KC Dey: The divine singer with inner vision

January 11, 2014

KC DeyWhen I wrote on KC Dey’s songs in Devdas (1935), it just gave a glimpse to the readers of how great a singer he was if he could be so moving in the songs which are relatively unknown. Long before that post, I had planned to present my top favourite songs of KC Dey which got delayed for one reason or the other. With the desire rekindled I had to do it sooner than later.

Born on the holy Janmashtami day in August 1893, he was named Krishna by his parents Shibchandra Dey and Ratnmala Devi. He had interest in music since childhood. At the age of 13 he lost his eyesight due to some illness, but his dedication to music did not wane. His physical handicap seems to have endowed him with an inner vision and a divine voice, making his songs deeply moving. He received training under eminent musicians of Calcutta such as Shashi Bhushan Chatterjee, Harindranath Sheel, Karmatullah Khan, Badal Khan and several others. He received training of tabla-playing from Kanthey Maharaj of Banaras.

He is among the earliest composers of our films, his first film as a music director being East India Film Company’s Aab-e-Hayat (1933). He had an innate capacity to visualise the story, action and situation of a film and compose accordingly. He worked for both Bombay and Calcutta film industry. Some of the other films for which he gave music are the following:

Chandragupta (1934)
Kismat Ki Kasauti (1934)
Seeta (1934)
Shahar Ka Jadoo (1934)
Sunahra Sansaar (1936)
Milaap (1937)
Aandhi (1940)
Mera Gaaon (1942)
Tamanna (1942)
Badalti Duniya (1943) with Haribhai Bhojak, Khan Mastana and Madhukar
Suno Sunata Hun (1944)
Devdasi (1945)
Door Chalen (1946)

As a composer his contribution to film music is historically important. He gave the first break to his nephew Manna Dey in Tamanna. Motilal sang his first song, Humse sundar koi nahi hai, under KC Dey’s baton in Shahar Ka Jadoo, and Meena Kapoor had her first song under him in Door Chalen. And as we all know he was also the mentor of SD Burman.

It is as a singer that I regard him as one of the greatest of the vintage era. Besides singing in the films composed by him, he also sang for other composers like RC Boral, Pankaj Mullick and Timir Baran. His film songs number about 70 in 20 films. But he also sang a large number of non-film geets, bhajans, naats , ghazals in classical ragas in Hindi and Bengali. (Acknowledgement: The above information is based on Pankaj Raag’s Dhunon Ki Yatra and Anil Bhargav’s Swaron Ki Yatra)

I present my greatest favourite songs of KC Dey as a tribute to this divine and specially abled singer.

1. Jaao jaao ae mere sadho raho guru ke sang from Puran Bahgat (1933), music RC Boral

How do you feel when a dear one comes after sixteen years, but has to leave soon for some higher purpose in life? Pain, resigned acceptance, good wishes – जितनी दूर भी जाओ रहोगे हिरदय ही के समीप. One fellow blogger used a phrase – songs that elevate you. This film had four songs by KL Saigal, who had no acting role, but was there only to sing his songs – Bhajun main to bhaav se Shri Giridhari, Din neeke beete jaat hain, Awasar beeto jaaye and Radhe Rani de daaro na bansari mori re – all well-known and excellent songs in their own right. But Jaao jaao ae mere sadho is the song that elevates me and never fails to bring tear to my eyes every time I hear it. This must be one of the earliest film songs available now, whose charm has not dimmed for over 80 years.


2. Panghat pe Kanhaiya aata hai from Vidyapati (1937), lyrics Kedar Sharma, music RC Boral

I mentioned the powerful image of a blind singer with a child in my post on KC Dey’s songs in Devdas. This song starts with a slow recital हरि चरणन में सफल होत सब पूजा/ जब कोई मुसाफिर अंधियारे में अपनी राह खो जाता है. There is pain of helplessness in his voice as KC Dey stumbles. He is helped by the child to regain his balance. He now completes the recital in a joyous and fast pace as if Manmohan has himself come to help him – फिर मनमोहन आ हाथ पकड़ कर उसको राह दिखाता है. He now pauses, prompting the child to ask him why did he stop singing. Then the main song Panghat pe Kanhaiya aata hai starts at a still faster pace, now joined by a chorus of other children. A slow recital before the main song, somewhat akin to alaap in classical singing was used later with great success in many songs which have become now iconic for the recital part – from a very short ‘Akeli mat jaiyo Radhe Jamuna ke teer’ in Tu Ganga ki mauj to a very long ‘Khamosh hai zamana..’ in Ayega anewala and in-between ‘Insaan kisi se duniya mein ek baar mohabbat karta hai..’ in Jab pyar kiya to darna kya – these songs now cannot be imagined without their prose style recital. Was Panghat pe Kanhaiya aata hai the first song to have introduced this style? From this lyrical movie which I saw about three decades ago on the Doordarshan, what I remember is its beautiful songs by KC Dey and Kanan Devi. Panghat pe Kanhaiya left an indelible imprint on me.


Here is its audio of better quality.


3. Gokul se gaye Giridhari from Vidyapati (1937), lyrics Kedar Sharma, music RC Boral

KC Dey narrates to Kanan Devi (Anuradha) the story of departure of Krishna from Gokul which has left the gopis forlorn. When he sings their feeling कैसे जाऊं जमुना जल भरने तट पे ना आये मुरारी, KC Dey seems to embody all the pain of the gopis. (A trivia: In Padosan, Kishore Kumar parodies KC Dey’s syle of Anuradha, Anuradha in the song Meri pyari Bindu, when he is corrected by his gang at the Natak mandali, ‘Guru, her name is not Anuradha but Bindu’).


4. Baba man ki ankhen khol/ Teri ghatri mein laga chor jag zara from Dhoop Chhaon (1935), lyrics Pt Sudarshan, music RC Boral and Pankaj Mulick

Now we come to what are probably two of the most recognizable songs of KC Dey. Fortunately, we have a very good quality video of these songs which come almost in continuity. As the Surdas (a common name for a blind singer) regales the village folk selflessly with his divine singing, two city-slickers – a theatre owner and his companion – make a tempting offer to him to sing in their theatre. He politely but firmly refuses – How would those who can’t pay listen to him? And while theatre would give him money, music brings him closer to God. Only someone who can see with inner eyes can have such lofty principles.

One website mentions the two interlocutors as Nawab and Kedar Sharma. There are some more interesting trivia about this film and the songs. Dhoop Chaaon and its Bengali version Bhagya Chakra are the first films in which playback technique for song picturisation was introduced, though it would take more than a decade for independent playback singers to come in full force. Two songs from this movie, Jeevan ka such aaj mohe prabhu and Andhe ki lathi tu hi hai, which we all know as KL Saigal songs, are actually sung by KC Dey in the movie. These were later issued on gramophone records in Saigal’s voice. KC Dey’s versions, though of poor quality, can be heard at:

http://kundanlalsaigal.com/krishnachandradey/Audio-KCDey/DhoopChhaon_1935-KCDey-JeevanKaSukhAajPrabhoMohe-PtSudarshan-RCBoral&PankajMullick(MovieTrack).mp3 and

http://kundanlalsaigal.com/krishnachandradey/Audio-KCDey/DhoopChhaon_1935-KCDey-JinParAasha-AndheKiLathi-PtSudarshan-RCBoral&PankajMullick(MT).mp3 ).

Another trivia – Kishore Kumar spoofs Teri gathari mein laga chor in the last interlude of Paanch rupaiya barah ana.


5. Maan na kar ab sajni from Aandhi (1940), lyrics Arzoo Lakhanvi, music KC Dey

Very sound advice to the haughty and sullen nayika in semi-classical style (Raga Jaunpuri?) composed by KC Dey himself.


6. Man moorakh kahna maan from Meenakshi (1942), lyrics Pt Bhushan, music Pankaj Mullick

Can anything be more divine than this? KC Dey now sings for Pankaj Mullick. Jaunpuri again? Incredibly sweet.


7. Hori khele Kanhaiya baro ragri, non-film Holi, music KC Dey

Krishna lore is not complete without Holi, and it would be surprising if KC Key didn’t sing a Holi song. Among several sung by him, I  like this most. Please note the evocative expression baro ragri (‘very vigoruously’) you can imagine a naughty Krishna teasing and playing Holi with abandon.


8. Shri Ram bhajo such mein dukh mein, non-film bhajan

From Krishna to Ram, they are the reincarnations of the same Supreme Being. I do not think I have heard a more moving Sri Ram bhajan. Jaunpuri again. I request our experts to explain if KC Dey had something with this Raga. Supposedly a Raga of lighter mood, KC Dey makes it extremely profound.


9. Japo re Ram naam sukhdayi, non-film bhajan

You can’t have enough of KC Dey. We can’t end without Bhairvi, so we have another Ram bhajan, in this sada suhagan Raga.


10. Rozey pe pahunchi ye jab tauseef-e-sana keejey

I have discovered KC Dey’s naats and qawwalis in the internet era. Mr Venkataraman had added a beautiful one Kali kamli ka tukda mujhe bheekh de in my earlier post on him. Here is another fascinating naat with beautiful harmonium and tabla accompaniment. His Urdu pronunciation is without any tinge of accent. The supreme being is one no matter by what name we call him. KC Dey’s pleading Allah Madine mein ek baar jo pahuncha de is as if he has already reached there with his inner eyes. (I request the knowledgeable readers to explain the verse and its meaning).

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Arunkumar Deshmukh January 11, 2014 at 11:50 am

AK ji,
Thanks for a lovely beginning to a musical weekend. One can enjoy the divine voice and vintage songs at leisure.
K C Dey’s contribution to HFM is beyond words.
Thanks for showcasing his songs.

2 AK January 11, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Thanks. KC Dey is among my biggest favourites, and I put him in the same bracket as Saigal and Pankaj Mullick.

3 mumbaikar8 January 11, 2014 at 8:49 pm

Thanks for taking us back to what we love to listen, but tend to forget.
The spiritual songs are treat of its own kind.
Thanks once again.

4 AK January 11, 2014 at 10:08 pm

You are welcome. I am happy you enjoyed it.

5 Ashok M Vaishnav January 12, 2014 at 3:45 pm

I wholeheartedly join Shri Arunkumar Deshamukh and Mumbaikar8 (as well as scores of other SoY’s active and not-so active readers) in complimenting AKji for such a wonderful opening of 2014.

6 AK January 12, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Thanks a lot for your generous words.

7 Canasya January 13, 2014 at 10:51 am

AKji, congratulation on yet another brilliant post. Some time ago I had seen ‘Ray’, the award winning biopic on Ray Charles, the American blind Black musician (Jamie Foxx won the Oscar for the male lead and the film won another Oscar for sound mixing; it had also been nominated for the best movie and couple of other categories). The parallels and divergences between the lives of the two musicians (Ray Charles and KC Dey) reflect the similarities and differences between the two economies and cultures. Ray Charles was able to play rival American record companies against one another to wrest from them the control rights for his master tapes (the first singer in the US to do that). KC Dey, on the other hand, had to suffer the ignominy of several of his recorded songs not being issued by the record companies (the same thing seems to have happened to other artistes such as Meena Kapoor and Sudha Malhotra who were discussed in couple of recent SoY posts). The contracts that artistes had with record companies might have had something to do with this. Knowledgeable experts in the SoY family could perhaps throw more light on the topic.

Just as the records of two ‘Dhoop Chhaon’ songs sung by KC Dey in the movie were released in KL Saigal’s voice, the record of ‘Duniya rang rangili baba’ from ‘Dharatimata’ (MD: Pankaj Mullick) sung by KC Dey (with Saigal and Uma Shashi) in the movie was released in Pankaj Mullick’s voice (with Saigal and Uma Shashi). Here is the movie version with KC Dey’s voice:


And now the record version in Pankaj Mullick’s voice


8 AK January 13, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Thanks a lot for your appreciation.

From whatever I can make out of KC Dey, he seems to be one of the simple-hearted types, far from being capable of playing any games – the kind of person Rafi came to be known from later generation. I have not seen Ray, but I guess they would have shown him using these means in a positive light – David taking on the Goliath of evil record companies?

As for the record companies not issuing some recordings, is there any impropriety in this? They would assess market potential, which at times may be horribly wrong, or which may amount to depriving the listeners from some valuable music. But I guess it is there call.

Thankfully, KC Dey version of Duniya rang rangili Baba is also of very good quality. How I wish KC Dey’s versions of the two Dhoop Chhaon also of the same quality were available.

9 Anu Warrier January 14, 2014 at 6:33 am

Thank you for a couple of hours of listening pleasure, AK. I don’t know much about KC Dey other than having heard his songs before, so the information you have collated has been gratefully read. 🙂

10 AK January 14, 2014 at 6:45 am

You are welcome, Anu. I am happy you enjoyed it.

11 N Venkataraman February 1, 2014 at 3:22 pm

After prolonged absence I am returning to blogosphere. In the meantime three more posts have appeared in SoY. Usually I am not an early riser, but I had a disturbed sleep and I got up at 5 am in the morning, I decided to start the day with the songs of and post on Krishna Chandra De. I have stated in your earlier post that it is always a great pleasure to listen to the singers and songs of vintage era.

Sometimes I wonder how these songs/posts crop-up at an appropriate time in one’s life. You have used the apt words to describe the situation. How do you feel when a dear one comes, but has to leave soon for some higher purpose in life? Pain, resigned acceptance, prayer. ‘Jitni door bhi jao rahoge hriday ke sameep’. ‘Jaao jaao ae mere sadho’ brought tears to my eyes. But the next two songs in Kirtan ang elevated me to further spiritual heights. The words, ‘Hari charnan me saphal hote sab pooja/ Jab koi musaphir andhiyare me apni rah kho jata hai, Phir Manmohan haath pakad kar usko rah dikhata hai’, strengthened my hopes and faith. I too would pray ‘Baba mere bhi man ki ankhen khol do’. K C Dey’s Chakshu Indriya might have perished, but this paved the way for his Shruti Indriya to bloom. And as you have once again rightly said, only someone who can see with inner eyes could have rendered this wonderful song.

Man murkh kehna maan, dukh sukh me bedh na jaan,
Sukh dukh ke bich badalte hai, aasha ke deepak jalte hai,
Jivan ke bav badalte hai, dil ke arman nikalte hai
Palak palak me phir hoti hai har mushkil aasan
Sukh dukh dono hi bhar laye, ladh ladaye mast banaye
Bhule huye ki yaad dilaye, mare huye ko bhi de de
Pal me jeevan daan

The wonderful and reassuring lyrics of Pandit Bhushan, set to music by Pankaj Mullick and blissfully rendered by Krishna Chandra Dey brought solace to my heart. Both the devotional numbers in Raag Jaunpuri were rendered with immense feelings of Karuna, Tyaag and Atmasamarpan. The Hori song enlivened the spirits, in anticipation of the approaching spring.

By the time I started listening to the Bhairavi Bhajan, the sun was out and tranquillity prevailed. And with the rendition of Naat, Krishna Chandra Dey carried us to blissful communion with the Supreme-being.
I could not put into words my feelings in the morning itself. It was a great beginning to a new morning and month.

Thank you Akji for the wonderful post, songs and narration.

12 AK February 1, 2014 at 5:15 pm

Subodh once mentioned it is the appreciation of connoiseurs like you that makes our efforts more than rewarded. It is so beautiful to have someone relate to KC Dey as I do. Words are always inadequate to describe what I feel about songs like Jao jao ae mere sadho, Hori khele etc.

13 N Venkataraman February 2, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Canasya ji
You had commented in the previous post on K C Dey that he comes into his own in his mother tongue. True, his songs in Bengali were enthralling. The four songs posted by you made good listening, especially the first song, Chuyona chuyona Bandhu, sung in Padabali Kirtan style. The immense pleasure we derive while listening to his and his contemporaries’ songs, even today, bears testimony to their dedication and practice to attain perfection. They, the composers, lyricist, arrangers and singers, sat together and discussed and rehearsed to give the final shape to their creation. They had mutual respect for each other. Here is an interesting episode narrated by Pankaj Mullick.

‘When I became the music director, I had the privilege and honour of directing Krishna Chandra Dey for some of my compositions. When we sat together for a recording session, my role of as the MD was the last thing on my mind. We used to traverse together in the infinite universe of music. I was amused when Kestoda (K C Dey) would sing a couple of lines and would say ‘Uuh that was not right, I could not sing the way you had demonstrated. Now you are the composer and my job is to follow your demonstration. But you see every time I try, my original style comes to the fore.’ In fact I liked the way in which Kestoda rendered the song and he would not accept and insist that it is his job to render as per the MD’s composition,. There is no limit to Kesto da’s sense of perfection and humbleness.’

There were few more such anecdotes and lot more songs which can be discussed when SoY will come out with a post on Krishna Chandra Dey’s Bengali songs. But his songs in Hindi and Urdu were equally enchanting. Let us listen to this song.

Vaage Prem Sitar’ in Gujarati

You had made an interesting observation on the number of songs sung in Jaunpuri by Krishna Chandra Dey. I believe there are few more songs in Bengali too. May be he had a special liking for this Raag like Jaikishan had for Bhairavi and Roshan had for Yaman.

I would like to add few more lines on Krishna Chandra Dey. He was a Gramaphone artist, Radio Artist and he sang in Bengali Dramas too. There are many beautiful Bengali songs, which can be taken up when SoY decides to explore this side of Krishna Chandra Dey.

Now let me present a few songs.

Na ranj karo badnaseeb Bharat from Grihalakshmi (1934), music S P Rane

Tum nahin pahloon mein, a non-film song by K C Dey

Than you once again.

14 AK February 3, 2014 at 9:39 am

Thanks for your very informative comment, and the addition of the three songs, each a gem. Now I am convinced, KC Dey had a special fascination for Jaunpuri. This is interesting, because I believe it is considered too light for the connoisseurs. You rarely find major artistes singing this raga in concerts. Ustad Bismillah Khan and Pt VG jog were probably the last of the doyens who proudly played it and other ‘popular’ ragas. However, Jaunpuri is my great favorite, and KC Dey elevates it to great heights. Can we say, Jaunpuri is to KC Dey what Durga is to Pankaj Mullick and Nat Bihag to SD Burman?

I have explained how I was driven to SD Burman’s Bengali songs. I had not given a thought to KC Dey’s Bengali songs (therefore, why not Pankaj Mukkick’s and KL Saigal’s too?). But, it would have to be done by more knowledgeable people (fortunately SoY has no dearth of them).

15 ksbhatia March 14, 2014 at 1:20 am

AK’ji Thanks for this excellent post that gave me pre -birth soul searching and heart warming journey to the inner self . Listening to songs of great singers like KL Sehgal , Pankaj Mullik , KC Dey , Pahadi Sanyal , Motilal and later on Karan Diwan , Durrani , Surender Nath , Shyam ( and many more ) one can feel taking off to beautiful vintage era and landing on in the mist of old golden period . Modern day songs stands no near around . CANASYA @ 7 has very rightly compared the life of KC Dey with that of Ray Charles , the great musician and composer of the 50’s and 60’s . The award winning movie based on his life is worth watching . Will some one from Bollywood come forward to make such movies or at least short documentaries on the lives of the forgotten singers for archives .

16 Kusum Joshi December 16, 2015 at 11:15 am

Thanks for the article and comments. We as children were introduced to the songs of great singers by our scientist parents in Allahabad through old records and KC Dey was fortunately for us one of them. As someone has said, KC Dey Sahib has the power to draw tears whenever you hear many of his soul stirring songs. What a divine singer he was and how poor most singers of today sound despite all the sound effects and endless array of musical instruments! Thanks for highlighting his work. By the way, his distinctive humility seems to have been instinctively imbibed by his worthy nephew Manna Dey Sahib.

17 AK December 16, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Kusum Joshi,
Welcome to SoY and thanks a lot for your comments. Entirely agree with your observations on KC Dey and Manna Dey.

18 Navindeo RAMOO February 15, 2016 at 9:04 pm

What a great endeavor.
You have done what was most needed to revive the memory of such a great singer.
May God bless you.
Navin from Mauritius.

19 AK February 17, 2016 at 10:14 am

Navindeo Ramoo,
Welcome to Songs Of Yore and thanks a lot for your appreciation. Perhaps you mean AK (I am not Arun).

20 Navindeo RAMOO October 11, 2016 at 4:01 pm

Hello AK ji,
Just sorry for calling you Arun. Thank you for your kind response. I would now invite you to input: navindeo ramoo singing jina yahan you tube.
You will see me performing in a Mukesh nite organized by me in Mauritius. Hope you will appreciate it.
N. Ramoo

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: