Best film songs based on classical ragas

November 7, 2011

Guest article by Subodh Agrawal

(My friend Subodh Agrawal is a great music lover and a keen follower of my blog. He once suggested I write on films songs based on classical ragas. This was already in my mind, but then I realised Subodh is much better equipped to do it. I am grateful that he accepted my request to do a guest series of articles on this theme. This curtain raiser showcasing his favourite 10 iconic songs on different ragas is delightful to read not only because of his deep insight but also for his fluent and witty style of writing. I am sure there are many more to come from his pen. – AK)

Classical RagasI was trying to motivate AK to do a few lists on songs based on ragas. He bounced it back to me, thanks to some pretensions I have of knowing something about classical music. I have accepted the commission with some reluctance, being well aware of how little I actually know about it.

I had first thought of doing a list like ‘My 10 favourite songs in raga XYZ’. I may yet get around to doing that for the major ragas music directors of Hindi film industry love – likes of Bhairavi, Yaman, Malkauns, Darbari, Pilu etc. What I have chosen to do now is to list ten iconic songs based on classical ragas that don’t have such large repertoires of film songs. Years back when I was flirting with classical music and trying to get a feel for different ragas, these songs were used by my friend and teacher Pankaj Sharan to help me get that feel.

1. Raga Jaijaiwanti: Manmohana bade jhoothe by Lata Mangeshkar from Seema (1955), lyrics Shailendra, music Shankar Jaikishan

The first of these iconic songs is Manmohna bade jhoote from Seema. Raga Jaijaiwanti is easy to recognize – thanks to its pakad or catch-phrase – rising from ni, just touching ga and then coming to rest on re: the final ‘na’ of ‘Manmoha-n-a-a’ illustrates that. This movement gives this raga a nice teasing quality – which has been put to good use by Shankar Jaikishan in this song that combines bhakti and shringar rasas:

The original composition of Ram Dhun is in raga Jaijaiwanti. The popular version misses out most of the nuances of the raga, but this rendering by Pandit DV Paluskar is an excellent presentation:

2. Raga Bageshree: Radha na bole na bole re by Lata Mangeshkar from Azad (1955), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music C Ramchandra

I had a tough time choosing between Jaag dard-e ishq jaag and Radha na bole na bole re as my iconic song for Bageshree. Ultimately I have opted for the latter, as it stays closer to the standard format of the raga. In any case, this was the song my friend used to help me into the nuances of this raga. A treat for those fans of Songs of Yore who missed it in AK’s post on C Ramachandra:

Like most great ragas Bageshree can be used to express a variety of moods. The song above presents its playful mood. The classical piece below shows what this raga can do to express yearning and pathos. Malini Rajurkar sings a composition that was made famous by the late Kumar Gandharva:

3. Raga Bhimpalasi: Beena madhur mdhur kachhu bol by Saraswati Rane from Ram Rajya (1943), lyrics Ramesh Gupta, music Shankarrao Vyas

I have often wondered why raga Bhimpalasi has such a martial and masculine name, because it is one of the sweetest sounding ragas. My friend had used E ri main to prem diwani to introduce me to this raga, but then I discovered Beena madhur madhur kachhu bol by Saraswati Rane for Ramrajya in his collection of old 78 rpm records and was completely mesmerized by it. According to Wikipedia Saraswati Rane was born as Sakina, daughter of legendary Ustad Abdul Karim Khan– doyen of the Kirana Gharana. Her mother Tarabai later separated from Ustad ji and reverted to Hindu names for her children. Her brother Sureshbabu Mane and sister Hirabai Barodekar also distinguished themselves in classical music. So here it is – one of the most haunting melodies from the golden era:

Beena madhur mdhur kuchh bol

Now you may want to hear Ustad Abdul Karim Khan himself render the same raga:

Abdul Karim Khan

4. Raga Bhopali: Jyoti kalash chhalke by Lata Mangeshkar from Bhabhi Ki Chudyan (1961), lyrics Narendra Sharma, music Sudhir Phadke

Bhopali is a subset of my favourite raga Yaman. It is essentially Yaman without the fourth and seventh note. Doing so takes away some of the gravity of Yaman and retains a feeling of pure joy. Another raga from the same family – Shudh Kalyan – omits these two notes in ascending movements, and includes them in descending ones and the mood falls somewhere between Bhopali and Yaman. Pandit Omkar Nath Thakur, in fact, didn’t like the name Shudh Kalyan and insisted on calling it Bhoop Kalyan. For me the iconic composition in Bhopali is the famous Jyoti kalash chhalke composed by Sudhir Phadke from Bhabhi ki Chudiyan:

I was with a lot of Maharashtrian friends when I was learning the rudiments of classical music. They introduced me to Ghanashyam Sundara from the 1951 Marathi film Amar Bhupali. Some of them claimed that this song was the inspiration for Jyoti Kalash Chaalke. Listen to the song and make your own judgment:

Ghanshaym sundara sindura by Panditrao Nagarkar and Lata Mangeshkar from Amar Bhupali (1951), music Vasant Desai

5. Raga Hameer: Madhuban mein Radhika nachee re by Mohammad Rafi from Kohinoor (1960), lyrics Shakeel Badayuni, music Naushad

Raga Hameer was introduced to the masses by Madhuban mein Radhika nachi re. It remains to this day the most complete and authentic presentation of this raga in film music. Let the song speak for itself:

Years back, long before I developed an ear for classical music, I had read an article in a magazine on Khansaheb Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. A line remained in my mind – हमीर तो बड़े लोग गाते हैं, लेकिन गुलाम अली तो बस गुलाम अली हैं. I couldn’t find a recording of Khansaheb’s Hameer in the days of vinyl records and tapes. Internet has proved more resourceful:

6. Raga Hamsadhwani: Ja tose nahin bolun Kanhaiya by Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar from Parivaar (1956), lyrics Shailenra, music Salil Chaudhary

Now a raga from the South. Hamsadhwani is very popular in Carnatic music and I understand no concert in the South is complete without a rendition of the famous composition Vaathapi Ganapathim, which was adapted in the film Parivar as Ja tose nahin bolun kanhaiya.

Hamsadhwani was a favourite raga of Ustad Ameer Khan and he did a lot to popularize it in the North. Here is a tarana by him in this raga:

7. Raga Kalawati: Kahe tarsaye jiyara by Usha Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle from Chitralekha (1964), lyrics Sahir Ludhiyanvi, music Roshan

Another raga from the south – Kalawati. Kahe tarsaye jiyara is the iconic composition in this raga; though another famous one is Koi sagar dil ko behlata nahin. I am presenting the former, as to me it captures the mood of the raga much better (Koi Sagar has some elements of Janasammohini in it). Roshan has done a great job – as always:

A little change in the structure of Kalawati – addition of ‘re’ in the descending movement – changes it into the appropriately named Janasammohini – immortalized by Pandit Ravishankar for Anuradha in Haye re wo din kyun na aye – a song that has never left the top five positions in the list of my all time favorites. I wish to share with you here is a Shabad from Gurbani in Kalawati – Re man aiso kar sanyasa. This recording is in the voice of Asha Bhosle, as taken for the Punjabi Film Nanak naam jahaaz hai. One of the most appealing aspects of Sikhism for a non-Sikh is the quality of Sikh devotional music. I have to thank my colleague KBS Sidhu for posting the link on Facebook:

8. Raga Gaud Malhar: Garjat barsat saawan ayo re by Suman Kalyanpur and Kamal Barot from Barsaat Ki Raat (1960), lyrics Sahir Ludhiyanavi, music Roshan

Malhar has spawned many variants. The most well known is Miyan ki Malhar. I learnt only recently that Miyan ki Malhar is not the original Malhar, but a variant evolved by Tansen. Today when one simply says Malhar one means Miyan ki Malhar. The original Malhar is now known as Shudh Malhar. There are very few recordings in it. There are many others – Des Malhar, Gaud Malhar, Ramdasi Malhar etc. Gaud Malhar has two famous songs that sound practically the same – Garjat barsat saawan aayo re from Barsaat ki Raat, and Garjat barsat bheejat aayi lo from Malhar – both composed by Roshan. The ghazal Jurm-e ulfat pe hamein log sazaa dete hain from Anarkali is also supposed to be based on Gaud Malhar, though I confess I couldn’t identify the raga on hearing it. It sounded more like Chhayanat to me, with some extra notes thrown in. Here, anyway, is the song from Barsaat ki Raat:

Now listen to Pandit Jasraj present the same raga:

9. Raga Kedar: Darshan do Ghnashyam by Hemant Kumar, Mana Dey and Sudha Malhotra from Narsi Bhagat (1957), lyrics Gopal Singh ‘Nepali’, music Ravi

Kedar is another raga, like Yaman and Bhopali,that combines the elements of shant, bhakti and shringar rasa. The iconic song is Darshan do Ghanshyam form Narsi Bhagat. Other songs in this raga are Hamko man ki shakti dena from Guddi and Main pagal mera manwa pagal by Talat Mahmood from Ashiana. None of the others, however, come close to Darshan do Ghanshyam with the voices of Hemant Kumar, Sudha Malhotra and Manna Dey beautifully complementing each other:

Of the classical recordings I found on Youtube this one by Ustad Rashid Khan sounded best to me:

10. Raga Ahir Bhairav: Poochho na kaise meine rain bitayee by Manna Dey from Meri Surat Teri Aankhen (1961), lyrics Shailendra,music SD Burman

Earlier I remarked on the name of Bhimpalasi and the mismatch between its mood and its name. There is no such mismatch for Bhairav. The mood of the raga in its pure classical form is very much what its name suggests – ponderous, somber and overpowering. Think of Raat bhar ka hai mehmaan andhera – although some websites suggest that it is not Bhairav but Jogiya. Music directors have, however, used Bhairav to create some serene and pleasing compositions like Jago mohan pyare from Jaagte raho, and Man re hari ke gun ga from Musafir, by taking some liberties with its movement. Among Bhairav’s variants Bairagi Bhairav is what its name suggests. Nat Bhairav can actually be joyful. Ahir Bhairav, on the other hand, can be very poignant as Poochho na kaise maine rain bitayee from Meri Surat Teri Aankhen amply proves. A strong contender for the title of the best Raga based song from films:

Sanjeev Abhyankar started off by modeling himself on Pandit Jasraj, but now he has evolved his own distinctive style. Here is his rendition of Ahir Bhairav. It sounds beautiful in his rich sonorous voice:

That brings me to the end of this list. This is the first time I have written something – other than notes on official files – that was meant to be read by others. If you like it please thank AK for motivating me.

One more thing: while searching for classical pieces on Bhopali I came across this recording on Youtube by Ustad Sayeeduddin Dagar. I didn’t include it in the section on the raga because it is long and slow. Moreover the dhrupad style of singing is not easy to appreciate for everyone. I would, however, strongly recommend that you try out this recording when you have some free time to yourself and just allow it to caress your mind. I have heard other members of the Dagar family and I can say without hesitation that they are the best practitioners of music as a form of prayer and meditation:

A more accessible but classically flawless composition is the famous Sahela re by Kishori Amonkar:

{ 221 comments… read them below or add one }

201 ksbhatia January 5, 2015 at 12:12 am

Subodh aggrawal ‘ji , Entering this post after a long time . I wish to know the ragas of two of my fav Lataji’s classic songs : 1 ” O more sawale salone piya tujhe milne ko tarse jiya ” from Kanhaiya ….and…. 2. ” Murli … murli baren bahi o kanahaiya tori murli baren bahi ” from New delhi [ old movie ] .

202 Subodh Agrawal January 5, 2015 at 8:18 am

Dear Mr Bhatia, ‘Murli bairan bhayi’ is in Pilu. I can’t place ‘O mere sanware salone piya’. The mukhda suggests Sarang but then it departs from it in the stanza. Could be some raga I don’t know, or simply a mix of ragas.

203 Aparna Sridhar January 9, 2015 at 4:30 pm


I am editing a magazine called Saamagaana The First Melody. I request permission to use this blog for our magazine with credit given to the author and the blog.


204 AK January 9, 2015 at 11:35 pm

Thanks for your interest. I have sent you a mail.

205 Ashok Kumar Chatterjee February 11, 2015 at 6:18 am

Subbodhji, very difficult job to select the best classical song. I am torn between the Poochhona kaise or the fabulous Ketaki gulab Juhi in Basant Bahar. There is no better classical singer in films than Manna Dey Saab. He has even come close to Bhimsenji in that song!
Of course the Famous Raag Desi composition by Naushad in Baiju Bawara with Pt Paluskar and UStad Amir Khan also is compelling.
Love your post. Only sorry that the new film music is so horrible. These people are destroying our common culture.

206 Achintya Prahlad February 20, 2015 at 2:01 am

Dear Sir,

I would like to point out that Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram is based on Raag Gara and not Jaijaiwanti.


207 Subodh Agrawal February 20, 2015 at 3:15 pm

@Achintya Prahlad. The confusion between Jaijaiwanti and Gara has been discussed at length in comments 182 to 186. I don’t claim to be an expert, and Gara confuses me a lot – as I have admitted earlier. My take on this issue is that the original DV Paluskar bhajan is very much in Jaijaiwanti, while the popular version today has flattened out most of its characteristic movements and made it sound like Gara. I could, of course, be wrong.

208 Achintya Prahlad February 20, 2015 at 4:43 pm

@Subodh Agrawal: Thank you sir for your reply. Pt Paluskar’s alaap was most certainly in Jaijaiwanti, while the bhajan itself sounds more like Gara.

209 devendra February 22, 2015 at 2:57 am

very nice…I don’t know why I didn’t come to know about this site… best wishes

210 devendra February 22, 2015 at 3:07 am

superb…I don’t know how come I was not aware of this web site! you provide useful knowledge about raagas and songs… thank s .. devendra

211 Subodh Agrawal February 22, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Thank you Devendra and welcome to SoY.

212 Kamlesh Kapur February 28, 2015 at 9:57 am

In Bhopali, there is an old song from film Lahore (1949?). Dunia hamare pyar ki yuohin jawan rahe.
In Bageshree, a great song by Sehgal comes to mind
Kadam chale aage, man pache bhage

213 Ramesh Phadke February 28, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Dear Subodhji, I remember people calling Mohe Panaghat Pe raga as Pancham se Gara and not just Gara. So what is the difference?
Raghupati Raghav is jaijaiwanti as you rightly say, at least the Paluskar version.
best regards

214 Subodh Agrawal February 28, 2015 at 5:38 pm

Dear Kamleshji, thanks for ‘Duniya hamre pyar ki yun hi jawan rahe’. I heard it for the first time. It is quite true to Bhopali – but for the first ‘..rahe’ in the mukhda where a little touch of ‘ni’ brings in a touch of Hamir.

‘Kadam chale aage’ is Desh. In fact it is covered in my post on Desh and Tilak Kamod.

215 Subodh Agrawal February 28, 2015 at 5:46 pm

Ramesh, the last word on Gara and its different forms has been said on Deepak Raja’s World of Hindustani Music, which was referred earlier in the discussion with Latha. The link is reproduced for facility of reference:

I don’t know Gara well enough to decide whether ‘Mohe panghat pe’ is Gara or Pancham se Gara.

216 Devendra February 28, 2015 at 11:54 pm

When there is a mention of film Lahore, there is another beautiful and very poignant song…Bahare phir bhi aayegi, magar hum tum judaa honge…superb composition of late Naushad sahib.

217 rinku April 1, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Your blog is extremely good as it helps people like me to know more about the ragas and their use of the notes and more so about their use.A slight change in use of the same notes as in the badi and sambadi can make such a huge difference. indian music is incredible thank you

218 AK April 1, 2015 at 11:35 pm

Welcome to the Songs of Yore, and thanks a lot for your appreciation.

219 Subodh Agrawal April 2, 2015 at 7:23 am

Thank you Rinku.

220 neelakandan April 13, 2015 at 12:57 pm

namaskar.itna hai pyar from film sooraj is based on which raga

221 Subodh Agrawal April 14, 2015 at 8:01 pm

Welcome neelakandan. This song sounds a lot like Yaman, though not a very pure one.

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