Krishna in Devotion

The French have a lovely expression for when you get a thought which should have come at the right time, instead of later. L’esprit de l’escalier (literally meaning staircase wit) refers to when you are leaving the premises of an important person, only to realise too late you forgot to say or ask something important. We have all had such thoughts after the moment has gone, and I have had my share of them.

In the ‘70s, I was a student leader in my college, where we invited filmmaker-storywriter-actor IS Johar as a Chief Guest at a function. He arrived too early, so my Professor advised me to handle the sudden hospitality. In the 20 minutes we were alone, I praised his cameos in Hollywood films, his satire in a column he wrote for a magazine, and much more. But I forgot to ask him about what I thought was a key issue in the film Nastik (1954), which he had directed. In the film there was a bhajan, written by Kavi Pradeep, composed by C Ramchandra, and rendered by Lata Mangeshkar for the lead actress Nalini Jaywant, Jai jai Ram raghurai. This was sung in a temple. So, in a song in which the opening line refers to Lord Rama, shouldn’t there have been a picture or statue of that Lord? But no image of Lord Rama was shown; instead, there was only a statue of Lord Krishna, whose reference happened in the second line of the song (Jai jai Krishan Kanhai). Now we know that Lord Krishna is an avatar of Lord Rama. But yet, they look different, dress differently, and have different attributes as deities.

As we know, songs are recorded first and filmed later. So we cannot hold the writer responsible for the cinematic oddity in this song. Maestro C Ramchandra was known to need lyrics first. Without lyrics, he just wouldn’t make a song. Lyrics received, he could make the essential music very quickly. So a question enters at this point. Why did Ramchandra position a flute—always associated with Krishna—so prominently in the song, again bearing in mind the first line part mentioned above? If he badly wanted to do so, why didn’t he ask the poet to interchange the first two lines? They still sit in the meter. Further, recording okayed, why didn’t the filmmaker at least put a statue of Rama also in the sets? It’s a small thing, but there’s perhaps a mismatch here between the essential lyrics and the way both the composer and cinematographer took the idea forward. The buck stops at the director, of course, which is why I could have asked IS Johar. Who knows, he may have shared interesting trivia, like that statue broke that morning, and the shoots couldn’t be delayed. Strange things like that have happened.

The great filmmaker BR Chopra had made his debut in Afsana (1951), which was written by the same IS Johar. Chopra went on to make many meaningful and enjoyable films in his career. But he too performed such an oddity in his film Sadhana (1958). There was a bhajan, sung by Geeta Dutt this time, which went thus: Tora manwa kyoon ghabraaye re, laakhon deen dukhiyaare praani jag mein mukti paayen re Ramji ke dwaar se. In the film, Sunil Dutt’s mother Leela Chitnis sings for the distraught Vyjayanthimala, who is facing a statue of Krishna, which gets a lot of screen space in the song, even as others gods are panned cursorily, sitting as they are in frames in a peripheral fashion. This poem was written by Sahir Ludhianvi (lyrics first, always), to be tuned by N Datta only after that. Amazingly, here too, the flute sits centre-stage in the audio scheme of things. As such, here too, questions arise about the mismatch.

There is no question of course that both these were remarkable songs, becoming residents in our hearts for ever so many decades. Lord Krishna too is loved by people of all ages and hues. Here’s why: Children love the little Balkrishna, the cute child loves butter and keeps stealing it from a pot. They find him mischievous, a quality not unknown to them, and they love how he protects all his friends. They love his dancing on the serpent Kaaliya. For the young at heart, he is a romantic. The relationship between Radha and Krishna is at once passionate as it is devotional, and the two become an embodiment of love. In temples across the globe, the two are worshipped together. In politics, wisdom and strategy, there is no better: the Bhagavad Gita tells us all what he advises about how to win a war against heavy odds, but also how to lead a path of righteousness. Pivoted on Krishna, the Bhagavad Gita goes further, by helping us to understand the concepts of Karma (the sum of our deeds) and Dharma (destiny), ethics and philosophy.

His songs too are so pleasing to the ear. Consider just a few:

  • Maiyya mori main naheen maakhan khaayo (Saigal/Bhakt Surdas, 1942)
  • Shyam dil leke rootth gaye (Shamshad/Nishaani, 1942)
  • More to Girdhar Gopal (MS Subbulakshmi/Meera, 1947)
  • Aeri main to prem deewaani (Lata/Naubahar, 1952)
  • Radha ke pyaare Krishan Kanhai (Asha/Amar, 1954)
  • Jhoom jhoom Manmohan re (Hemant Kumar/Biraj Bahu, 1954)
  • Tere phoolon se bhi pyaar (Lata/Nastik, 1954)
  • Jaago Mohan pyaare (Lata/Jagte Raho, 1956)
  • O Krishna bigdi bana le (Lata/Krishna Sudama, 1957)
  • Man re Hari ke gun ga (Lata/Musafir, 1957)
  • Darshan do Ghanshyam nath (Hemant, Sudha, Manna/Narsi Bhagat, 1957)
  • Saanwariya re apni Meera ko bhool na jaana (Suman/Aanchal, 1960)
  • Ghanshyam Ghanshyam Shyam Shyam re (Asha/Apna Haath Jagannath, 1960)
  • Banwaari re (Lata/Ek Phool Chaar Kaante, 1960)
  • Na main dhan chaahoon (Geeta, Sudha/Kaala Bazaar, 1960)
  • Prabhu tero naam (Lata/Hum Dono, 1961)
  • Aayi hoon badi aas liye sharan tumhaari (Geeta/Kaanch Ki Gudiya, 1961)
  • Sab ko naach nachaata (Manna Dey/Kan Kan Mein Bhagwan, 1963)
  • Kaanha Kaanha aan padi main tere dwaar (Lata/Shagird, 1967)
  • Tere naina kyoon bhar aaye (Lata/Geet, 1970)
  • Mose mora Shyam roottha (Lata/Johnny Mera Naam, 1970)
  • Jai Radheshyam (Mukesh/Subhashchandra, 1978)
  • O paalanhaare (Lata, Udit/Lagaan, 2001)
  • Kaanha soja zara (Anushka Shetty, Keeravani, Prabhas, Satyaraj/Bahubali 2—The Conclusion, 2017)

Off-cinema too, there have been so many Krishna bhajans. A sampling:

  • Jamuna ke teer Kaanha aao (Geeta)
  • Kab aoge Krishna Murari (Juthika Roy)
  • Rang de chunariya (Anup Jalota)
  • Shyam se neha lagaaye (Rafi)
  • Tere mandir ka hoon deepak jal raha (Pankaj Mullick)

That said, one’s thoughts go to Meena Kumari whose birthday it is a few days from now, on 1st August. She was excessively fond of Krishna and featured in many devotionals in which we saw Him, none of which were in the list above. Here are some:

  • Brindaban ki kunj gali mein (Lata/Bandhan, 1956)
  • Mere devta mujhko dena sahaara (Lata/Bandhan, 1956)
  • Bade bhole ho, haste ho sun ke duhaayi (Lata/Ardhangini, 1959)
  • Meri laaj rakho Girdhaari (Lata/Bhabhi Ki Chudiyan, 1961)
  • Krishna o kaale Krishna (Lata/Main Bhi Ladki Hoon, 1964)
  • Manmohan Krishna Murari (Lata/Saanjh Aur Savera, 1964)
  • Tora man darpan kehlaaye (Asha/Kaajal, 1965)
  • Sun le pukaar (Asha/Phool Aur Patthar, 1966)
  • Paar laga de mere sapnon ki naiyya (Lata/Chandan Ka Palna, 1967)

Meena Kumari was a tragedienne who many said was born to suffer, because both her film roles and real life offered her plenty of suffering. She lies buried at the Khoja Shia cemetery at Mazagon in South Mumbai. Hope she has finally found her peace.


Originally published on 29 July 2018 in DNA Jaipur page 13

14 Replies to “Krishna in Devotion”

  1. Krishna in devotion – great write up Sir. When I think about the songs with name Krishna/Shyam/Murliwale/Giridhar/Govind/Chhaliya. I find various expressions. And the lyricists often penned the feelings as per the name of Krishna used in the song. Chhaliya will always come in context of chal, Meera ‘s bhajan epitomized love whereas Rama could only be seen in one form – the saviour, his character could not have been changed that’s why perhaps Krishna songs outnumbered Rama songs in films….even the lyricists too could never fathom another image of Rama…. Gali gali Sita dekhi aaj mere Desh mein, Ram dekha Sita dekhi aaj naye bhesh mein…..even in song Rama in new avatar was not acceptable.
    Very thought provoking article Manek Sir.

    1. That’s food for my thoughts, Gaurav…I will have to visit Chhalia again to get the import of that Rafi song. Wonder if he is speaking about good people, Godly too, living like common people…thanks for meaningful inputs _()_

  2. Sorry, this is a rather late response.

    Read the article twice. Masterly, the way you have meandered, consciously, from a minor incident – Rama-Krishna mismatch – to build a narrative specific to Krishna in the Hindi cinema.

    The Sadhana part sent me thinking. What if Sahir had instead written tora manva kyon ghabraye re krishna ji ke dwar par ? It would have been in sync with the idol in the sanctum sanctorum but would have still sounded a little odd. In Uttar Pradesh, Rama is ubiquitous, more than a deity. He is a point of repose, a manner of speaking – often without a significance – in the popular lingo, as in chalat musafir moh ……ho Rama. He is invoked in many contexts not necessarily with any religious sentiment

    However, Rajani ( of Sadhana ) is at temple threshold with a dilemma, a religious dilemma – to be or not to be ! Ironically, a prostitute is not supposed to distinguish between a Ram or a Shyam. What matters is the fees. But Rajani is reformed, no longer a prostitute at heart, nor in her deeds. Her fidelity towards her man is total. How can she, then, invoke the lover Krishna who was believed to have under his keep thousands of concubines ? Sahir perhaps was conscious of this.

    My humble view : Rama is a generic term, subsuming all specific deities. He is like Hari. Please recall the immortal bhajan man tadpat hari darshan ko aaj…… though the idol that emerges eventually is that of dark resplendent Krishna !

    Meena’s Krishna connect is so informative, and that she was a Shia is a revelation.

    An extremely engaging and thought-provoking article . Thanks.

    1. “My humble view: Rama is a generic term, subsuming all specific deities”…uff, that’s wonderful Vijay! I accept your view. So in a larger context, you are of course right. Just that for plebian folks like me, there is an audio-video disconnect, which I exploited. I think I may be behaving like the British, dividing Hindus and Muslims, coz the latter were saying “Hum ek hain” 🙂

  3. Just lovely. Not sure what else to say. Krishna leaves me speechless most days. Now, this too. I was doing a mini-research on my Kanha 🙂 (not Lata’s buddy :)), and found a few songs from the 30s also feature him! That was a surprise!
    And the Raj Kapoor-sung ‘O duniya ke rehne waalo bolo, kahaan gaya chitchor’ also! He sure has a lot of fans!
    Superb, Manek! As usual.
    Many thanks!

    1. “My Kanha” 🙂 It seems many many people love him. Women more, perhaps 🙂

      Thanks Monica _()_ 🙂

  4. I had a chance encounter with Inder Sen Johar at the Irani Cafe [ forgot the name ] , at the corner of Lotus Court where he stayed and which now is an Udupi restaurant -[ last seen ].

    Was having my afternoon lunch and he came in, dressed in a white Kurta/Pyjama with a typical jholi [ cotton tote bag] on his shoulders like the commie poets ,used to dangle on their shoulders [ or should I correct it to all Writers ] .

    He just wanted to have a cup of Irani Chai

    I was an ardent fan of his for the Q & A in Illustrated Weekly named Idiot Box. So we discussed the Idiot Box Q & A.
    The discussion veered to Bewakoof [ he produced and directed it along with acting in it ].He told us that the Boot Polish -Kishore Kumar and he [ Bom Bom and Tom Tom ] applied on their faces for a shot in the film took them 4 hours to get rid off.

    Of course I paid for his tea.

    I think there should not be much ado about Ram and Krishna as interchanging deities. Not only are their names chanted unitedly, but the persons are also named similarly [ Ramkrishna Paramhans being the most worshiped and celebrated ]..

    It is said about Sahir that after falling out with O P Nayyar [Naya Daur ], he took N Datta under his protection and presented him to B R Chopra as M D, with the rider that Sahir will be paid Rs.1.5 lakhs for the lyrics and N Datta- Rs. 1 lakh as composer.With this agreement the jodi flourished [ Sadhna, Chandrakanta , Dhool ka Phool , Didi , Dharamputra ,Chandi ki Deewar , Light House and more]. Of course all were not B R Films .More about N Datta later
    The Sadhna song brought out all this Manek.

    Meena Kumari , was the quintessential devotee of Krishna on screen . She epitomised , the devotional women of India.

    You can dwell on some other festivals of India [ if have not done so yet], Manek , which have a plethora dedicated songs.

    1. Dilip, your memories deserve a book! I recall your meeting with Nirupa Roy in her South Bombay home. She had just come out of a swimming pool, and you were a young man with adrenalin pumping…how you survived that beats me 🙂 And you survived Mr Johar too 🙂 Salute boss!

  5. What a brilliant piece.. transporting from I S Johar all the way to Meena Kumari, with Krishna as the via media. Loved the transport. It was amazing to discover through you how Meena Kumari loved Krishna and the lovely Krishna songs that featured in her movies. Is there a topic that you are unable to come up with? Each week, you deliver a new mini “granth” Thank you tons!

    1. “Mini Granth”…wow Sneh, I’ll save that for a rainy day _()_ 🙂
      But frankly, my spark is going 🙂

  6. Loved the piece, my buddy Krishna may not appear in the frame, but one does take the flute as his representative sometimes! Your observations are brilliant, so often the director doesnt pay attention to these details and there is a mix up in the visual which is not in harmony with the lyrics….what stuns me is that week after week you continue to amaze us with the aubjects you choose and the way you handle them!


  7. Loved the piece, my buddy Krishna may not appear in the frame, but one does take the flute as his representative sometimes! Your observations are brilliant, so often the director doesnt pay attention to these details and there is a mix up in the visual which is not in harmony with the lyrics….what stuns me is that week after week u continue to amaze us with the aubjects you choose and the way you handle them! Kudos, Manek, we would be so much poorer without your insightful studies!

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