We Shall Hear the Nightingale

lata mangeshkar
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

The world may say that today India lost one of her finest and revered singers to multiple organ failure, but I don’t think Lata Mangeshkar has died. She is very much alive in our joys and sorrows, in our successes and disappointments, in our moments of glory and introspection through her timeless voice.

She is still living among us as one of the human-institutions of modern Indian culture. The legacy of Lata is perhaps one of the three unifying factors in an otherwise diverse Indian culture and society; the other two being Bollywood and cricket.

Early Years and Struggle

The musical icon, who recorded songs in 36 languages, and recorded an astonishing30,000 songs in her eight-decade long journey through tunes and lyrics, was born in Indore (a city of the present-day Madhya Pradesh state of India) on September 28, 1929, to Deenanath Mangeshkar and his second wife Shevanti (later renamed Shudhamati). Deenanath’s first wife, who died earlier, was the elder sister of Shevanti. They moved to Pune (the second-largest city in Maharashtra state) in 1941.

Lata, the eldest among the five siblings, received her early music lessons from her father, Deenanath Mangeshkar, who was a classical singer and a theater actor. She began learning music at the age of 5 and acted in her father’s musicals.

She attended school only for a day, leaving because she had brought her sister Asha (Asha Bhosle, another legendary singer from India) with her, despite not being allowed to. It seems even at in her formative years she was showing an indication of her steely firmness, which went on to become one of her essential character traits.

She was compelled to support her large family at the age of 13, when her father died of heart disease in 1942. Master Vinayak Damodar Karnataki, a close friend of the Mangeshkar family and an actor-director in films back then, helped Lata to get a break as a singer and actress in films.

It seems strange that her first recorded song, “Naachu Yaa Gade, Khelu Saari Mani Haus Bhaari” from the Marathi film “Kiti Hasaal” (1942) was dropped from the final cut. Vinayak gave her a small role in his movie company’s Marathi movie “Pahili Mangalaa-Gaur” (1942), in which Lata again sang. She recorded her first Hindi song, “Mata Ek Sapoot Ki Duniya Badal De Tu” in 1943 for the Marathi film “Gajaabhaau.”

Her struggle to gain her musical identity continued, as did her onerous responsibility of supporting her family. She moved to Mumbai in 1945. She and her younger sister Asha played minor roles in Master Vinayak’s first Hindi-language film, “Badi Maa,” which was released in 1945.

Musical Journey

Her first big break came with the evergreen number, “Aayega Aanewaala” from the Kamal Amrohi-directed “Mahal,” (1949); a famous and immensely popular horror film. There was no looking back.

In the same year, she rendered a number of hit songs for the then 25-year-old Raj Kapoor-directed “Barsaat,” which included “Hawa Mein Udta Jaye,” “Jiya Beqarar Hai” and “Mujhe Kisi Se Pyaar Ho Gayaa” among others. Those songs soon became the rage and still retain their popularity in India, even after seven decades. A newly independent nation was woken up to a new musical dawn by her voice of immense power and serenity. Raj Kapoor and Lata Mangeshkar’s musical association lasted for close to four decades, till “Ram Teri Ganga Maili” (1985), the last film Raj Kapoor directed.

Over the last seven decades, Lata became the first Indian to have a concert at Royal Albert Hall in London (1974) and had sang with almost all the great music directors of the time, with O.P. Nayyar being the notable exception. She went on to sing several timeless hits with other greats like Shankar-Jaikishan, Madan Mohan, Naushad Ali, S.D. Burman, R.D. Burman, Laxmikant–Pyarelal, Salil Chowdhury, Ravi, Roshan, Kalyanji-Anandji and Hemant Kumar among others.

My Top 20 Favourite Lata Mangeshkar Solos from Bollywood

  • Aayega Aanewaala from Mahal (1949). Music Director – Khemchand Prakash
  • Aaja Re Pardesi from Madhumati (1958). Music Director –Salil Chowdhury
  • O Sajana from Parakh (1960). Music Director – Salil Chowdhury
  • Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya from Mughal-e-Azam (1960). Music Director – Naushad Ali 
  • Lag Ja Gale from Woh Kaun Thi (1964). Music Director – Madan Mohan
  • Naina Barse Rim Jhim from Woh Kaun Thi (1964). Music Director – Madan Mohan
  • Kaanton Se Keechke Yeh Aanchal from Guide (1965). Music Director- SD Burman
  • Tu Jahan Jahan Chalega from Mera Saaya (1966). Music Director – Madan Mohan
  • Rehen Na Rehen Hum from Mamta (1966). Music Director – Roshan
  • Rulake Gaya Sapna Mera from Jewel Thief (1967). Music Director – SD Burman
  • Kya Janu Sajan from Baharon Ke Sapne (1967). Music Director – RD Burman
  • Inhi Logon Ne from Pakezaah (1972). Music Director – Ghulam Mohammed
  • Abh to Hain Tumse from Abhiman (1973) Music Director –SD Burman
  • Na Jane Kyon  from Choti Si Baat (1975). Music Director –Salil Chowdhury
  • Naam Goom Jayega from Kinara (1977). Music Director –RD Burman
  • Aaj Kal Paon Zameen Par from Ghar (1978). Music Director- RD Burman
  • Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum from Silsila (1981). Music Director – Shiv-Hari
  • Jaane Kya Baat  from Sunny (1984). Music Director –RD Burman
  • Kuch Na Kaho from 1942 – A Love Story (1994). Music Director – RD Burman
  • Mere Khwabon Mein from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). Music Director – Jatin–Lalit

From Madhubala, Nargis, Meena Kumari, Nutan, Vyjayanthimala, Sadhana, Sharmila Tagore and Asha Parekh, to Zeenat Aman, Rekha and Hema Malini, Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi, Juhi Chawla, Kajol and Preity Zinta and scores of other leading ladies in between, Lata gave mellifluous voice. It never lost its freshness and depth with the passage of time. She also recorded hit and superhit duets with almost all leading male Bollywood singers from the 1950s to the 1990s.

An Accomplished Composer

Besides being an iconic singer, Lata was also a talented music director. In 1955, she composed music for a Marathi movie, “Ram Ram Pavhane.” In the 1960s, she composed music for five other Marathi movies, under the pseudonym of Anand Ghan.

She also composed Bengali songs, and lent her voice to 186 Bengali songs. The legendary Kishore Kumar sang for two songs she composed in Bengali, “Ami Nei” and “Tare Ami Choke Dekhini.” Both are soul-stirring numbers.

Love and Awards

Lata was bestowed with the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor, in 2005; the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award in 1999; the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award in 1969, among the many awards she won. She also won a Dadasaheb Phalke Award, although perhaps her greatest award was the love and adoration she received from the masses of the world.

Without our knowing, Lata has become inextricably linked with our post-independent Indian identity; she emerged as the voice of the nation.

Today the ‘Nightingale of India’ may have flown away from us, perhaps to a better world of music, but her voice will continue to mesmerize generations, perhaps for many more than the 92 years that Lata lived. Yes, we will continue to hear the nightingale.

Read our Beyond Limits blog on Lata Mangeshkar to learn more about the impact she had on our community