Madhuban Mein Radhika Nache Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

dilip-kumar-singing-madhuban-mein-kohinoor

Dilip Kumar plays a swashbuckling raja who knows how to carry a tune in Kohinoor (1960).

Today we present the lyrics and English translation to the semi-classical “Madhuban Mein Radhika” from Kohinoor (1960). Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari star in this masala film set during a romanticized period of Indian history when Hindu royalty were constantly engaged in sword-fights with their rivals, playing the sitar to the acclamation of their courtiers, and saving damsels in distress on horseback. Kohinoor is remembered today for the brilliant soundtrack and delightful script (read: you will not cringe and die during most of the comic scenes) as well a for the breezy performances by its hero and heroine. Meena Kumari giggles more in this film than in any of her other films combined!

Dilip Kumar as the young raja travels to the countryside and happens upon a musical assembly where a talented dancer, played by Kumkum, challenges anyone to perform a song to which she cannot dance. Naturally, our hero is ready with “Madhuban Mein Radhika”  to the delight of the court while Kumkum gracefully dances kathak to his tune. Shakeel Badayuni’s straightforward Radha-Krishna poetry is the basis of a rollicking number that keeps everyone, especially Kumkum, on their toes. “Madhuban Mein Radhika” is a true gem among film songs, drawing heavily upon Hindustani classical traditions that are rare to find executed with such unabashed purism in Bollywood films. It comes as no surprise that the song has maestro Naushad written all over it. To fully appreciate all the ornaments of the piece, I think it’s high time we break for a little vocabulary lesson…

A Brief Hindustani Classical Music Vocabulary Lesson:

Tarana in Hindustani classical music were thought to be invented by the great poet Amir Khusro (1253-1325 CE). Legend has it that a music competition was held by the famous conqueror Alauddin Khilji in which Amir Khusro and Gopal Nayak, court musician to the King of Devagiri were the last men standing. Nayak performed raaga Kadambak in Sanskrit for six evenings straight while Khusro sat enthralled among the courtiers. On the seventh night, Khusro sang the same song, copying each note to perfection, but substituted Persian words and jargon for the lyrics as he did not understand Sanskrit. His amazing performance won him the competition and thus, the tarana was born. Persian couplets and notation for tabla are often intermingled into the tarana, however, the basic phonetics are Farsi-based (eg. yalali, odani, tadeem). The structure consists of a main melody that the performer repeats and elaborates on as well as a second, contrasting melody, that may include higher notes and is introduced once before returning to the main melody. The taranas featured in Lata Mangeshkar’s “Tare Rahiyo” from Pakeezah (1972) and the Pakeezah (1972) Title Music are some of the film’s highlights.

Sargam is the vocalization of the notes that define the raga in which the song is sung. Improvisation ascending and descending the scale allows the audience to understand the raagas range and boundaries, often occurring at the beginning or the end of the piece. The sargam typically incorporates improvisation upon themes to set the tone of the piece. A great example of a beautiful mid-song sargam is in Asha Bhonsle’s “Nigahen Milane Ko” from Dil Hi To Hai (1960).

Alaap is similar to sargam, but does not name the notes, using instead simply the aakaar (“aah” sound) to create music. It frequently opens a piece, but can be interjected in the middle, or at the end for dramatic effect–as well as intermingled among the sargam with artistic license. One of my favorite alaaps from films is Suman Kalyanpur’s heavenly interjection above Hemant Kumar midway through “Na Tum Humen Jano” from Baat Ek Raat Ki (1963). In “Madhuban Mein Radhika,” listen for Mohammed Rafi’s silky alaap to start off the song and entrance his audience.

Taan, is similar to an alaap, but is much more fast-paced and showcases the singer’s vocal abilities. The two taans in this song (picturized on comedic actor Mukri) were sung by Ustad Niyaz Ahmed Khan. Bollywood film songs Kal Nahii.N Paaye Jiya from Chhoti Si Mulaqat (1967)  and Tu Hai Mera Prem Devta from Kalpana (1960) feature multiple beautiful taans punctuating each stanza.

Jugalbandi is a playful competition between two performers in which one mimics the other, and then surpasses. A challenging test of both the ability to perfectly imitate and then improvise, a jugalbandi between two master musicians is absolutely thrilling to witness. This is commonly between two instrumental performers, but as in “Madhuban Mein Radikha,” is briefly showcased as between the singer and the tabla player (note: the lyrics actually reference the Carnatic mridangam, which is a different percussion instrument than the Hindustani tabla, however, a tabla is indeed is picturized in the film). Another fun example of jugalbandi in Bollywood is at the ending of the song Muqabala Humse Na Karo from Prince (1969).

kumkum-dancing-madhuban-mein-kohinoor

Kumkum entrances her audience with a kathak performance based on classic Radha-Krishna imagery in Kohinoor (1960).

Are we all on the same page now? Because I’m fully expecting you to count the taal as you check out the music video here. Follow along with our English translation of the lyrics to “Madhuban Mein Radhika” from Kohinoor (1960) below! How many lovely ornaments of Hindustani classical music can you hear in the song?

Madhuban Mein Radhika Nache Lyrics and Translation:

ALAAP: Aaaah aaaah aaaah

madhuban mei.N radhikaa nache re
In the honey gardens, Radha danced
Girdhar kii muraliiya baje re
As the flute of Krishna played

pag mei.N ghuunghar baandhke
With dancing bells tied to her leg
ghuunghaT mukh par daal ke
With a veil placed upon her face
nainan mei.N kajraa lagaake re
With kajal applied to her eyes
madhuban mei.N radhikaa nache re
In the honey gardens, Radha danced

Dolat chham-chham kaminii
The beautiful lady swayed and sparkled
Chhamakat jaise daamini
Her sparkle was like lightening
Chhanchal, pyarii chhab laage re
Her face appeared mischievous and lovable
madhuban mei.N radhikaa nache re
In the honey gardens, Radha danced

mridang baje…
The drum was played…

Tirikitadhum Tirikitadhum Ta Ta
mridang baje
Tirikitadhum Tirikitadhum

Naachath Chum Chum
ThaThay ThaThay Thatha
Chum Chum ChanaNaNa
Chum Chum ChanaNaNa

Dhan Dhakdan Dhakdan Dha
Dha Dha Dha

madhuban mei.N radhikaa nache re…

TAAN: Aaaaaaaah

madhuban mei.N radhikaa…

TAAN: Aaaaaaaah

madhuban mei.N radhikaa nache re
madhuban mei.N radhikaa…

SARGAM :

Ni Sa Re Sa Ga Re Ma Ga Pa Ma
Dha Pa Ni Dha SA Ni RE SA
RE SA Ni Dha Pa Ma Pa
Dha Ni SA RE SA Ni Dha Pa Ma Pa
Ga Ma Pa Ma Ga Ma Re Sa
madhuban mei.N radhikaa nache re…

SA SA SA Ni Dha Pa
Ma Pa Dha Pa Ga Ma Re Sa Ni Re Sa
Sa Sa Ga Ma Dha Dha Ni Dha SA
madhuban mei.N radhikaa nache re
madhuban mei.N radhikaa…

TARAANAA:

Ode NaDir DiTa NiTa DhaRe Dhim, Dhim Ta Na Na
Nadir DiTa NiTa DhaRe Dhim, Dhim Ta Na Na
Nadir DiTa NiTa DhaRe Dhim, Dhim Ta Na Na

JUGALBANDI:

NaDir DiTa NiTa DhaRe

(tabla response)

ODe Tana Dhir Dhir Tana
Dhir Dhir Dhir Dhir
Thum Dhir Dhir Dhir

(tabla response)

Dha Tirikita Tak , Thum Tirikita Tak
Tirikita Titikita Ta DhaNi

NaDir DiTa NiTa
ODe NaDir DiTa niTa
ODe Nadir Dita NiTa
DhaRe Dhim Dhim Ta Na Na ….

Glossary:

madhuban: sweet garden, honey garden; Radhikaa: Radha, gopi lover of Krishna; nachnaa: to dance; girdhar: Lord Krishna; muralii: flute; baajnaa: to play; pag: leg; ghuungar: dancing bells; baandhnaa: to bind, to tie; ghuungaT: veil; mukh: face: Daalnaa: to place, to put; nainan: eyes; kajraa: eyeliner; Dolat: sway; chham-chham: sparkling; kaamini: beautiful lady; daamini: lightening; chhanchal: mischievous; pyaarii: loveable; chhab: face; mridangam: traditional Carnatic percussion instrument

dilip-kumar-sitar-kohinoor-madhuban-mein

Dilip Kumar jams his sitar with rockstar attitude in Kohinoor (1960).

Dilip Kumar’s performance in Kohinoor (1960) garnered the Filmfare award for Best Actor that year. According to Naushad, Dilip Kumar the perfectionist, supposedly learned how to play the sitar just for this song. While that may seem extreme, anyone who has seen Raj Kapoor fail miserably to pretend play the piano (as much as we love the man) will appreciate how big a difference this makes in any self-respecting musical number.

Wondering what’s up with the snake and the mongoose at the end of the song? Naturally, every self-respecting raja-rani film needs at least one assassination-by-cobra attempt…amiright?

– Mrs. 55

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Jo Wada Kiya Woh Nibhana Padega Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

PK BR

The eternal love story of emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal is presented in Taj Mahal (1963)

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day 2014, we continue our series on Taj Mahal (1963) with the lyrics and English translation to the film’s most popular song: jo vaadaa kiyaaFor our previous posts on this film, please see our translations of khudaa-e-bartar, jurm-e-ulfat pe, and paa.nv chhuu lene do.

As its name suggests, Taj Mahal (1963) directed by M. Sadiq tells one of the greatest love stories in India’s history: how Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (played by Pradeep Kumar) fell in love with his (third!) wife Mumtaz Mahal a.k.a Arjumand Banu Begum (played by Bina Rai) and eventually built the Taj Mahal in her memory following her demise. While the film’s historical — yet often fictional — narrative earned commercial success and critical acclaim, it is mostly remembered today for its soundtrack composed by Roshan and penned by Sahir Ludhianvi.

It is no surprise that this immortal duet sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi earned the well-deserved #1 position in Binaca Geet Mala for the year of 1963. In fact, this song was played for so long on Binaca Geet Mala that the program had to change its rules regarding the maximum number of weeks that a single song could be featured on the list! Ever since, this blockbuster song, tuned to Raga Pahadi, has remained an all-time romantic favorite in Hindi cinema. Although some may consider its charm to be hampered by overexposure, even the most diehard fans may be surprised to learn that this song has two additional versions featuring lyrics that differ from those in the song’s most popular version. Among the three renditions found in the film, my personal favorite is the “sad” version (transcribed as Version 2 below).  I mean, how could you not love that beautiful Lata alaap played as Bina Rai’s spirit descends from the Moon to meet Pradeep Kumar?

Will the romance of this song be enough to charm your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day this year? Share this poetry with that special someone and you’re guaranteed to score some major points from him or her today! Until next time…

-Mr. 55
PK

Pradeep Kumar exudes a regal aura as he plays Shah Jahan in Taj Mahal (1963).

Jo Wada Kiya Woh Nibhana Padega (Version 1): Lyrics and Translation

jo vaadaa kiyaa vah nibhaanaa paDegaa
You must fulfill the promise that you made.
roke zamaanaa chaahe, roke khudaayii
Should society or divinity attempt to stop you,
tum ko aanaa paDegaa
you must still come to me. 

tarastii nigaaho.n ne aavaaz dii hai
My pining eyes have called out to you.
muhabbat kii raaho.n ne aavaaz dii hai
The paths of love have called out to you.
jaan-e-hayaa, jaan-e-adaa, chhoDo tarsaana
Oh beloved, please stop tormenting me.
tum ko aanaa paDegaa
You must come to me.
jo vaadaa kiyaa vah nibhaanaa paDegaa
You must fulfill the promise that you made.

yah maanaa hame.n jaa.n se jaanaa paDegaa
I accept that I must leave this life.
par yah samajh lo tum ne jab bhii pukaaraa
But understand this: whenever you call out to me,
ham ko aanaa paDegaa
I must come to you.
jo vaadaa kiyaa vah nibhaanaa paDegaa
I must fulfill the promise that I made. 

ham apnii vafaa pe na ilzaam le.nge
I will not tolerate accusations concerning my fidelity. 
tumhe.n dil diyaa hai, tumhe.n jaa.n bhii de.nge
I have given you my heart, and I can offer you my life too. 
jab ishq kaa saudaa kiyaa, phir kyaa ghabraanaa?
When I have already bargained with love, what is there to fear?
ham ko aanaa paDegaa
I must come to you.
jo vaadaa kiyaa vah nibhaanaa paDegaa
I must fulfill the promise that I made.

chamakte hai.n jab tak yah chaa.nd aur taare.n
As long as the Moon and stars continue to shine,
na TuuTe.nge ahd-o-paimaa.n hamaare
our promises and pledges will not be broken.
ek-duusraa jab de sadaa hoke diivaanaa
When one of us calls the other in the pangs of love,
ham ko aanaa paDegaa
we must come to each other.
jo vaadaa kiyaa vah nibhaanaa paDegaa
We must fulfill the promise that we made.

Moon

Bina Rai’s spirit descends from the heavens to come meet Pradeep Kumar in his old age in Taj Mahal (1963).

Jo Wada Kiya Woh Nibhana Padega (Version 2): Lyrics and Translation

jo vaadaa kiyaa vah nibhaanaa paDegaa
You must fulfill the promise that you made. 
roke zamaanaa chaahe, roke khudaayii
Should society or divinity attempt to stop you,
tum ko aanaa paDegaa
you must still come to me.

sabhii ahal-e-duniyaa yah kahte hai.n ham se
All the people of the world tell me that
ki aataa nahii.n hai koi muD ke adam se
no one returns from the next world.
aaj zaraa shaan-e-vafaa dekhe zamaanaa
Today, let this world see the splendor of faithfulness.
tum ko aanaa paDegaa
You must come to me. 
jo vaadaa kiyaa vah nibhaanaa paDegaa
You must fulfill the promise that you made.

yah maanaa hame.n jaa.n se jaanaa paDegaa
I accept that I must leave this life.
par yah samajh lo tum ne jab bhii pukaaraa
Yet, understand this: whenever you call out to me,
ham ko aanaa paDegaa
I must come to you.
jo vaadaa kiyaa vah nibhaanaa paDegaa
I must fulfill the promise that I made.

ham aate rahe hai.n, ham aate rahe.nge
I have been coming to you, and I will continue to do so eternally.
muhabbat kii rasme.n nibhaate rahe.nge
I will continue to fulfill the duties of love.
jaan-e-vafaa, tum do sadaa phir kyaa Thikanaa?
Oh beloved, at which dwelling shall we meet when you call? 
ham ko aanaa paDegaa
I must come to you. 
jo vaadaa kiyaa vah nibhaanaa paDegaa
I must fulfill the promise that I made. 

BR

Bina Rai stars as the elegant Mumtaz Mahal a.k.a Arjumand Banu Begum.

Jo Wada Kiya Woh Nibhana Padega (Version 3): Lyrics and Translation

jo vaadaa kiyaa vah nibhaanaa paDegaa
You must fulfill the promise that you made. 
roke zamaanaa chaahe, roke khudaayii
Should society or divinity attempt to stop you,
tum ko aanaa paDegaa
you must still come to me.

yah maanaa hame.n jaa.n se jaanaa paDegaa
I accept that I must leave this life.
par yah samajh lo tum ne jab bhii pukaaraa
Yet, understand this: whenever you call out to me,
ham ko aanaa paDegaa
I must come to you.
jo vaadaa kiyaa vah nibhaanaa paDegaa
I must fulfill the promise that I made to you.

hamarii kahaanii tumhaaraa fasaanaa
My story and your tale
hameshaa hameshaa kahegaa zamaanaa
will be narrated eternally by the world.
kaisii balaa kaisii sazaa, ham ko hai aanaa
Whatever misfortune or punishment falls upon me, I must come.
ham ko aanaa paDegaa
I must come to you.
jo vaadaa kiyaa vah nibhaanaa paDegaa
I must fulfill the promise that I made.

jo vaadaa kiyaa vah nibhaanaa paDegaa
You must fulfill the promise that you made.
roke zamaanaa chaahe, roke khudaayii
Should society or divinity attempt to stop you,
tum ko aanaa paDegaa
you must still come to me.

*Female lines in red are sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Male lines in green are sung by Mohammed Rafi. Lines in black are sung together by Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi.  

Glossary

vaadaa nibhaanaa: to fulfill a promise; roknaa: to stop; zamaanaa: society, world; khudaayii: divinity; tarasnaa: to pine; nigaah: eyes; aavaaz denaa: to call out; muhabbat: love; raah: path; jaan-e-hayaa: beloved; jaan-e-adaa: beloved; tarsaanaa: to torment; maanna: to accept; jaha.n: world; samajh lenaa: to understand; pukaarnaa: to call out; vafaa: fidelity, faithfulness; ilzaam: accusations; ishq; love; saudaa karnaa: to bargain; ghabraanaa: to fear; chamaknaa: to shine;  TuuTnaa: to break; ahd-o-paimaa.n: promises and pledges; sadaa denaa: to call; diivaanaa: mad, crazy in love; ahal-e-duniyaa: people of the world; muD ke aanaa: to return; adam: non-existence, the next world; shaan-e-vafaa: splendor of faithfulness; rasm: duty, rule; jaan-e-vafaa: beloved; Thikaanaa: dwelling, place; kahaanii: story; fasaanaa: tale; hameshaa: always, eternally; balaa: misfortune, calamity; sazaa: punishment.

PK BR

Pradeep Kumar and Bina Rai remain united in love through both life and death in Taj Mahal (1963).

Mata Saraswati Sharda Lyrics and Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Saraswati

Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge and music, is worshipped each year on Basant Panchami.

Basant Panchami is a Hindu festival that celebrates the arrival of Spring through the worship of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and music. On this day, Ma Saraswati is worshipped with great fervor and devotion, especially by students in educational institutions across India.  In addition, many young children are given their first lesson in writing on this holiday through a ritual called haathe-korii. Since this auspicious holiday is coming up in just a few days on Friday, we are presenting the lyrics and English translation to one of Bollywood’s  only homages to goddess Saraswati: maataa sarasvatii shardaa from Alaap (1977).

As many of you probably know, bhajans dedicated to Saraswati are a rare commodity in the arena of Bollywood cinema. The majority of the film industry’s references to Hinduism focus on Vishnu in the form of Krishna and his consort Radha. What is the reason behind Bollywood’s obsession with Radha and Krishna? The most obvious answer is that the love stories presented in Hindi films lend themselves easily to comparisons to the romance shared between these two figures of Hinduism. Bollywood heroes can identify with flirtatious Krishna who uses his charm to seduce Radha whose delicate coyness resembles that of Bollywood heroines.  An austere deity like Saraswati, symbolizing wisdom and education, finds little glamor in an industry that is driven primarily by themes based on love and romance. 

In what context does Saraswati receive prominence in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Alaap (1977)? Tuned by Jaidev in Raga Bhairavi, a version of this bhajan sung by Yesudas, Madhurani, and Dilraj Kaur opens the film as Amitabh Bachhan prays to Saraswati for her blessings at the music school where he studies classical vocal. This bhajan also concludes the film when a version sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Dilraj Kaur is reprised on Rekha singing along with her son for her husband Amitabh who has contracted a severe case of tuberculosis.  The homage to Saraswati is fitting in Alaap because the film’s plot is driven in part by music. In Alaap, Amitabh Bachhan desires to become a classically trained vocalist against the wishes of his conservative father Om Prakash who refuses to accept music as a legitimate profession. He pressures Amitabh to become a lawyer like himself and the ensuing resentment leads to a bitter conflict between father and son that culminates in a tragic conclusion.

As the holiday of Basant Panchami approaches with its celebration of learning and new beginnings, we hope that you enjoy this beautiful bhajan and our English translation provided below. May Ma Saraswati bless all of us in our academic and musical pursuits during the upcoming year. Until next time…

-Mr. 55

P.S. This non-filmi Saraswati Vandana recorded by Lata is also divinely enchanting: yaa kundendu tushaar haar dhavalaa

AB

Amitabh Bacchan looks pious in white during prayers to Ma Saraswati in a music school in Alaap (1977)

Mata Saraswati Sharda: Lyrics and Translation

maataa sarasvatii sharadaa,
Mother Saraswati,
he maataa sarasvatii sharadaa!
Oh mother Saraswati!
vidyaadaanii dayaanii dukh-harinii
You are the giver of knowledge, the goddess of compassion, and the remover of sorrow.
jagatajananii jvaalaamukhii
You are the fire-mouthed mother of this world.
maataa sarasvatii sharadaa!
Mother Saraswati!

kiije sudrishTi
Please cast an auspicous glance upon us,
sevak jaan apnaa
and know us as your humble servants.
itnaa vardaan diije
Please grant us these boons:
taan, taal, aur aalaap
musical mastery of passagework, rhythm, and preludes.
buddhii ala.nkaar, sharadaa
Knowledge is your jewel, Saraswati.

he maataa sarasvatii shardaa!
Oh mother Saraswati!

Glossary

maataa: mother; sarasvatii: Hindu goddess of learning and music; sharadaa: another name for Saraswati; vidyaadaanii: giver of knowledge; dayaanii: goddess of compassion; dukh-harinii: remover of sorrow; jagatjananii: mother of the world; jvaalaamukhii: fire-mouthed; sudrishTii: auspicious glance; sevak: servant; vardaan: boon; taan: musical passagework; taal: rhythm; aalaap: prelude to a raagbuddhii: knowledge; ala.nkaar: jewel, ornamentation.

Rekha

Rekha sings a reprise of this bhajan with her son for her ailing husband Amitabh in the conclusion of Alaap (1977)

Bollywood’s Beloved Sopranos: Lata and Asha’s Highest Notes

I feel like we’ve all been in this situation at some point: one of your favorite aunties steps up to the microphone at the annual Diwali function, and you have a sinking fear in your heart that she’s going to embarass herself by butchering another Lata classsic on stage. As she struggles through the sky-high notes of the antara, you cringe and ask yourself why you’re here again, subjecting yourself to this torture…

Well, it turns out it’s not entirely her fault. The reality of the situation is that Bollywood songs from the Golden Era tend to be pitched at extremely high scales for the average female singer. Unless a woman is a veritable soprano like Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhonsle, it is going to be quite a challenge for them to sing many of the classic songs from this period in their original keys. The high-pitched soprano female voice has become a hallmark of Hindi film music, and I’d like to explore this phenomenon in greater detail with this post.

Two sisters who changed playback singing forever: Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle.

Why are Bollywood songs for females from the Golden Era pitched at astronomically high scales? I don’t know for sure, but I definitely have a few ideas that could explain this trend. First, the high-pitched female voice is consistent with the image of the ideal Indian woman that was prevalent during the 1950s and 60s. The soprano register suggests innocence and purity, which enhanced the traditionally feminine perceptions of heroines advanced by film directors of the time. Lata Mangeshkar  is the ultimate example of this phenomenon; her voice, with its ethereal purity, has been considered the traditional female voice of India for decades. However, this explanation is less pertinent to Lata’s younger sister Asha Bhonsle. The voice of Asha, who was widely known for her experimentation with non-traditional genres such as the cabaret, is not a national emblem of purity in the same way as her elder sister’s. For this reason, an alternative explanation is needed to describe the popularity of the soprano female voice in Bollywood, and I would venture to say that this alternative explanation is rooted in musical origins. Before the arrival of the Mangeshkars onto the filmi musical scene, female singing in Hindi films was dominated by artists with heavy, nasal voices, such as Suraiyya and Shamshad Begum. Once music directors had the opportunity to work with the Mangeshkars, things changed forever: the nasalized heavy female voices were out and the delicate soprano voices were here to stay. After Lata and Asha became established as playback singers, I would argue that  music directors of the time pushed the boundaries of their compositions in terms of range to test and showcase the virtuosity of these two exceptional talents.

Before we take a listen to some of Lata and Asha’s highest highs throughout Bollywood’s musical history, explaining a little bit of musical nitty-gritty is necessary to fully appreciate the gist of what’s going on here. From my experiences with transcribing and performing many songs from this era, I would estimate that the vast majority (perhaps 90%?) of songs composed for Lata and Asha max out at F5 or F#5 (two F/F#’s above middle C on the piano) as their highest note. Therefore, in the brief list  of high notes that I’ve compiled below, I’ve only chosen to include those rare songs that surpass the typical upper limit of  F#5. Songs for both singers are listed in order of ascending pitch of the composition’s highest note.

Keyboard labeled with note names and frequencies. C4 is taken as middle C. The high notes listed here range from G5 to C6.

Lata Mangeshkar: Selected High Notes

 jhuumta mausam mast mahiinaa (Ujala, 1959):  In this Lata-Manna duet composed by Shankar-Jakishan, Lata nails a G5 (taar komal ga in the key of E) when she repeats the “yalla yalla” line in the taar saptak (high octave) at the end.

ajii ruuThkar ab kahaa.n jaayiega?  (Aarzoo, 1965): Shankar-Jaikishan is once again the culprit here: listen as Lata reaches an Ab5 (taar shuddh ma in the key of Eb) in the antara of this gem picturized on Sadhana from Aarzoo. Regarding the high pitch of this song, Lata has said:

“I remember “ajii ruuThkar ab kahaa.n jaayiegaa” in Aarzoo (1965). What a high pitch that was! My ears reddened when I sang it. But I stubbornly sang at that impossible scale, refusing to admit defeat to any range. I would get very angry and sing at any range without complaining. Composers would take full advantage of my silence and keep raising the scale. In fact, I used to have arguments with Jaikishan. I would ask him, “kyaa baat hai, aap merii pariksha le rahe hai.n? mai.ne aap kaa kyaa bigaDaa hai jo aap meraa kaan laal kar rahe hai.n? (What’s the matter? Why are you testing me? What have I done that you should trouble me so much to redden my ears?)’

jiyaa o jiyaa kuch bol do (Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai, 1961): The tandem effect described below with “ahsaan teraa hogaa mujh par” is also observed here. Lata gives it her all as she reaches a Ab5 (taar komal ni in the key of Bb) in the antara of the female tandem version of the fun Rafi classic from Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai.

rasik balmaa (Chori Chori, 1957):  This Raga Shuddh Kalyan-based Shankar-Jakishan composition is one of my all-time favorites! Lata hits a G#5 (taar shuddh ga in the key of E) when she sings the antara.

Nargis in a melancholic mood as she sings “rasik balma” from Chori Chori (1957)

ahsaan teraa hogaa mujh par (Junglee, 1961):  The Rafi version of this number is an all-time classic. Although the Lata version is less popular, it is still beautiful in its own right and brings up an interesting point about scales in tandem songs from this era. In almost all cases that I can think of, music directors made the female singer of a tandem song sing her versions in the same key as the male verion. Because men tend to be more comfortable in the higher register of their voices than women, this practice often put the female playback singer at a disadvantage when it came to hitting the highest notes of the composition. But who else would be up for the challenge of adjusting to the “male scale,”  if not Lata Mangeshkar? She hits a G#5 (taar shuddh ga in the key of Ein the antara of this evergreen Shankar-Jakishan composition based in raga Yaman. Regarding the difficulties of singing tandem songs, Lata has remarked:

Actually, “ahsaan teraa hogaa mujh par” was only meant to be sung by Rafi. But the film’s hero, Shammi Kapoor, suddenly decided that the heroine should sing it as well. It was picturised with Rafi’s voice on Saira Banu and later dubbed by me. So I had to sing it in the same sur as Rafi. The same was done with “jiyaa o jiyaa kuch bol do.

tere baadalo.n kii khair (Champakali, 1957): This Bhairavi-based composition composed by Hemant Kumar and picturized on Suchitra Sen is not as well-known as the rest of the songs on this list, but it’s worth mentioning for the A5 (taar ma in the key of E) that Lata hits  at its conclusion.

ahaa rimjhim ke yeh pyaare pyaare geet  (Usne Kaha Tha, 1960):  Salil Chowdhury was known for his incorporation of ideas of Western classical music into his Indian compositions. As an example, he has Lata sing an operatic-style counterpoint passage here in which she reaches an Bb5 (atitaar sa in the key of Bb) against Talat’s rendering of the mukhda at the end of this composition. Subtle, but exquisite!

aa ab laut chale.n (Jis Des Mein Ganga Behti Hai, 1960): Shankar-Jaikishan score another point here with this patriotic composition from Jis Des Mein Ganga Behti Hai. Mukesh and Lata both sing this song, but it is not structured as a prototypical romantic duet. Mukesh takes the main lines while Lata provides a few supporting lines and interesting background vocals, including the virtuosic glide in which she nails an Bb5 (taar pa in the key of Eb) with finesse.

aaja bha.nvar/jhananana jhan baaje paayalia (Rani Roopmati, 1957): Both of these drut bandishes based in Raga Brindavani Sarang and composed by S.N. Tripathi from Rani Roopmati are truly virtuosic by Bollywood standards. Lata sounds so impressive when she nails the Bb5 (taar pa in the key of Bb) at the end of both “aaja bha.nvar” and “jhananana jhan.” In addition to showing off her range, Lata also showcases her classical training and vocal dexterity as she navigates through a host of intricate taans in both songs. I have to say Lata’s virtuosity leaves Rafi in the dust in the duet here (sorry, Mrs. 55!).

Nimmi sings “aaja bhan.var” in Rani Roopmati (1957)


ham ramchandra kii chandrakala me.n bhii
 
(Sampoorna Ramayana,
1961): The Mangeshkar sisters team up here to sing a duet from Sampoorna Ramayana composed by Vasant Desai. It’s somewhat interesting to note that the song here is actually picturized on two pre-pubescent boys, who are receiving playback from female singers. At the end of the song, there is a dramatic ascent in the melody until both sisters climax at a powerful  Bb5 (taar pa in the key of Eb).

ai dil kahaa.n terii manzil
 (Maya, 1961): Salil Chowdhury makes another contribution to our list with this composition rendered by Dwijen Mukherjee (a noted Bengali singer with a voice similar to Hemant Kumar’s) and Lata. Like “aa ab laut chale.n,” this duet is not structured traditionally; rather, Dwijen sings the main lines and Lata provides background support. Lata sounds heavenly as she hits a Bb5 (taar shuddh dha in the key of Db) in one of Salil’s signature opera-inspired vocal passages.

woh ek nigaah kyaa milii 
(Half-Ticket, 1962): To the best of my knowledge, Salil Chowdhury wins the contest for having recorded Lata’s voice at its highest pitch in the history of Bollywood cinema with this composition.  In this duet with Kishore Kumar picturized on Helen, Lata manages to hit  the elusive soprano C6 (taar shuddh dha in the key of Eb) in the second staccato sequence of the interlude played between stanzas. Her voice is so high here that it blends in naturally with the instrumental piccolo parts.  Nailing a staccato passage in the soprano register like this is incredibly impressive for a vocalist trained in the Indian tradition (in which the emphasis is not placed on vocalizing at the extremes of one’s range)–brava, Lata, brava!

Asha Bhonsle: Selected High Notes

sakhii rii sun bole papiihaa us paar (Miss Mary, 1957): You get the opportunity to hear some some sibling rivalry in this Hemant Kumar composition loosely based on Raga Tilang from Miss Mary! Lata (on Meena Kumari) and Asha (on some rando actress I can’t recognize) duke it out at the end with some intricate taans, but Asha actually takes the more complex passages and touches an Ab5 (taar shuddh ma in the key of Eb)in her last taan here. For those keeping score, Lata also hits the same note in her taan right before.

Meena Kumari in a rare non-tragic role in Miss Mary (1957)

dil na kahii.n lagaanaa (Ghunghat, 1960): I hadn’t heard this Ravi composition picturized on Helen before doing research for this post, but it’s quite special. The song is divided into several differents segments with lyrics in four different languages: Hindi, Tamil, Bengali (a cover of Geeta Dutt’s classic “tumi je amar“), and Punjabi. During in an alaap in the final Punjabi segment, Asha manages to hit an A5 (taar shuudh re in the key of G).

tarun aahe ratra ajunii (Non-Film):  This composition by Hridaynath Mangeshkar is a Marathi bhavgeet, so I guess it technically doesn’t belong on the list. Even though I don’t understand the Marathi lyrics, this is one of my favorite Asha songs because the tune and rendition are simply sublime. Here, the line “bagh tula pusatos aahe” begins on Bb3 and climbs up to A5 (taar shuddh ni in the key of Bb) with the ornament Asha sings on the words “gaar vaaraa.” In the span of one musical line, Asha covers nearly two octaves of vocal range–wow!

suunii suunii saa.ns kii sitaar par (Lal Patthar, 1971): This Shankar-Jakishan composition picturized on Rakhee from Lal Patthar is a beautiful example of the use of Raga Jayjayvanti in filmi music. In a passage towards the end of the song (beginning at 3:13), Asha touches a Bb5 (taar komal ga in the key of G). She also finishes the song off with some powerful taans. For comparison, see Shankar-Jakishan’s Jayjayvanti beauty from Seema sung by Lata (note the exquisite taankari at the end!): manmohana baDe jhuuThe

daiyaa mai.n kahaa.n aa pha.nsii (Caravan, 1971): This song from Caravan is probably remembered more for Asha Parekh’s crazy dance moves than its musical underpinnings, but this song is composed in a manner that is rather unique for Bollywood music. Most songs in Bollywood are sung at a fixed tonic (sa), but R.D. Burman experiments with a musical technique all too familiar to those who listen to 90s Western pop: the key change. He goes wild here by changing the tonic of the song by half-steps multiple times, and Asha hits a Bb5 during a transition at the very end.

Asha Parekh hides herself on stage during the performance of “daiyaa mai.n kahaa.na aa pha.nsii” in Caravan (1971)

aa dekhe.n zaraa (Rocky, 1981): Despite my aversion to Bollywood music from the 80s, I still decided to include this song on the list for the Bb5 (taar pa in the key of Eb) that Asha manages to yell out at around 2:20.

nadii naa re na jaao shyaam (Mujhe Jeene Do, 1963): In the alaap of this Jaidev composition picturized on Waheeda Rahman, Asha nails a G#5 and briefly touches a B5 (taar pa in the key of E) before descending to pitches that are more comfortable for the average mortal.

tu mi piaci cara (Bewaqoof, 1960):  This cute S.D. Burman composition sung by Asha and Kishore features an opening line in Italian. Maybe it was the Italian lyrics that inspired S.D. Burman to have Asha sing some background operatic passages in addition to her normal lines. During one of these passages before the second-last antara, Asha hits a B5 (taar ma in the key of F#).

jo mai.n hotaa ek TuuTaa taaraa (Chhupa Rustam, 1973): This composition by S.D. Burman rendered by Asha and Kishore features some more opera-like passages at its conclusion. Asha is impressively comfortable as she nails a B5 (ati-taar sa in the key of B)  several times in a row as counterpoint against Kishore’s rendering of the mukhda!

o merii jaa.n maine kahaa (The Train, 1970): You wouldn’t expect this fun item number composed by R.D. Burman and picturized on Helen from The Train to be particularly virtuosic in terms of vocals, but Asha actually hits the a B5 (ati-taar sa in the key of B) in the song’s opening line with her leap on the word “kahaa.” For those of you listening very carefully, it’s important to keep in mind that the film version appears to be transposed a half-step higher than the album version of this song.

If you’ve managed to pay attention so far and take a listen to some of these songs, you may have noticed some interesting trends when comparing the high notes rendered by our two beloved Bollywood divas. After taking a look at the years I’ve listed next to each song, you’ll notice that all of Lata’s highest notes on this list span a range of nine years from 1956 to 1965, while Asha’s highest notes range over 24 years (!) from 1957 to 1981. The broad range of years in which Asha hit her high notes might provide evidence to those who support the notion that Asha’s voice aged better than Lata’s over the decades. But there is one caveat: the manner in which these two divas produce their high notes is distinct and may play a role in mediating this trend. If you listen carefully, you can hear that Lata always employs her “chest voice” to belt out the notes of a composition, even at the highest registers. On the other hand, Asha often employs her “head voice,” the more commonly used technique by female singers to access high notes. Head voice has a softer, gentler sound because it resonates around the nasal cavity instead of the chest during vocal production. This technique of singing is traditionally forbidden in the Indian classical tradition, so purists might consider some of Asha’s highest highs as “cheating”–head voice is sometimes even referred to as naqlii avaaz (fake voice). I’m not so much of a purist that I would discredit Asha for using her head voice in these compositions, but I will venture to say that, if asked to do so, she would not be able to hit the notes of the high soprano register in her later years using her chest voice as gracefully as Lata did during her peak.

Another interesting trend to note is how different music directors composed differently to suit the individual styles of  Lata or Asha. Although all the music directors on this list have worked extensively with both sisters, the music directors who asked Lata to sing at her highest range are not the same as the music directors who asked the same of Asha. Shankar-Jaikishan and Salil Chowdhury, by far, contribute to Lata’s highest record pitches whereas R.D. Burman and S.D. Burman seem to have saved their highest notes for Asha. Just some food for thought.

R.D. Burman teaches Asha Bhonle during a rehearsal session.

Please let us know if you find any more examples of Lata and Asha’s highest highs that are not on this list! I have attempted to find the best examples, but given the vast repertoire of Bollywood film music, I may have naturally missed out on some that are worth mentioning. Also, if you enjoyed this post, let us know in the comments and I’ll try to do some similar-themed posts in the future–perhaps next, we can take a listen to Lata and Asha’s lowest recorded notes or a an analysis of the Bollywood tenor’s highest highs? The possibilities are endless!

-Mr. 55