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Unsung people who sang his songs

I feel we know very little about the singers of Tagore songs. In Indian classical music we usually get to know the singer/instrumentalist though a brief write up on them on album cover. But usually albums of Tagore song do not carry such write ups. In fact most of us do not even know the name some of the yesteryear singers. This writing tries to bridge the gap. In fact I myself came to know many of them while doing the research, mostly from the internet. So this is like a live document which will be added with more singers and correct existing mistakes. Starting from Amala Das (1877 born) l have reached Kanika Bandopadhyay, Suchitra Mitra, Kalim Sarafi (all 1924 born). So in this page they are theses three are youngest!

The quartet Debabrata, Hemanta, Suchitra and Kanika are not unsung but any standard. Same applies for Santidev Ghosh or Kalim Sarafi (at least in Bangladesh). I have included them for continuity.


Amala Das (1877-1919)

Sister of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, she was one of the first singers to record Tagore song. She was very close to Tagore's family and learned songs from Tagore. Some of her recordings (eg. chiroshokha he cheRona) were later used for preparing notation. Interestingly her records used to bear her name as Miss Das (Amateur) because of the social stigma prevalent at that period.


Some Recorded Songs:

Tor apon jone chaRbe tore
Baro Bismoy Lage
Ayi Bhubanmonomohini
Tumi Kemon Kore Gaan Karo Hey Guni

Some of her songs can be heard from
Hummaa.com. The recording quality is poor as they are almost 100 year old recordings.

Dinendranath Tagore (1882-1935)

Also known as Dinu Thakur, he was grandson of Dwijendranath (Rabindranath's eldest brother). He was a multifaceted talent - singer, music teacher, actor, director writer. But he is best known as custodian and notation writer of Tagore songs.

Some Recorded Songs:

Aloker Ei JharnadhArAy (1927)
Aaji Marmaradhwani Keno
Megher Pare Megh Jamechhe
Amar Matha Nato Kore Dao

Listen to his recordings from
Hummaa.com. Quality is relatively better as these are 1920's recordings.

Sahana Devi (1897 - 1990)

Niece of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, she was perhaps the most favorite of Tagore as singer of his songs . Dilip Kumar Roy was a major influence in her life. She moved permanently to Pondichery Aurobindo Ashram in late 20's.

Interesting trivia: Once learned a number of Tagore songs from Dinu Thakur over telephone!



Some of her recorded songs:

Aamaar Aandhaar Bhaalo
Amar Abhimaner Badale Aaj
Amar Jabar Belay Pichhu Daake
Baahire Bhul Haanbe Jakhan
Dukkho Aamaar Ashim
Jodi Tare Nai Chini Go
Tomay Natun Kore Pabo Bole

They can be heard from
Hummaa.com

Rama Majumdar (Kar) (1902? - 1935)

Nick named Nutu, was sister of Satonsh Chandra, a close aid of Tagore. while studying in Shantiniketan she had shown exception talent for music. Tagore was keen on keeping her in Shantiniketan and succeed Dinendranath. (Some say partly because of this) She was married to Surendranath Kar, painter and architect and another close aid of Tagore in Shantiniketan. She was not only a good singer but she was proficient in writing notation for Tagore songs and wrote notation for a few of his songs. Tagore plans failed as she died young at the age of 32.


Some of her recorded songs:

ei sakal belaar badol aandhaare
o aamaar chaander Aalo
aaj baari jhare jharajhara
aar nai re bela namlo chhaya

They can be heard in
Hummaa.com

Amita Sen (1914 - 1940)

Nick name Khuku. Not to be confused with another Amita Sen, Amatya Sen's mother. Learned songs from both Rabindranath and Dinendranath. Her authority can be understood from the fact that she even guided Sailajaranjan(1901-1992), a famous early teacher of Rabindra sangeet. Rabindranath wanted her to head Sangit Bhaban after Dinendranath. But she took job as a teacher in Calcutta where she did the initial grooming of young Suchtra Mitra. She too died very young at the age of 26.

Some of her recorded songs:
Je Chilo Aamar Swapanacharini
Aadheka Ghumey
Chiniley Na Amareki
Ogo Dakhin Haawaa

Listen to her in
Hummaa.com

Pankaj Mullick (1905 - 1978)

Singer, Playback Singer, composer and part time actor. Had good access to Tagore and Dinendranath. Learned Tagore songs most from Dinendranath. Pioneer in popularizing Tagore songs among mass. He set Tagore's poetry 'shesh kheya' to his composition which became very popular song "diner sheshe ghumer deshe". Interestingly he was only 17 at that time. He was also pioneer in teaching Tagore songs to public for many decades using All India Radio starting from 1929.

He wrote an autobiographical book "Aamar Yug Aamar Gaan"

Some of his recorded songs:

Ami Kan Pete Roi (1937)
Diniguli mor Sonar Khanchay (1938)
Tumiki Keboli Chobi (1944)
Amar Priyar Chhaya (1949)
Charanan Dharite diyo Go Amare (1952)
Hey Moro Debota (1961)



Amiya Thakur (1908 - 1986)

Amiya Thakur did her schooling and college from Bethune school/college. Learnt Tagore music from none other than Rabindranath. She was wife of Hridindranath Tagore of Jorasanko thakurbari. It is she who sang the famous e parabase rabe ke in Satyajit Ray's 'Kanchanjangha' movie.

Some of her recorded songs:

Sudhasagarateere
Baro Bismay Lage
Samukhey Santiparabar
Hey Nutan Dekhaa Dik Baarbaar


1930s - Kanak Das (Biswas)

She was sister-in-law of famous singer Debabrata Biswas and also an influence of Debabrata's style. She was also aunt of Satyajit Ray. She studied in Bethune school/college and her first recording came in 1927. From the recordings (that are available) looks like she was more partial to the later composition of Tagore and avoided more classical based compositions (unlike Rajeswari or Malati Ghoshal). In many respect she was like a predecessor of Debabrata and to some extent Suchitra. Her singing was characterized by modern pronunciation(e.g. lack of nasal tone) and boldness.


Some of her recorded songs:

bahujuge opar hote (1927 ?)
chaitrapabane mamo chittobane
samukhe shantiparabar (1941)
he nutan dekha dik arbar
sakaruno benu
tomar amar Ei
amar Din phuralo
dekona amare
Bajilo kaharo bina

sankocher bihwolata (1937, with Debabrata in duet, probably Debabrata's first record)


1930s - Malati Ghoshal

Malati Ghoshal also was a student of Bethune College. She learned classical music from Gopeshwar Bandyopadhyay and then learned Tagore songs from Ramesh Chandra Bandyopadhyay(son of Gopeswar Bandyopadhyay). From the available recordings and style it is clear that she was perhaps among the best in classical based Tagore songs.

Poet Bishnu De, as well as contemporary poet Anuradha Mahapatra mentioned her name in their poetry.


Some of her recorded songs:

E parabase rabe ke
hridaya basona purna holo
jadi e amar hridaysduyara
ke bosile aaji hridayasane

Shantideb Ghosh (1910-99)

Shantideb was son of Kalimohan Ghosh, close aid of Tagore in rural reconstruction. Kalimohan brought him to Shantiniketan when he was not even one year old. Born as Shantimay, Tagore changed his name to Shantideb, apparently inadvertently. Learnt Songs from Dinendranath and Rabindranath. He was also an expert in Dance. He wrote notation for quite a few of Tagore songs. Among the second generation expert teachers of Tagore songs who learnt from Dinendranath, he was perhaps the most sought after singer (other two being Sailajaranjan Majumdar and Anadi Dastidar). He had a very unique voice which was high pitched yet manly as well as a style which can be described as bold. He wrote quite a few books on Tagore songs like Rabindra-Sangit (probably the first book on Tagore music) and Rabindra Sangit Vicitra.



Some of his recorded songs:

krishnakali ami tarei boli
rangiye diye jao
amar mallika bane
bhalobese sakhi
diye genu basonter ei gaankhani
k(n)adale tumi more



Debabrata Biswas(1911-1980)

Debabrata Biswas, also well known as George(da), is perhaps the most popular singers of Rabindra Sangeet till date. With his rich baritone voice, bold and accentuated expression and innovative music accompaniment he was very different from others. He was born in a brahma family and that helped him to pick up Rabindra sangeet almost as a part of his upbringing. He did not have (much) formal training.

His first recoding was duet with Kanak Das and came up in late thirties. Towards late forties and fifties he recorded some more songs. His style of singing and accompaniment during this period was fairly conventional, though his voice really stood apart.

From early sixties he started singing for Hindustan records and this was the most prolific period of his recording. He increasingly became more dramatic in expression and started using plethora of accompaniment creating sometimes orchestral effects.

Towards late sixties visava bharati music board started to disapprove his recordings showing defects like inappropriate tempo, excessive music accompaniment and not following the notations. After a while he stopped recording rabindra sangeet altogether, though he started recording privately. Many of these recording with only harmonium as accompaniment kept on getting publish long after he died.

He wrote a book called “Bratyajaner Rudhdhasangit” which is partly autobiographical and partly an instrument of expressing his view to public regarding the controversy with music board.

It may be worth mentioning that politically he had strong left leaning in his ideology and was involved with IPTA, the cultural wing of then undivided communist party. He distanced himself from the party during sixties when the party broke into two factions.

Since he has more than 300 recoding, giving some of them is rather futile (this applies to many others of this period like Suchitra, Kanika, Hemanta etc). I am trying to give representation of his early, mid and late recordings.


Debabrata Biswas - selected Discography

Late thirties/Early forties(?)

(duet with Kanak das)

shankochero biuhawlota
byartho praner aborjona


Fifties

oi ashonotale matir pare
akash juRe shuninu
e shudhu alosho maya
emni korei jai jodi din
tumi rabe nirabe
ei to bhalo legechilo

Sixties

Tomar holo shuru
bhara thak smritisudhay
bahu juger o paar hote
amar hiyar majhey
akash bhara shurjo tara
klanti amar khama karo prabhu
megh boleche jabo jabo
anek diner amar je gaan
dinguli mor shonar khanchay
sunilo shagorer shyamal kinare
jibono maroner seemana cHaRaye
kusume kusume charonochinho
samukhe shantiparabar

Seventies

mor bina othe kon sure baji
pagla hawar badol dine
dekecheno priyotamo
andhokarer utso hote
Mone kee dwidha


Rajeshwari Datta (1920-1976)

Rajeshwari was Punjabi by birth, her maiden surname was Vasudev. She studied in Shantiniketan and learned Tagore songs there. She started recoding Tagore songs in late thirties with Hindustan Records. Incidentally all the recordings she made were under Hindustan label. She married Poet Sudhindranath Datta in 1943. During the latter part of her life she settled in London, and perhaps because of that, in spite of being exceptionally talented and cultured singer, she did not get limelight in Bengal.

Though she was more famous for the songs which are heavily classical oriented especially in tappa anga (like eki karunaa, e moha abaran), she was also comfortable with Tagore latter day songs like aji tomaay aabaar, ogo aamaar chiro-achenaa, baadal diner pratham.

From the recordings it was obvious that she had excellent grasp in classical music. Yet the characteristic of Tagore songs and especially pronunciation was exceptional. This was even worth mentioning since she was neither Bengali nor did she come to shantiniketan at a very early age.

Though she continues to have some die-hard fans, now-a-days even getting a single CD is sometimes difficult.


Some her recorded songs:

Jadi e amar hriday duyaro
Ogo shono ke bajay
Je rate mor duyarguli
Era parke apon kore
Aaji kamala mukulodala khulilo
Je keho more diyecho such
Baje karuna sure
Nilanjana chhaya
Dhire dhire dhire bao
Chirasakhaa he chheronaa
Sakhi, aandhaare Akelaa ghare
Tumi Jeyo naa ekhoni



Hemanta Mukhopadhyay (1920-1989)

Apparently Hemanta did not know Tagore’s song even after recording a few modern songs. It was recording company Columbia's trainer Sailesh Duttagupta who initiated his interest in “Rabibabu’s song”. Rest is history. Though Hemanta had close association with Debabrata, Suchitra (they were also his IPTA comrades) he was almost a self made exponent. Probably taking cue from Pankaj Mullick’s radio program “Rabindra Sangit shikshar aasor” within a few years time he recorded his first Tagore songs in 1942.

If anyone has made Tagore songs popular among common people (read outside Shantiniketan, Brahma Samaj, Thakur BaRi and intellectual elite) after Pankaj Mullick it was Hemanta. His apparently simple style - without classical based alanakar, without rabindrik style, yet sweet, timbre-rich, soulful, melodious song simply gripped Bengali speaking mass. He was also sang Tagore songs in films. Interestingly, over the years, he was fairly consistent in his style of singing Tagore song. He never did he do a lot of orchestration and other experimentations.


Some his recorded songs:

aamar aar habe naa deri (1944)
asho shyamalo sundara (1945)
prangane mor shirishshakhay (1946)
tomay gaan shonabo (1947)
chokshe amar trishnaa (1948)
aji sharata tapone prabhata swapane(1949)
jakhan porbe naa mor payer chinha (1950)
kaahaar galaay parabi gaaner ratana haar (1951)
ei kathati mone rekho (1951)
arup tomar bani(1952)
Tomar holo shuru (with Lata Mangeshkar)(1953)
mone rabe kina rabe amare (1954)
ogo nodi apan bege(1954)
jakhan bhanglo milana mela (1955)
nishithe ki koye gelo mone (1958)
mone ki dwidha rekhe gele (1959)
mono moro meghera sangi(1961)
amar jabar belaye pichhu dakey(1964)
aami tomay jato shuniyechhilem gaan (1966)
dekonaa amare dekonaa (1967)
aamar ei path chaoatei anada (1968)
ebar ujaar kore lao(1969)
pathe chale jete jete (1970)
jadi tare nai chini go (1971)
purano shei diner katha (1972)
mor bhabonere ki haoaye matalo (1973)
asrunadir shudur paare (1974)
sansar-o jabey mono keDey loi (1975)
aamaar jaabaar belaay pichhu dakey(1976)
saghana gahana ratri (1977)
jagoraney jai bibhabori(1978)
tomar amar-o ei biraher-o antarale(1980)
aanmona aanmona (1981)

from films

pather shesh kothay (Priya bandhabi, 1944)
purano shei diner katha(Agneeswar, 1976)
chrana dharitey diyo go amarey (Dadar kirti, 1981)
tomaar kachhe ey bar maagi (Bhalobasha bhalobasha,1984)



Subinoy Roy(1921-2004)

Subinoy Roy was born in a brahma family with a musical bent and naturally he was exposed to brahma sangeet including Tagore songs from an early age. He studied in Shatiniketan (most probably science, not music). He learnt the intricacy of Tagore songs from the Sangit Bhaban Acharyas there especially Sailajaranjan Majumdar, thanks to the open door informal atmosphere prevalent in Shatiniketan where Sangit Bhaban was accessible to all departments. He started teaching in Sangit Bhavan which he left in mid 40's. He studied library science from England and joined Indian Statistical Institute as librarian. His passion for Music, especially Tagore song continued and he recorded his first song with HMV in late 1940’s.

Apparently, during the first couple of decade or so, he was more famous as a teacher and authority of Tagore songs than as a singer. Even much senior and famous singer Pankaj Mullick used to consult him.

From 1970’s onward he started becoming more visible as an artist. Though he never had the popularity of some of his contemporaries, he became an icon of pure, classy exponent of Tagore songs. His tuneful, notationally and emotionally perfect, yet sweet voice was well suited for soulful songs which do not particularly require boldness. He was also (perhaps more) famous for brahma sangit.

He wrote a book named “Rabindra Sangit Sadhana” which, though essentially a pedagogic text for learners, has some of his views on Tagore songs.

Some his recorded songs:

tumi dak diecho kon (1949)
eki labonye purno praan
jagote ananda jogge amar nimontron
likhon tomar dhulay hoyeche dhuli (1981)
kon subhakhane udibe nayane
bahe nirantara ananta anandadhara
aamaar praaner parey Chole
aamaarey tumi ashesh korecho
khelaghar bandtey legechi
e ki sudharasa aney
jagey naatha jochhonaa raate
ore saabodhaani pathik
chirabandhu chiranirbhara(1986)
aaji godhuli lagane(1991)
prane khushir toophan uthechhe (1991)
amar apon gaan (1991)
aamaar nikhila bhubana haaralem(1991)
jaani jani tumi esecho e pathe
ei udasee haoyaar pathe



Suchitra Mitra (1924 - 2011)

Suchita Mitra was daughter of Saurindra Mohan Mukherjee, who, at his time, was a reasonable famous littérateur and close associate of Tagore’s family. She studied in Bethune school and received initial musical training from none other than Amita Sen. 1941 turned out a major turning point in her life as she obtained a scholarship from Shatiniketan and learnt Music from Sagit Bhaban under the tutelage of Indira Devi, Shailaranjan Majumdar, Shantidev Ghosh among others. In 1945 she came back to Calcutta.

She continued her passion for Tagore songs and in 1945 cut her first disc. An almost unheard of style of singing Tagore song emerged. Sophisticated modern pronunciation, total elimination of nasal tone and bold rendition were the hallmarks of the style.

In 1946, she cofounded “Rabitirtha“ along with Dwijen Chowdhury, which became a leading school for Tagore song and dance.

During this phase she was also actively engaged in left politics and especially involved with IPTA, the cultural wing of undivided communist party of India. Privately she continued he education and did her graduation in economics (apparently to understand Marxian economics better).

In early 60’s she joined Rabindra Bharati University as a faculty and retired in 1984.

She sang and recorded a vast number of Tagore songs but the songs that arguably suited her best are songs those require boldness (udatta) and theatrics (natokeeyota).

Some of her recorder songs:

marana re t(n)uhu mamo shyamo samaan (1945)
aaro kichhukhan na hay boshiyo paashe (1946)
tor aapon jane chha(D)bey tore (1947)
nrityero taale taale (1948)
jeeban jakhan shukaye jaay (1948)
jodi tor daak shune keu (1948)
shaarthoko janama aamaar(1948)
kon khyapa sraabon chhute elo(1950)
aaj dhaaner khetey (1950)
kon aalote praaner pradip (1951)
aamaar mukti aaloy aaloy (1952)
arup beena ruper aa(D)aale lukiye baaje (1954)
kothao aamaar haariye jaabaar (1956)
megher pare megh jomechhe (1958)
tumi kon bhangoner pathe (1959)
purbachaler paane taakaai (1960)
krishnakoli aami taarei boli (1961)
aaj aakaasher moner katha (1962)
aaguner paroshmoni (1963)
asrubharaa bedona (1967)
raajpuri-tey baajaay b(N)aashi (1967)
aamaar bichaar tumi karo (1973)
ashim dhan to aachhe (1974)
aa(N)dhaar raatey eklaa paagol (1975)
se kon paagol jaay (1976)
bela gelo tomaar path cheye (1978)
aamaay bolo naa gaahite (1978)
daarun agnibaane re (1979)
nomi nomi charaney (1980)
jodi prem diley naa praane (1981)
paantho tumi paantho janer shakha (1982)
prem eshechhilo (1983)
aamraa shaubaai raajaa (1984)
naho maata naho konya (1986)
maru bijayer ketan u(D)aao (1987)
peyechhi chhuti bidaay deho bhaai (1988)
purbachaler paane taakaai (1989)
chinile na aamaare ki (1990)
aaro kato dure achhe se aanandadham (1991)
tomaar kaachhey ey bar maagi (1994)

Kalim Shrafi (1924 - 2010)

Kalim Sharafi was born in Birbhum district of West Bengal. He became actively involved in freedom movement in his teens and was jailed for some time. Later he joined IPTA till 1948. He started recording revolutionary songs in 1946. In the same year he started learning Tagore songs formally in “Dakshini” from Subha Guhathakurta and Subinoy Roy. Aparently he started teaching in “Dakshini” in two years. He wanted to learn Tagore songs in Shantiniketan, but he was disqualified because of his communist background. During his IPTA stint (and the relationships continued even after leaving IPTA) he was quite close to the eminent cultural figures like Shambhu Mitra, Debabrata Biswas, Jotirindra Moitra who all in some way influenced him in his approach to Tagore songs. In 1950 he moved to Dhaka. His political activism remained unabated as well as his cultural activity. As various times he was involved in senior positions with Radio, Television and Gramophone Company. In is a bit unfortunate that in West Bengal, where he was born and spent first 26 years has practically forgotten him.

Interesting trivia: During the communal riot in 1946 he had to hide for a few days in Debabrata Biswas’s house apparently under his bed!



Some of his recorded songs:

Megh bolechejabo jabo
Ami Takhano chileme Magana
Amar na bola baNir
Ei kathaTi mane rekho
Ami jakhan t(n)aar duyare


Kanika Bandopadhyay (1924 - 2000)

Short Bio: Kanika was born in Sonamukhi, Bankura. Her father was working in Visva Bharati and after a few years stay in Bishnupur, Kanika started her schooling in Shantiniketan. She was born Anima, Tagore changed her name to Kanika. From childhood her exceptional musical talent was clear and Tagore himself used to take special interest about her progress in learning his songs from Salajaranjan, Indira Devi and others in Sangit Bhavan. In 1938 she cut her first disc. It was not Tagore songs but Bengali modern song. This fact had apparently made Tagore sad. Kanika tried to make amendments by recording Tagore songs in the same year and deciding not to record modern songs again. She recorded her first few records with Hindustan Records but from 1942 she almost exclusively recorded in HMV label.

In 1943 she joined Visva Bharati Sangit Bhavan as teacher and retired in 1984 as Principal.

Among the Tagore songs exponents who were part and parcel of Sangit Bhavan she was clearly the most popular. For that matter, she was among the all time most popular exponents of Tagore songs. Her high pitched rich tuneful (albeit a bit nasal) voice clearly shows her rich classical training. She was that kind of singer who quickly takes the listener to a world of music where tunes and melody reign over the words.

Though she was quite versatile, the kind of songs which suited her style best are melancholic / classical based / tappa angik etc.

In spite of her celebrity status she was very shy and uncomfortable in unfamiliar gatherings (even audience).

Interestingly one of her most famous recorded songs “anadadhara bahichhe bhubane” was not the tune which Tagore gave. She learnt it from Ramesh Chandra Bandopadhyay, who was not aware of the tune that Tagore had set and taught Kanika the original Malkosh tune. It is rather unfortunate most people do not know the original tune nor do they know that the popular tune is not Tagore’s. Probably the popularity of the song made visva bharati to include it in the official notation of Tagore songs.

Kanika Bandopadhyay's partial discography

se amar gopan katha(1949)
ami takhan chhilem magan(1950)
neel digante oi phooler aagun laglo (1952)
bimalo anande jago(1953)
amar milan laagi (1955)
anandadhara bahichhe bhubane(1956)
amar na-bala banir(1957)
aaj jyotsnarate sabai(1958)
purnachander mayay aaji (1960)
chokh je oder chhute chale go (1961)
tari amar hathyath dube jay (1962)
madhur,tomar sesh je (1966)
baje karun sure hai dure(1967)
tomaay natun kore paabo bole (1968)
hridaynandan bone nibhrita (1969)
ami keboli swapan karechhi bapan (1970)
phoole phoole dhale dhale(1971)
dinguli mor sonar khanchay(1973)
e parabase rabe ke (1977)
din sesher ranga mukul (1978)
tabu mone rekho (1979)
ami rupe tomay bholabo na (1980)
mor probhater ei pratham kshaner(1986)
aro aghat saibe amar
dure kothai dure dure
matir pradeep khani
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