, the dummy of classical sounds who is afraid even as much as by the thought of having to listen to classical music, into the wonders of our musical heritage. More than 600 songs have already been posted, each one selected carefully and uploaded only after hearing them personally. Unfortunately, most of my blogging time now is spent on maintaining the music links, as the songs are continuously been deleted by the respective servers and have to be migrated to newer ones. The usual woes of free file hosting.

Once again, here are a few random songs, picked up from the nooks and corners of the web, and uploaded here for your listening pleasure :

Sanjukta Biswas – Bhimpalasi – Vari Ve Guman Na Kariye :  Download

Pandit Pran Nath – Darbari – Hazrat Turkman :  Download

Begum Shannu Khurana – Hameer – Mora Re Albela :  Download

Ritwik Sanyal – Darbari Kanada Alap :  Download

.. more Random Songs »


Amir Khan : the unorthodox revolutionary

In the last 50-60 years some artists have, by their revolutionary spirit, progressive outlook and creativity brought about radical changes in the style of presentation of classical music. Ustad Amir Khan was such an artist. Amir Khan was born at Indore in 1912. Music was in his blood, his ancestors had been musicians in the Mughal courts. His father was an expert Sarangi and Veena player. Amir Khan disregarded the age-old, conventional traditions, and with his intelligence and talent evolved an entirely original style of presentation. It is well known that he did not believe in the Gharana system. He said that the Gharana system curbed the freedom of the musicians. He believed that a influence should not be rejected just because it came from a different Gharana. He also won the approval and recognition of both critics and connoisseurs of music.

A mehfil of Amir Khan was always a pleasant experience. He had a very impressive and magnetic personality. At his concerts he would always sit in the posture of a Yogi, with closed eyes and in deep meditation. He maintained the same position till the end of his concert. His smiling presence, total lack of gesticulation or facial distortion, his absolute concentration on the song, and the slow, gradual build-up of a Raga invariably kept his audience completely engrossed. He had, for accompaniment, two Tanpuras tuned to perfection, a subdued Harmonium and a Tabla with a straight, simple but steady tempo. An atmosphere of solemnity and tranquility prevailed in his concerts.

Abhogi Vilambit (Charan Dhar Aaye) :  Download

Abhogi (Laaj Rakh Lijo Mori) & Shahana (Sundar Angana Baithi) :  Download

Amir Khan‘s forte was the exaggeratedly slow or Vilambit Khayal which he developed in a most leisurely mood with deep serenity and contemplativeness. While his ardent admirers found this part of his concert absolutely engrossing, there were others who found it ‘excruciatingly slow’ or even ‘insipid’. Although Amir Khan never rendered Thumris in his concerts, his disciples speak of the exquisite way in which he rendered Thumris for them in his intimate ‘home circle’. He once said that since he considered Bade Ghulam Ali Khan as a better singer of Thumri, he had decided against public exposition of his capacity for the same. This certainly speaks for the genuine admiration of one genius for another.

Bageshri (Gore Gore Mukh Par) :  Download

Megh (Barkha Ritu Aayi) & Tarana :  Download

He did not agree with the popular notion that the Tarana was just a tongue-twisting exercise with a meaningless cluster of words, involving a lot of vocal jugglery in an ever-increasing tempo. He always put into a Tarana, a Persian couplet interwoven in the apparently meaningless ‘Dir tun, tan, din yalali, yalallum’, and honestly believed that these syllables did have some mysterious and mystic meaning. According to him it was Amir Khusrau who invented the Tarana. Amir Khan was very keen on establishing this theory by carrying out research to unravel the hidden meanings of the Tarana.

Amir Khan was also a good composer and some of his compositions reflect the religious convictions of his. One example is ‘Laaj rakh lijo mori, Saheb, Sattar, Nirakaar, Jag ke data, Tu Rahim, Ram Tu, Teri maaya aparampar, Mohe tore karam ko aadhar, Jagat ke data…’. He died on 13th February 1974 in a tragic car accident in Calcutta. The world of Indian music went into mourning, and programmes of tributes to the departed maestro were broadcast from all the important stations of All India Radio.


Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma

They say music has no language or religion. Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma is a beautiful Hindu Kannada devotional song composed by 15th century poet Purandara Dasa and is dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, the divine consort of Lord Vishnu. Goddess Lakshmi means Good Luck to Hindus. The word Lakshmi is derived from the Sanskrit word Lakshya, meaning aim or goal, and she is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, both material and spiritual. Here is a compilation of this song, sung and played on instruments by various artists at different times, a Diwali gift to all my readers.


M S Subbulakshmi :  Download

Bhimsen Joshi :  Download

S P Balasubramaniam :  Download

The lyrics roughly translated into English go like this :

Oh, Goddess of Fortune, Lakshmi Devi,
Do come slowly with your anklets making the jingling sound,
Come to us like butter emerging out of buttermilk when it is churned.

Come and shower on us a rain of gold and fulfill our aspirations,
Come with the brightness of countless number of rays of the sun,
Come and bless us, Oh, Devi, who has taken incarnation as Sita.

Oh, lotus eyed Devi who is the pride of Mahavishnu,
Appear before us wearing the shining golden bracelets on your wrists,
and the auspicious vermilion mark on your forehead,
Oh, Consort of Purandaravithala.

Welcome to You who shine auspiciously in the hearts of great sages,
Oh, Queen of Alagiri Ranga,
Come to our worship on Friday when ghee and sugar will overflow.

… and the instrumental versions :

Ananyampatti S Dhandapani on Jaltarang :  Download

Chandrasekaran M & Bharathi on Violin :  Download

Kunnagudi Vaidyanathan on Violin :  Download

Gayathri E on Veena :  Download

K Gopalnath on Saxophone & P Godkhindi on Flute :  Download


« Older entries