Wishing everyone a very Happy Janmashtami with best songs on Krishna and the flute
Thanks to several TV serials, Amar Chitra Katha mythology comics, and other sources everyone knows Lord Krishna story by heart. The cruel King Kans marries off his dear sister Devki to his close friend Vasudev (वसुदेव), and decides to drive them in his chariot himself to her marital home, when he hears a prophecy from the sky, You fool! The eighth child of this couple would be the cause of your death. An enraged Kans takes out his sword to slay them when his sister Devki pleads with him, Brother! you need fear only the eighth child. Pregnancy cannot be hidden, just take away the eighth child, and please spare our lives. A worried Kans puts them in prison anyway under his guards. And not taking any chance that the eighth child may decide to be born randomly, kills each newborn by smashing its head on stone block.
On the 8th day of the dark fortnight of the month Bhadrapad (भाद्रपद) – 8 days after Rakhi – when Lod Krishna is born, miraculously the guards fall asleep and the prison’s gates open. Vasudev carries the child in a basket on his head. The mighty Yamuna river becomes calm and makes a parting through which Vasudev walks across to Nandgaon and hands over the newly born child to his friend Nand whose wife Yashoda has just given birth to a girl. He quietly switches the child, Vasudev comes back to the prison and puts the child beside a sleeping Devki. Next morning Kans is alerted about a birth, and as he smashes the child on the stone, she slips off into the sky, takes the form of a divine goddess and mocks him, You idiot! Devki’s eighth child is safe and is being brought up by Nand-Yashoda in Braj. Krishna grows into a naughty child who is a nightmare to his mother and other milkmaids as he steals the butter churned by them. Along the way he performs his duties as the eighth avatar of Vishnu by slaying all the demons Kans sent to kill him. In adolescence he is a charmer with the flute, sending hordes of gopis into trance as he performs a celestial Raasleela making each of them believe he is with her.
His call of duty takes him to Mathura where he slays his evil uncle Kans and restores the throne to Kans’s father, Ugrasen. Krishna himself becomes an important person in the court. Facing several attacks by Jarasandh, he along with his entire Yadav clan leaves for Dwarka where he sets up his divine kingdom and rules for several years. He is called upon to help his righteous cousins, the Pandavs, in Mahabharat, to help them through myriad troubles created by their evil Kaurav cousins, and protect Draupadi’s honour as she was being disrobed by Duryodhan and Dushashan in the open court. Krishna is Arjun’s cousin, a dear friend, and in the Great Battle, he is Pandav’s chief strategist and Arjun’s charioteer. When Arjun is confused and is trembling to see his kins in the massed army on both sides, Krishna removes his confusion and doubts with his revered Gita sermon in which he also shows his cosmic form.
Everyone knows this trite narration. But what many do not know is that the Krishna legend does not appear in our ancient texts in the above linear form. As a matter of fact the earliest appearance of Krishna is in Mahabharat (5th century BC) as a fully grown Dwarkadheesh and the incarnation of the Supreme Being who who helps pandavs and preaches the Gita on the battlefield. I am ignoring the earlier reference to Krishna in a somewhat undeveloped form in Chhandogya (छांदोग्य) Upanishad (7th century BC).
What about his child form, maakhan chor etc? Two other sources are often acknowledged for early Krishna lore – Harivansh which is a much later addendum to Mahabharat, and Bhagvat Puran (भागवत पुराण) which is dated about the 9th century AD. Some earlier Purans, too, such as the Vishnu Puran (regarded as a Mahapuran) gives the description of all the avatars of Vishnu, and is primarily devoted to Krishna. Bhagavat Puran describes Krishna’s Raasleela too with gopis and Radha, but in a sacred way.
Krishna has earned various monikers for his leelas – माखनचोर, मनमोहन, रणछोड़, मुरलीधर, छलिया, रसिया. Effervescence of Krishna as the Supreme Divine, his pranks as a child, his dalliances with cow-maids as an adolescent, his unabashed Raasleela with his chosen one Radha appeared much later during the Bhakti movement in East, North and West India, than the earliest appearance of a fully developed Krishna in the epic period. Jayadev and his Geet Govind (12th century AD) with his lyrical and sensuous description of Krishna-Gopis-Radha Raasleela became an inspiration for many poets, such as Vidyapati, Chandidas and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, to view love and romance as a way to reach the divine. Jaydev’s ashtapadi (set of eight verses) became central to Odissi dance.
Surdas (16th century) is a milestone in Krishna lore. He chose to write in the local dialect Brajbhasha, and his descriptions of Krishna’s Baal-leela and romantic dalliance with gopis and Radha are integral to popular culture, music, dance and painting. Something which is so central to popular culture cannot escape the attention of our films and they have given numerous unforgettable songs of various facets of Krishna. Krishna iconography shows him with his flute, the oldest musical instrument prevalent in all parts of the world. Made from bamboo, the music is created by blowing wind into its hollow cylindrical body with a number of holes along its length which create different notes by closing and opening them.
Flute is an intimate musical instrument as it touches the lips of the player. In Krishna-Radha romantic poetry this aspect of the flute becomes an object of jealousy of the gopis and cause of their pain. The famous Muslim Sufi poet “Raskhan” (16th – 17th century) in one of his verses describes that the gopi, as a part of play-acting, is willing to don Krishna’s peacock-feather, dress, mannerisms, but would never put the flute on her lips, as it had touched the lips of Krishna.
मोर पखा सिर ऊपर राखिहौं गुंज की माला गरे पहिरौंगी
ओढ़ि पिताम्बर लै लकुटी…..
या मुरली मुरलीधर की अधरान धरी अधरा न धरौंगी.
(But the flute of Murlidhar which kissed his lips, I would not put on my lips.)
With this I am fulfilling a long-pending request of the readers to write on film songs based on Krishna. I would also include songs which have Krishna’s flute, known variously as बांसुरी, बंसी, मुरली. There are many songs, not based on Krishna story, in which the flute sound is very prominent – you can think of Main piya teri tu mane ya na mane, Tere bin soone nain hamaare, or many songs of Roshan – I would have to sadly give such songs a miss.
Lovable naughty child, maakhanchor
1. Ja re ja re wo maakhanchor by Lata Mangeshkar and Rafi from Champakali (1957), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music Hemant Kumar
The child maakhanchor Krishna is a favourite of dancers as well as film and classical singers. KL Saigal’s Maiya mori main nahin maakhan khayo (Bhakt Surdas, 1942) is iconic. Pt Omkarnath Thakur’s rendering of this verse Bahiravi, in which the child Krishna pleads innocence before his mother despite the evidence of his crime smeared on his face is out of this world.
In this Lata Mangeshkar-Rafi duet, lip synched by Suchitra Sen and Bharat Bhushan, the maakhanchor is not a child, but it is used here as a fond term for the lover. You can’t miss the beautiful pieces of flute. Flute was a great embellishment in many songs composed by Hemant Kumar. You may recall the mesmerising flute prelude in Lata Mangeshkar solo, Chhup gaya koi re door se pukar ke from this film. The songs also uses terms like chhaliya and rasiya.
2. Daiya re daiya Yashoda maiya isko sambhal, bada natkhat hai tero Nandlal by Lata Mangeshkar from Aasra (1966), music Laxmikant Pyarelal
Ameeta seems to be on test as she sings this song for some guests for approval. In Krishna’s baal-leela there were often occasions when the exasperated milkmaids would bring the boy Krishna pulling his ears to Yashoda Maiya to complain about his pranks. The song also goes into his adolescence when Lord Krishna become a teaser, and makes the gopis restless by his flute playing on the banks of Yamuna. The poor Radha is tormented in virah. With their debut three years ago L-P had reached the top and soon displaced the reigning duo Shankar-Jaikishan. Lata Mangeshkar was in her peak form.
3. Bada natkhat hai re Krishna Kanhaiya ka kare Yashoda maiya by Lata Mangeshkar from Amar Prem (1972), lyrics Anand Bakshi, music RD Burman
Some relationships have no name. A woman may be forced into a brothel, but she does not lose her womanhood. Sharmila Tagore (playing Pushpa) loves Nandu like her own son and she sings this song of maternal love on the theme of the naughty child Krishna. This was the film which had the iconic dialogue, “Pushpa, I hate tears.”
4. Mohe panhat pe Nandlal chhed liyo re by Indubala (NFS c1930s – early 40s)
As Krishna grew his naughtiness and teasing underwent a change. He took to blocking and teasing the gopis when they were coming with gagri filled with water on their head; sometimes he threw pebbles to break their gagri and spill water all over. We all know the iconic Mohe panghat pe Nandlal chhed gayo re sung by Lata Mangeshkar from the film Mughal-e-Azam (1960), ‘written’ by Shakeel Badayuni, composed by Naushad and enacted by Madhubala. The song has acquired an iconic place. It is a traditional bandish; here is my favourite non-film song sung by Indubala between 1930s and early 40s. Born in Amritsar in 1899, she shifted with her mother to Kolkata where she joined theatre, learnt music from some gurus and earned a reputation as a great singer. The link also gives some information about her life.
5. Panghatwa pe Nandlal chhed layi re by Azmat Hussain Khan NFS (1932)
The same thumri was sung perhaps earlier by Ustad Azmat Hussain Khan. The masculine style, his girth and moustaches would remind you of Ustad Faiyaz Khan, the doyen of Agra Gharana.
Adolescent lover, Raasleela with chief consort Radha
6. Kanha bajaye bansuri aur gwale bajaye manjire aur gopiyan naache chhumak chum by Lata Mangeshkar & chorus from Nastik (1954), lyrics Kavi Pradeep, music C Ramchandra
In this song Raasleela is a community affair. Kanha plays the flute, other cowherds manjire, and the gopis dance with joy, watched by others. Nalini Jaywant with her band of sahelis dance a joyous dandiya.
7. Vrindavan ka Krishna Kanhaiya sabki aankhon ka tara by Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar from Miss Mary (1957), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music Hemant Kumar
Krishna is the beloved of all, but this makes the special one jealous, Man hi man kyon jaley Radhika Mohan to hai sabka pyara. This jealousy is all the more pronounced in a much later film, Lagaan (2001) – Madhuban mein jo Kanhaiya kisi gopi se mile, kabhi muskaye, kabhi chhede, kabhi baat kare, Radha kaise na jale. Hemant Kumar himself being an extremely sonorous and melodious singer, Rafi got only about 30 songs to sing for him. But some of these songs would rank among his best. Vrindavan ka Krishna Kanhaiya is one of such great songs, enhanced by the teacher Gemini Ganeshan on the piano and the dancer Jamuna, his pupil dancing to his tune.
8. Muraliya baaje ri Jamuna ke teer by Lata Mangeshkar from Toofan Aur Diya (1956), lyrics Mirabai, music Vasant Desai
The enchanting music of Krishna’s flute draws the devotee to the banks of Yamuna. Mirabai’s song, Nanda’s enacting, Lata Mangeshkar’s singing and Vasant Desai make it a great song. The flute music is superb.
9. Kanha na chhedo na chhedo bansuri re main to aa gayi by Asha Bhosle from Do Phool (1958), lyrics Hasrat Jaipuri, music Vasant Desai
The flute makes the woman lover restless. She pleads with Kanha not to torment her further by the enchanting music of his flute. Vasant Desai again, but now the singer is Asha Bhosle. Naaz’s dancing is outstanding.
10. Chhodo chhodo more bainya saanwre by Suman Kalyanpur from Miyan Biwi Razi (1960), lyrics Shailendra, music SD Burman
The lyrics and the song picturization make it a representative song of Radha-Krishna dalliance. As the abashed lead actors feel shy to express their love this surrogate song by extras comes to their help. The surrogate Radha starts with a slow recital:
Sun O muraliya aai main chupke yahi aparadh kya kam hai
Sach kahti thin sakhiyan mori, bada chhaliya Kishan Mohan hai
And then the beautiful song starts:
Chhodo chhdo mori bainyan saanwre
Laaj ke maare main to paani paani hui jaaun
And the next stanzas capture the popular folklore about Krishna-Radha/Gopi romance, as she admits she can’t help coming everyday on the pretext of taking water. She is aware that this will bring her slander and people will cast aspersions on her. She has committed a mistake to fall in love with him but she is helpless. This theme of badnaami may not be there in our ancient texts, but in popular culture it is quite common. You can compare it with the lyrics of KL Saigal’s NFS, Suno suno he Krishna kaala.
11. Chori chori tori ayi hai Radha kadam ke tale haule haule by Lata Mangeshkar from Hum Hindustani (1960), lyrics Bharat Vyas, music Usha Khanna
Radha becomes restless as she hears Krishna’s flute and is inexorably drawn towards Yamuna bank and leaves in her solah singaar stealthily. Usha Khanna broke the glass ceiling with her first score in Dil De Ke Dekho (1959). The music of the film became a sensation but it had an uncanny resemblance to OP Nayyar’s style. And how she leaves her own mark in Hum Hindustani with some superb melodious songs with no trace of OPN! This song would move your heart with Bharat Vyas’s lyrics – Tu ne chhedi baansuriya, main to hui baawariya – Lata Mangeshkar’s singing and Usha Khanna’s music.
12. Aaj bajaye Kanha baansuri by Gangubai Hangal (Raga Yaman)
The torment felt by the gopis by Kanha’s flute comes out best in Gangubai Hangal’s short piece in Yaman.
13. Ab tere siwa kaun mera Krishna Kanhaiya bhagwan kinare pe laga de mori naiya by Amirbai Karnataki from Kismat (1943), lyrics Kavi Pradeep, music Anil Biswas
Amirbai Karntaki had a natural pathos in her voice which made her apt for singing bhajans. This song of a helpless pleading to the Divine Krishna Kanhaiya is popular even after eighty years.
14. Kanha Kanha aan padi main tere dwar by Lata angeshkar from Shagird (1967), lyrics Majrooh Sultanpuri, music Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Shagird was a fun movie with chulbuli Saira Bano in the female lead. Faced with some problems in her affair she seeks the help of Kanha.
15. Re Kanha naav karo mori paar by Pt. Omkarnath Thakur, bhajan in Mishra Kafi (?), Prasar Bharti archives
But Pt. Omkarnath Thakur is the ultimate in complete surrender before the almighty Kanha. In his bhajans there was an आर्त्त पुकार which brought tears to the eyes of listener. The river (Bhavsagar) is deep but his naav (capability) is tiny and flimsy. How would he ever navigate this treacherous world without His help.
रे कान्हा नाव करो मोरी पार
झिंझरी है नैया गहरी है नदिया
देखो नन्द जी के छैया यशोदा जी के दुलैया
दाऊ जी के भैया
मेरे बापू मैया
कन्हैया मेरी नाव करो पार
Notes, Acknowledgements and Disclaimer
1. The years I have mentioned are generally the accepted historiography. As per the analytical mythology scholars the popular Krishna as the supreme divine who also performed various leelas and miracles is perhaps the result of coalescing various traditions and legends over several centuries. However, the traditional view ascribes greater antiquity to Lord Krishna ascribing his birth to 3228 BC. Thus, we are celebrating 5251st Janmashtami today.
2. I have benefitted from browsing several sites and discussions with my mythologist friends.
3. The song links have been embedded from the YouTube only for the listening pleasure of music lovers. This blog does not claim any copyright over them which vests with the respective owners. Some songs cannot be directly played on third party sites. Their YT links have been given.
4. There is a raging doubt on social media whether Janmashtami is to be celebrated on the 6th or 7th September. Many people would find 7th convenient because of holidays in offices and banks. However, the Bhadrapad Krishna Paksha Ashtami combined with Rohini nakshatra would be on the 6th. Therefore, Krishna’s birth time should be 6th September midnight. I have posted this post on 6.9.2023 at 23.59hrs.