Friday, February 12, 2016

For Valentine's Day

Taj Mahal facade : Stock Photo

Recounting her first visit to India in the 1950s, in her new book My Life on the Road,  Gloria Steinem writes, " -  everybody in India seems to sing as part of everyday life  - ".  Perhaps that is the reason Indian moviemakers refuse to make movies without songs. Here are some of my favorite everlasting love songs from hindi films that have stood the test of time.


Jo wada kiya woh nibhana padega - the promise that you made, you will have to keep..., says the first line of this song. The name of the movie is Taj Mahal. In 1632 Emperor Shahajahan commissioned the construction of the Taj Mahal to house the remains of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. For over 300 years, the grand marble mausoleum has stood over Indians, reminding us of the Mughal emperor's love for his wife. The movie was made in 1963.

The movie Hum Dono was released in 1961 starring Dev Anand and Sadhana. Both the actors are no more. Sadhana died recently, in December in Mumbai. No one thought Dev Anand would ever die -the way he kept reinventing himself acting with younger and younger heroins as he got older. Sadhana popularized the "bangs" in India and the hair style came to be known as the Sadhana cut in her days.

I think Valentine's day came to India with the advent of the internet. What TV couldn't do WWW did - introduced Indians to celebrations like Halloween and Valentine's day. Still, Halloween hasn't caught on with the middle class as much as Valentine's day has and the reason might be the same as why it has not caught on with me much - Indians like me who remember the days when there used to be actual beggars in India who would go from door to door with a begging bowl, can not get terribly excited about their children going door to door with a bowl  - even for candy.


This is a nice video.  I love it as much as the song, probably more. Rarely do you see, on Indian screen, so few colors these days.  The reason it happens here, I believe, is because this song appears in the movie as a dream sequence. As the heroin lays unconscious as a result of some serious trauma, she dreams of uniting with her beloved, finally accepting the fact that it can not happen in reality; as he is engaged to someone else. I marvel at the thought, the time, and the effort that appears to have gone into the making of this song (it was filmed outside India) and the purpose it serves in the movie. Hosh mein chahat ab aayi - love has come to its senses (both literally and figuratively as it turns out in this scene) - the male singer sings at one point.  Tukade dilake hum tum milake phirase jodenge - together we will mend the pieces of (your) broken heart, he promises towards the end of the song.


This is not a love song. The first track, swayamvar jhale sitech (Sita got married), in this set of Geet Ramayan, describes the wedding of Ram and Sita. The story of Ram and Sita is not presented to the children of India as a love story. Rather the story of Ram (the Ramayan) is the story of - duty first, before marital bliss or any other bliss for that matter. Nevertheless, you might hear an older village woman in India, compliment a younger couple by saying- you two match each other like Ram and Sita. And this song is full of romance - thanks to the poet/lyricist GaDiMa (Gajanan Digambar Madagulkar) who paints an elaborate scene of their wedding with his beautiful words.

Geet Ramayan is the story of the Ramayan, rendered in songs in marathi. That was the background score of my teenage years in Mumbai, as my mother would play it on the tape-recorder every morning, before we left for school. The set came in several cassettes and depending on her mood, I think, she chose the one that she wanted to play on a particular morning. Lord Ram was not worshipped as god in our home, as he is in some parts of India. For us, he was the hero of Gadimas's Geet Ramayan. There are 50 odd songs in Geet Ramayan, out of which Swayamvar jhale Siteche is one of my favorites. 

There is a marathi saying (or is it a line from a poem, I don't quite remember) that goes: je na dekhe ravi, te dekhe kavi : what the sun can not see (or as I recall our marathi teacher explaining its meaning to us in class : what the eye can not see) the poet can. True to these words Gadima sees through the scenes of Sita's swayamvar and recreates for the listener a picture so vivid, that every time I listen to this song - no matter how many times I have heard it before - I feel as if I am watching that wedding unfold right before my eyes.

In Indian mythology, princesses didn't just get married. They had swayamvar which was similar to a contest. Kings, Princes, warriors from kingdoms near and far would be invited to participate in the swayamvar, which would typically test their skills in archery and whoever won the challenge would be able to wed the princess. Personally, I like the challenge in Draupadi swayamvar more - from that other epic - the Mahabharat. It's more detailed and cleverly conceived, I feel. Relatively speaking the challenge in Sita swayamvar is simple and straightforward and Ram manages to win it by lifting and breaking the immensely heavy, divine bow without much effort. 

Swayamvar jhale siteche - the song - starts from that point onwards and describes in rich classical  language what is happening at the wedding, what the father of the bride, the bride herself and the groom are feeling and doing. There is a marathi expression - Dolyat pran aanun waat pahane - waiting for someone with your life in your eyes. In this song the poet says - Sita looks at Ram with all the strength of her being gathered in her eyes (नयनामाजी एकवटुनिया निजशक्ती सारी). I know it sounds very incongruent with today's times. The only time most people have their life in their eyes these days is probably when they are looking at the screen of their electronic device, but Geet Ramayan was written over 60 years ago.  

This post started with a verse that says -the promise that you made you will have to keep - in hindi. I will end it with a marathi line that means something similar  -  modu naka vachanas -don't break your promise. Sudhir Phadake, in his sonorous voice sings this song as evocatively as he has sung all the other songs of Geet Ramayan. Gadima may have penned the lyrics but it was Phadake's voice that brought Geet Ramayan into maharashtrian homes, who fondly referred to him as babuji.  

King Dasharath, the father of Ram has three wives -Kausalya, who is Ram's mother; Sumitra, who is the mother of Laxman and Shatrughna; and Kaikayee's son is Bharat. In the third track in the above set, Kaikayee reminds her husband of the two boons that he granted her a long time ago. After Ram returns home with his new bride and is about to be crowned as King of the kingdom of Ayodhya, Kaikayee demands that it's the right time for her to get her wishes fulfilled -warning Dasharath not to break the promise that he made. With the first wish she says, her son Bharat becomes king and with the second wish, Ram goes into exile for fourteen years. In a way this song represents a crucial point in the story of the Ramayan but this - don't break your promise - song is not for Valentine"s Day.  

स्वयंवर झाले सीतेचे (lyrics)
I am making a brave attempt here, to translate the gist of a couple of verses from the song - Swayamvar jhale Siteche.  Ram is the descendant of the Sun dynasty and Sita is the daughter of the earth. So the first line says - 

It's the union of the sky and the earth.
आकाशाशी जडले नाते धरणी मातेचे
स्वयंवर झाले सीतेचे 

श्रीरामांनी सहज उचलले धनू शंकराचे
पूर्ण जाहले जनक नृपाच्या हेतु अंतरीचे
उभे ठाकले भाग्य सावळे समोर दुहितेचे 

मुग्ध जानकी दुरून न्याहळी राम धनुर्धारी
नयना माजी एकवटुनिया नीज शक्ति सार
फुलू लागले फुल हळूहळू गाली लज्जेचे

उंचावुनिया जरा पापण्या पाहत ती राही
ताडिताघातापरी भयंकर नाद तोंच होई
श्रीरामांनी केले तुकडे दोन धनुष्याचे

अंधारुनिया आले डोळे, बावरले राजे
मुक्त हासता भूमिकन्या मनोमनी लाजे
तृप्त जाहले सचिंत लोचन क्षणात जनकाचे

हात जोडुनी म्हणे नृपती तो विश्वामित्रासी
"आज जानकी अर्पियली मी दशरथ -पुत्रासी "

पित्राज्ञाने उठे हळू ती मंत्र मुग्ध बाला
अधिर चाल ती आधिर तीहुनी हातींची माला
With her father's permission (Sita) rises (and walks towards Ram)
her feet are eager and so is the (wedding) garland in her hand
गौरवर्ण ते चरण गांठती मंदिर सौख्याचें

निलाकाशी जशी भरावी उष:प्रभा लाल
तसेच भरले रामांगी मधु नूपुर स्वरतालं
as the red light of dawn spreads into the blue sky
the sweet sound of (her) anklets seep into Ram.
(शास्त्रोक्त मराठीही  ऐकायला किती गोड आणि सुंदर वाटु शकते ते ह्या गाण्यात दिसतं. जसं आपण म्हणतो - एखादी गोष्ट अंगात भिनते - असं वाटतं कि गदिमांना ह्या ठिकाणी म्हणायचय कि सीतेच्या पायातल्या घुंगरांचे मधुर स्वरताल श्री रामांच्या अंगी  भिनले )
सभा मंडपी मिलन झाले माया ब्रह्माचे

झुकले थोडे राम, जानकी घाली वरमाला
गगनामाजी देव करांनी करिती करताला
त्यांच्या कानीं गजर पोचले मंगल वाद्यांचे

अंश विष्णूचा राम धरेची दुहिता ती सीता
गंधर्वांचे सूर लागले जयगीता गाता 
आकाशाशी जडले नाते ऐसें धरणीचे
स्वयंवर झाले सीतेचे

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