Best non-film songs of KL Saigal

January 18, 2012

A tribute on his death anniversary January 18

KL SaigalIf you grew up in the radio era and had an ear for music, Saigal-song-a day was a daily ritual – Radio Ceylon would end their programme of old film songs with a Saigal song every morning at 7.57 AM. So by the time I reached college I had fully soaked in Saigal magic. Later when I came across my first Saigal LP, all its iconic songs from films like Devdas, Street Singer, Chandidas, President etc I knew by heart. Yet the song which kept me spellbound and moved me like never before was a non-film song Jhulna jhulao ri. Soon after a friend lent me a whole cassette of his non-film songs. Its anchor song Main baithi thi in two parts mesmerised me. One after the other a whole new world of non-film songs of Saigal opened before me, some of which sounded quite like his film-songs, some others were very different, but they seemed to reach where his film songs could not.

Later I came to know many of these songs were composed and written by him. Saigal was an immensely talented person beyond his acting and singing for which he had become a legend in his life time. Non-film songs gave him a further avenue of expression of his creative energy beyond the confines of a film scene. When I think of Saigal (as also of Pankaj Mullick), I cannot think of his best without including several of his non-film songs.

Saigal sang only 185 songs (142 in films, 43 non-films) out of which Hindi songs are only 147 (110 films and 37 non-films). Later singers sang in thousands, but he remains the pole star. He was the idol of everyone. Every great singer copied his style in the beginning. The pathos in his voice, sweetness, effortless singing of classical Ragas without any formal training make him an unparalleled genius.  (Sudhir Kapur/Atul have done great service to Saigal lovers by putting all his non-film songs on Atul’s site with lyrics, excellent write-ups and translation of several songs).

Here are my 10 favourite non-film songs of KL Saigal as my tribute on his death anniversary, January 18.

1. Jhulna jhulao ri

This is Saigal’s first recorded song in 1932. Thus it precedes all his known songs, yet I came across this song much later than his famous film songs. And I have become enchanted with this song, set in Raga Asavari, ever since. When he repeats नन्हीं नन्हीं बूंदनियां his voice sounds like powerful plucking of a string instrument like the sitar. Then his aakaar taan towards the end makes you feel it went on forever. Here is Saigal’s earliest song which is unmatched after 80 years.

2. Main baithi thi, lyrics KL Saigal, music KL Saigal

Saigal’s creative urge finds the fullest expression in this song which is not only sung by him, but also written and composed by him. The song is about twice the normal length of a song which reflects his unhurried creation. As a matter of fact, each word and each syllable is pronounced in a deliberate and stretched manner; e.g. when he sings Main baithi thi you imagine a lady sitting in a garden in a pensive mood, when her sakhi comes upon her and asks her what is bothering her. The final stanza gives the profound message that you have to close your external eyes, and look inside you where you would find the one you are seeking.

मैं बैठी थी फुलवारी में
एक सखी आ गयी और बोली
क्या सोच है तुमको बोलो तो, हूं बहन तुम्हारी मुंहबोली
कुछ कह ना सकी मुंह तकत रही, नैनों से चली अंसुवन टोली
चलते चलते वो ही बोल गयी
सखी कौन देस राजे पियरा

वो सुनते ही खामोश हुई और नैन भए बौरान सखी
मैं चाहा उसको चेत करूं था जाने उसको मान सखी
जब होश हुई तब कहने लगी यही था मुझको भी ध्यान सखी
और ये ही मैं कहनेवाली थी
कौन देस राजे पियरा
सखी कौन देस राजे पियरा

कुछ ना समझी क्या कहे सखी, बिन जाने ढूंढ़न चल निकली
जंगल उपवन त्रिभुवन ढूंढ़ा, पर कहीं ना उसकी टेर मिली
आखिर थककर मैं बैठ गई और लगी पूछने कहो कोई
सुंदर छवि जिसकी कहते हैं, वो कौन देस राजे पियरा
सखी कौन देस राजे पियरा

तब मन ने मीठी बात कही, क्यों तूने इतनी बात गढ़ी
घर बैठे ही पा सकती थी, मैं विधि बताऊं वो क्या थी
बाहर के नैना मूंद सखी और नैन हृदय के खोल सखी
अब अपने मुंह से बोल सखी
सखी कौन देस राजे पियरा

3. Suno suno hey Krishna kala

This classic Krishna bhajan belongs to the strand of Bhakti tradition in which the poet imagines himself as a female lover. You find similar form of expression in Sufi tradition, such as songs of Amir Khusro (मैं तो पिया से नैना लड़ा आई रे, आज रंग है etc). The female lover surrenders herself unquestioningly and demands nothing in return. But there are societal mores which cast aspersion on such love. This bhajan depicts the pain and dilemma of such love. Only Saigal could sing with such profound emotion with effortless ease.

सुनो सुनो हे कृष्ण काला
आई तुम्हरे द्वार सुनो मेरी पुकार अब सुन ले बंसीवाला
सुनो सुनो हे कृष्ण काला
तुम जानते हुए जो ना जानो नाथ, अब का से कहूं दुःख सारा
सुनो सुनो हे कृष्ण काला

मेरे पाँव तो हों और मैं आ ना सकूं, हूं अधीन मैं हे दीनानाथ
जो मैं छल से आऊं, कहूं जल ले आऊं तो लोग करें बदनाम
जैसी जो चाहे बात उड़ाए, बात उड़ाए जैसी जो चाहे बात उड़ाए
कहे राधा जी मोहे कलंकिनी
राधा जी मोहे कलंकिनी तोसे चोरी जो मिलने आऊं
जैसी जो चाहे बात उड़ाए
मैं तो बोल सकूं मुंह ना खोल सकूं प्रभु जब ही तो अबला नाम
मोरा जीवन जाए ना दरस दिखाए, ना दिखाए दरस घनश्याम
ना दिखाए दरस, मोपे देखो सखी नाही खाये तरस
मोरे मन की रही मन में हाय
हाय मोरे नैनन ने देखा नहीं अभी श्याम

अबला का दुःख हे दीनानाथ मन का रहे है मन में
चण्डीदास कहे सखी हे
चण्डीदास कहे जिस तन लगे वही तन ये दुखड़ा जाने
वही तन ये दुखड़ा जाने

4. Hori ho Brajraj dulare

I have heard several Holi songs in the light classical Kafi Raga. In the folk tradition, Holi songs border on frivolity and stretch the boundaries of decency. Saigal lifts it to a higher plane and conveys a profound feeling of bliss while sticking to the purity of Kafi.

Hori ho brajraj dulare

5. Jin jao ri gori paniya bharan

Saigal has sung a couple of more Holi’s in Kafi. Kafi is relegated to light classical genre and you do not normally hear it in classical concerts. Nevertheless for a lay listener it is an extremely delightful Raga. This is a traditional composition advising the gori (or gopi) not to go to the well for filling her pitcher because naughty Krishna would drench her in colours. Again Saigal gives his own interpretation to this Kafi and sings in a somewhat sombre style which creates a very profound impact.

6. Kaun bujhave tapat more man ki

This is Saigal’s forte – conveying deep pathos with his heavenly voice. You are reminded of Tadpat beete din rain from the film Chandidas.

7. Panchhi kahe hot udas, lyrics Kidar Sharma, music Pankaj Mullick

Saigal again at his best at pathos.

8. Duniya mein hun duniya ka talabgaar nahi hun, lyrics Seemab Akbarabadi, music KL Saigal

Saigal was the original ghazal king. Later stalwarts like Talat Mahmood, Mehadi Hasan have acknowledged their inspiration from him. When he sings ghazals you get an entirely different feeling from his classical or semi-classical songs an bhajans. A blasé detachment from this world in which the poet admits he lives, but proclaims he does not seek anything from it; and further he is passing by the bazaar but does not care for its goodies – this feeling is beautifully expressed by Saigal. Different sites mention variously Akbar Alahabadi and Seemab Akbarabadi as its lyricist. Saigal’s official website mentions the former as its lyricist. But confirmation from various authentic sources indicate the lyricist is Seemab Akbarabadi (Please see the string of comments at the end of the post).

9. Phir mujhe deed-e-tar yaad aya, lyrics Ghalib

Saigal almost worshipped Ghalib, and this shows in his loving rendition of his ghazals both in films and non-films. Readers would be more familiar with Talat Mahmood’s later rendition in the film Mirza Ghalib (1954). But the original Saigal version is a class apart.

10. Layi hayat aye kaza le chali chale, lyrics Zauq

Zauq was a contemporary of Ghalib and another great Urdu poet of the earliest era. This ghazal has such profound poetry – Life brought me here, death will take me away and I would leave.  I neither came of my free will nor I would leave on my will. Saigal gives perfect expression to the underlying philosophy and emotions.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Arunkumar Deshmukh January 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm

AK ji,
A very good selection indeed.
i write about song no 8.’ Duniya mein hoon,duniya ka talabgaar….’
mr.Sudhir kapoor gave the name of Seemab Akbarabadi as its writer,whereas the KLS site indicates the name of Akbar Allahabadi as its writer.After reading in your blog about this difference,I wrote to Sudhir ji Kapoor and he replied as follows,

Arun ji,

While preparing the write ups for Saigal Saab’s songs, besides this web site, I also referred to the KLS compilation ‘Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya’ by Harmandi ji and Harish Raghuwanshi ji.

I found at least two discrepancies. One you have pointed out in this email. The second one is for ‘Panchhi Kaahe Hot Udaas’ – for this song, the website mentions the author as DN Madhok, whereas the book identifies Kidar Sharma as the author. I have checked with the authors of the book, and they have confirmed the entries in the book, based on their research for preparing the book.

Then I also wrote to the webmaster (Sh. MV Surender) of this website way back on 16th August last year, for clarification and correction of this discrepancy. Sadly, that gentleman has never responded.

As I searched for the details of this ghazal on the internet. I came across many websites that refer to it. So far, except for one webpage, all other web pages identify Seemab Akbarabadi as the author.


Sudhir Kapoor

I think the name of Seemab Akbarabadi should be accepted as the writer of this Gazal.
-Arunkumar Deshmukh

2 AK January 21, 2012 at 12:28 pm

@Thanks a lot or your detailed comments. I am out of town. Let me come back, and I propose to speak to some people who have done direct work on Saigal (books, films etc).

3 Ashok Vaishnav January 22, 2012 at 9:50 am

Please bear with me if I am off-track on the subject.
Even when I had realized the significance of K L Saigal to the Hindi film music, as result of of coming into cotact with our close relative who ahd one rack fullof KLS 78 rpm records, I have made sincere efforts to ‘like’ his songs. However, the deep impressions left by likes of Rafi, Talat, Manaa Dey etc. has never premitted me to a Saigal fan, or for that matter songs of 30s and 40s. Obviously fault is mine.
We had seen Devdas [DilipKumar] every year in our college days. Once, the movie theater had lined up Devdas[K L Saigal] to follow the Devdas [Dilipkumar]. We dutifully did see both. Howver, we were not able to understand how come the movie hall was full for the entire week in both cases. But the demography of audiences was to be seen to be believed.
I am quite sure the frequent netizens would have had heard the renderings of K L Saigal songs by a noted Afghan Singer, Shri Nashenas. Here are a couple of links: Jab Dil Hi Tut Gaya []; Aye Qait-e-be Taqdeer []

4 AK January 23, 2012 at 12:51 am

@Ashok Vaishnav
There is no formula to analyse how and why a piece of music would impact different persons. I remember very clearly when I heard Balam aye baso more man mein for the first time, I would not be more than 10 years old, but the song absolutely moved me. I came to know about Saigal much later. Some songs took time to grow on me such as Babul mora. A Saigal ghazal which is my great favourite is Hairat-e-nazara, but I need a dictionary to understand its meaning.

I can understand people enjoying the two Devdas’s. Even if Saigal version’s print, production values would be patchy, the music is heavenly. Bimal Roy’s is sheer poety. It was a tough task for SD Burman-Talat to match Timir Baran-Saigal. Sanjay Leela Bhansali-Ismail Durbar do not even try – there are no songs for Shahrukh Khan – and rightly so. They have used their immense creative talent to give a joyous dance number Dola re dola re in a clasic tragedy.

Thanks for introducing me to Nashenas, I was not aware about him. He is great. Ae qatib-e-taqdeer, normally I would not include in my Saigal top ten. But after hearing Nashenas I am floored – he is too good, and you can see pure delight on his face when he sings, and the audience is obviously sharing his joy. An Afghani singer singing KL saigal in Australia to thunderous clapping, now that is universality of music.

Nashanas sings Ae qatib-e-taqdeer

5 AK January 26, 2012 at 9:38 pm

@Arunkumar Deshmukh
Regarding Duniya mein hun duniya ka talabgaar nahi hun, I spoke to some authorities on Saigal. They confirm it is Seemab Akbarabadi. So I am accepting it and doing the correction. Thanks for raising it which made me seek independent confirmation. We should also thank Sudhir Kapoor.

On Panchhi hot udas I am putting a question mark for the time being till I get confirmation on this. But Sudhir Kapoor might as well be right on this too. That makes me think the ‘official’ websites should put a disclaimer ‘nothing official about it’.

6 AK January 29, 2012 at 9:46 pm

@Arunkumar Deshmukh
In continuation of my previous comment, about Panchhi kahe hot udas, I have since got confirmation that it was not written by DN Madhok, but by Kidar Sharma. Kidar Sharma also wrote under the pen name Hasrat – that was much before Hasrat Jaipuri came on the scene. A book of his poems titled Panchhi was published which included this song.

7 mamshad February 3, 2012 at 1:16 pm

mr.ashok if you ever happen to listen babul mora , ma ra ba ghamza & dil jalta hai i.e.,studio recorded, by nashenas you will really enjoy them and go back to golden era of music.

8 Ashok Vaishnav February 3, 2012 at 11:00 pm

I also look forward to that opportunity.
Thanks for your guidance.

9 Subodh Agrawal February 11, 2012 at 8:04 pm

An elaboration on the raga of Jhulna jhulao. It is in a variant of Asavari known as Dev Gandhari. The difference is occasional use of shuddha gandhar as opposed to komal gandhar in Asavari. The phrase ‘koyal bole rama’ has shuddha gandhar at ‘bo’ in ‘bole’.

Thanks to Ashok Vaishnav for introducing us to Nashanas.

10 narendra patel June 10, 2012 at 6:46 am


knowledge of music will make one apricate music
at any given point of time but in my opinion selected songs and films seen when one is young always carries special liking may be this has some psycologica bearing Narendra l

11 Anil Khanna September 7, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Website is very impressive. Very happy to come across this site which has a great collection of old music and information.

12 Anil Khanna September 7, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Does any one have the VCD or DVD of KL Saigals movie Lagan

13 Anil Khanna September 8, 2012 at 12:10 am

request you to include singerS VIDYANATH SETH and M l PURI they have sung few non-filmic songs but lovely songs

14 Iris November 7, 2012 at 3:48 am

Does any one have a video or dvd of :

Street Singer – KL Saigal and Suraiya
Mere Behan (my sister)
Mirza Ghalib

15 AK November 7, 2012 at 7:35 pm

I have sent you a mail.

16 kanti Mohan Sharma May 21, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Zauq did not belong to ‘the earliest period’. He was slightly elder to Ghalib but much much younger to poets like Mir Taqui Mir, Sauda, Nazeer and Khwaja Mir Dard. He was a good poet but not great like

Ghalib or Mir. He was appointed as mentor of Bahadur Shah Zaffar and subsequently replaced by Ghalib. His contribution to the Urdu poetry cannot be undermined never the less. I think at least a dozen of his ghazals are sure to get a place in any selection of good Urdu poems. His mastery over the language i.e., Urdu is second to none and he was fully justified to be proud of some of his disciples who are considered good Urdu poets.

17 mumbaikar8 August 22, 2013 at 5:55 pm


I grew up with that Radio era, am a big admirer of K.L. Saigal too.
I was not aware he was a writer too.
Songs and information are very well compiled.
My favorites are Bazar se guzra hoon and Layi hayat ayi.

I would like to add one of my choice of Ghalib ghazal.
1st version is Saigal and 2nd is by Lata


18 AK August 22, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Mumbaikar 8,
Har ek baat pe kahte ho ki in KL Saigal’s voice is a quintessential Ghalib-Saigal offering, which made him the original Ghazal King. You are asking me to compare with Lata Mangehskar version. Though I am a great fan of her film songs, bordering on reverence, I have a very unflattering view of her non-film songs. Among the playback singers who were also into what was called ‘private songs’, the only ones I like are Talat Mahmood, Hemant Kumar and Mukesh (apart from the Vintage Era singers like Saigal, Pankaj Mullick and KC Dey). If you push me more, I would cite Ye raatein ye mausam of Pankaj Mullick, and say that Lata Mangeshkar’s Shraddhanjali should be trashed to garbage dumps. Same with her tribute to other singers.

19 mumbaikar8 August 23, 2013 at 4:36 pm


I am aware of your reverence for Lata, I like her too but not to that extent, I have Rafi there, ( inspite of all his flaws). You do not miss a single oppounity to compare Rafi, to other singers, when you think he is not up to the mark.
So this time I did not want to miss this chance 🙂

Your criticism of her Shraddhanjali, (according to me) is unjustifiable because when the original singers sang those songs they were in their prime but when Lata sang them she was way beyond her prime.

20 AK August 24, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Mumbaikar 8,
The problem is more fundamental. For a version song to work there has to be some tonal similarity. That is why Nashenas’ Saigal is so good. I wish he had sung Ye raatein ye mausam – it is not on YT. But here is one by an unknown singer. Excellent, much more acceptable than Lata Mangeshkar’s.

21 hareesh budhwani April 13, 2014 at 9:23 am

Thanks for introducing me to Nashaanas songs. It is realy great to know that an Afghan sings so well, songs of K L Saigal

22 AK April 13, 2014 at 10:23 am

You are welcome to SoY, Mr Budhwani.

23 O.P.RAJPUT October 4, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Very impressive compilation of non-film songs and ghazals sung by K.L.Saigal. However, what irks me is that raags of certain ghazals and compositions such as Panchhi kahe hot udas, etc. have not been identified for which SongsofYore is the most sought-after site.

24 AK October 5, 2014 at 9:57 am

OP Rajput,
Thanks a lot for your appreciation. I am requesting the experts to identify the Ragas.

Subodh, Venkatataramanji, SSW
Please help.

25 Gaurav Bhagwat October 19, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Duniya mein hoon is actually written by Akbar Allahabadi and not Seemab.

The last sher of the ghazal (not sung by Saigal) is

Afsudagi-o-zauf ki kuchh hud naheen ‘Akbar’,
Kaafir ke muqaabil mein bhi deendar naheen hun.

Taqhallus ‘Akbar’ was used by Akbar Allahabadi and not Seemab Akbarabadi who always used ‘Seemab’

26 AK October 20, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Gaurav Bhagat,
Welcome to SoY. I would not like to comment further on this, because you would have seen I was aware of the dispute between the two names, and I have acknowledged Seemab Akbarabadi after talking to many authentic sources. I would pass on your comments to them.

27 O.P.RAJPUT November 28, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Dear AK Sir,

Refur comments at 24.

I am eagerly waiting for the experts to identify ragas of ghazals/songs/bhajans sung by K.L.Saigal

28 AK November 28, 2014 at 10:43 pm

OP Rajput,
I have not forgotten. I am in touch with the experts. But let me add a caveat, these songs often do not follow a pure Raga, and in some cases they have expressed difficulty in identifying Ragas.

29 Subodh Agrawal November 29, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Well, AK has already identified 1 as Asavari/Devgandhar and 4&5 as Kafi. ‘Main baithi thi’ is Bhairavai, and ‘Kaun bujhave tapat man ki’ Mishra Khamaj. ‘Suno suno hey krishna’ if based on the standard Baul tune of Bengal, which has not been elevated to the status of a raga. I have drawn a blank on all others. I would myself like to know if they follow any ragas at all, and if so which ones.

30 sudeep June 25, 2015 at 10:38 am

I have been looking for some rare non film ghazals of KL Sehgal which i got here
great work thanks

31 AK June 25, 2015 at 12:25 pm

Welcome to SoY. I am happy you enjoyed it. YouTube has almost all of his songs, film or non-film.

32 D P Rangan September 16, 2015 at 11:23 pm

I know of another female artist who has sung Saigal’s song with a rare elan. Have a few of them in my collection too. While foraging in the local market two years ago got a CD full of Saigal music and my collection of his songs more than quadrupled.

33 D P Rangan September 18, 2015 at 11:17 pm

There are many more Saigal non film ghazals to be traced. Here is one sung by him –

Aah Ko Chahiye… (Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib)

34 D P Rangan September 18, 2015 at 11:22 pm

The female artist I mentioned at //32// is none other than Dr. Sangeetha Nerurkar. She is a Hindustani classical vocalist and has sung many Saigal songs in public performances. I know it is difficult for a female artist to bring out all the nuances especially of Saigal. She is quite good at it. Here is a song by Saigal in Parsi language. She has explined the meaning of the ghazal and also sang Maarab Gamza.

35 AK September 19, 2015 at 6:18 am

DP Rangan,
KL Saigal’s official website, and Atul’s have all the Saigal songs.

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