The Mangeshkar sisters and Marathi music

Lata and Asha made a huge contribution to non-film music in their mother tongue

Published - February 10, 2022 05:20 pm IST

Lata Mangeshkar with sister Asha Bhosle.

Lata Mangeshkar with sister Asha Bhosle.

For the Mangeshkar sisters, Lata and Asha Bhosle, life was not always easy. Although they were the inheritors of their father Master Deenanath Mangeshkar’s rich musical legacy, his untimely death in 1942 made the family financially insecure. The family responsibility fell on a young Lata, who at the age of 13 sang her first Marathi song in the film Pahili Mangalagaur. Asha debuted in the Marathi film, Mazha Bal , aged 10.

Although they began their musical journey in movies, what fascinates me as a music composer is their contribution to non-film music, especially in Marathi. It is of great cultural significance that the sisters kept exploring their roots despite soaring high in the film industry. While they sang in almost all Indian languages, their contribution to Marathi has been seminal.

Rich legacy

Lata Mangeshkar (L) with her brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar.

Lata Mangeshkar (L) with her brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar.

Deenanath Mangeshkar was an actor-singer who, like the legendary Marathi singer Bal Gandharva, started his career in music and theatre at Kirloskar Natak Mandali aged 11. A disciple of Pt. Ramkrishnabuva Vaze, a luminary of the Gwalior gharana, Deenanath later started a theatre company called Balwant Natak Mandali. He had the blessings of renowned Marathi poet-playwright Ram Ganesh Gadkari, whose plays Punyaprabhav and Bhavbandhan were performed by Deenanath.

Deenanath was a prolific singer and, in style, a great contrast to Bal Gandharva and other contemporaries. Equally, Deenanath’s plays were progressive, with a nationalist sentiment. The plays were written by some of the best literary minds of the time like Veer Vamanrao Joshi ( Ranadundubhi ) and Ram Ganesh Gadkari ( Punyaprabhav ). Music was the mainstay of the Marathi theatrical tradition, and Natyasangeet as a genre derives its roots from the keertan parampara of Maharashtrian and Hindustani music.

Nationalist timbre

Asha sang a lot of natyasangeet in the early days of her career and the vinyl of Manaapman (musical play by K. P. Khadilkar) is testimony. She has recreated her father’s magic by singing natyapadas like ‘Yuvati manaa daarun rana’ or ‘Chandrika hi janu’. I still remember her performance one wintry night in Raja Shivaji Vidyalaya grounds in Dadar, where she sang ‘Paravashata paash daive’ by Veer Wamanrao Joshi with almost no accompaniment. The song, written in the pre-Independence era, speaks of how we were slaves in our own land.

The Mangeshkar sisters sang Veer Savarkar’s ‘Sagara pran talmalala’, a result of the family’s devotion to Savarkar’s nationalism. Savarkar wrote Sanyasta Khadga for Deenanath.

It is my observation that Lata looked at film music as a profession, but her non-film music was about who she really was. The kind of music she chose to create in Marathi tells you a lot more about the legend than any biographical article could.

The tradition of singing Marathi poetry started almost parallel to Marathi film music, which began with V. Shantaram’s Ayodhyecha Raja . In 1932, G.N. Joshi composed and sang N.G. Deshpande’s poem ‘Raanaa raanaat geli bai sheel’ for HMV, sowing the seeds of Marathi non-film music. Gajananrao Watve sang the poems of Manmohan, Anil, and Kavi Yashwant to full houses.

The tradition of composing poetry and metamorphosing them into songs continued with composers like Vasant Prabhu, Shrinivas Khale and later, Hridaynath Mangeshkar, whose compositions were sung by Lata and Asha. Hridaynath not only set to music lyrical poems but also those that were not meant to be sung, such as Arti Prabhu, Manik Godghate (Grace), B.R. Tambe, and Kavi B’s poems. This introduced some of the finest Marathi poetry to people who would otherwise be apathetic to literature. They started humming even complex and abstruse poems, sung by the sisters.

The abhang tradition

Another significant contribution, especially by Lata, is her rendition of Sant Sahitya, the compositions by Maharashtra’s saint poets. Abhang Tukayache , the poetry of Saint Tukaram, composed by Shrinivas Khale, took Maharashtra by storm. ‘Bheti laagi jeeva’, ‘Anandache dohi’, ‘Vrukshavalli aamha soyare’, ‘Sundar te dhyaan’ are some songs from this album that are still sung.

Hridaynath brought to life Sant Dnyaneshwar’s poetry from his works, Dnyaneshwari and Amrutanubhav . To this day, when you hear ‘Mogara phulala’ or ‘Ghanu vaaje ghunaghuna’ in Lata’s voice, it stirs you. The purity and perfection of her singing conveyed the divinity contained in the words. When you listen to Lata singing ‘Pasaayadaan’, Sant Dnyaneshwar’s prayer where he asks for the fulfilment of wishes of every living being, you experience a sense of peace.

Lifeline for many genres

From bhavageet to koligeet to abhang and ghazal, the sisters covered multiple genres. Their singing stirs the imagination. When Lata sings Grace’s poem, ‘Bhaya ithale sampat nahi’ or the Koligeet ‘Raaja saarangaa, maajhya saaranga’, you not only hear the song, you experience it. When Asha sings the lines by Shanta Shelke, ‘Jeevalaga raahile re door ghar maazhe,’ you travel with the poet. In the 1980s, when television eclipsed radio and we saw a dearth of good non-film music in Marathi, it was Asha’s album Rutu Hirva, with poetry by the likes of Shanta Shelke and B.B. Borkar and composed by Shreedhar Phadke, that provided a lifeline.

Today, if children sing the poems of Borkar, Grace, Arti Prabhu and Suresh Bhat in Marathi music reality shows, the Mangeshkar sisters should be credited for keeping that rich legacy alive.

The Mumbai-based writer

is a music composer.

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