When I was writing my last post on the Songs of River, I remembered Harvey had done some time back majhi (boatman) songs. Naav or naiya is the link between the two. As a matter of fact there cannot be a majhi without a naav, whereas a naav can by itself be propelled by the flow of water or breeze. When Kunti placed the baby Karna, born before wedlock, in a basket and set him afloat in a river, it was carried to Adhirath and Radha, who brought him up as their son, condemning him for lifetime to be known as a Sootputra. A baby does not need a boat; basket is good enough, which is actually a baby naav.
That was Dwapar, and you might say it was bit of a stretch. But the naav story goes back several millennia to Treta Yug. When Lord Ram needs to cross the river Ganga, the Kevat (boatman) initially demurs. His main concern is his naav. If the touch by the Lord’s feet can turn stone into a beautiful woman (reference to the story of Ahilya, cursed by her husband unfairly to become a stone, as he suspected her fidelity, all due to Indra’s deception), what would happen to his mere wooden boat, which was his only source of livelihood. So he gives a good wash to the Lord’s feet to clean it of any dust which might have such dangerous magical properties. And finally he refuses to accept payment for his services, because he and the Lord are in the same profession, he ferrying people across the river and He ferrying across the ocean of this world Bhavsagar.
The boat motif runs across faiths. The Noah’s Ark saved him, his family and two of each kind of animal from the great deluge. Noah was the architect and the maker of the boat, as commanded by the Lord. I do not know if he was also the boatman, but the Ark’s role in saving the species so that life-form perpetuates is undisputed.
So you have the river, boat and the boatman – a very powerful metaphor for deeper meaning of life, deliverance and salvation. But at a mundane level, they are also objects of beauty. There was a time when they used to make films titled Jeevan Naiya and Nadiya Ke Paar, songs like Jeevan ki naav na dole, and more lyrically Dole hriday ki naiya sung by Kanan Devi and Prem ki naiya chali jal mein mori, chhoti si naiya chali jal mein by Pahadi Sanyal and Uma Shashi. This romance with the river, boat and the boatman continued till the 60’s.
I am not sure whether there are many nadi, majhi and naiya songs post-80’s, at least none that I could recall immediately. We are constructing bridges over the rivers, so where is the occasion for anyone to sing More sainyanji utarenge par ho nadiya dhएere baho or O re majhi, mere sajan hain us paar, le chal paar. The romantic Parisians would sing Under the bridges of Paris with you or play paper boats in Jardin du Luxembourg. The present day Bollywood might try Pul ke neeche pyar karenge hum dono, which sounds very trite. It is just as well that they have given up creating river songs.
Let us go back to the Vintage and the Golden Era when we had some beautiful naav and naiya songs.
1. Dole hriday ki naiya, pag dharat darat hai khevaiya by Kanan Devi from Vidyapati (1937), lyrics Kidar Sharma, music RC Boral
For me Kanan Devi was the most beautiful and had the sweetest voice among the female stars of the 30’s. What absolutely delightful lyrics by Kidar Sharma and music by RC Boral. It would not be an exaggeration to say that New Theatres-RC Boral created what can be described as the Gold Standard of the music of the earliest era. The song is so good, it overcomes its poor video quality.
2. Na jane kidhar aaj meri naav chali re by Ashok Kumar from Jhoola (1941), lyrics Pradeep, music Saraswati Devi
Songs by Ashok Kumar for Bombay Talkies films composed by Saraswati Devi are often seen as an amusing feature of the times when even non-singer actors were made to sing. In spite of all the ridicule, often by Ashok Kumar himself of his non-existent ‘singing’ ability, there is something magical about these songs. There must be something in them that they are well known to music lovers after more than 70 years. I absolutely love Ashok Kumar songs, and this one is among the most delightful.
3. Jeevan ki naav na dole by Jayshree from Shakuntala (1943), lyrics Dewan Sharar, music Vasant Deasi
This film marked the coming together of Vasant Desai with V Shantaram. A classic naav song sung by and picturised on Jayshree, wife of V Shantaram and mother of Rajshree.
4. Prem ki naiya ko mila hai prem nadi ka kinara by Jagmohan and Kalyani from Meghdoot (1945), lyrics Faiyaz Hashmi, music Kamal Dasgupta
From my top favourite Prem ki naiya chali jal mein/ mori chhoti si naiya chali jal mein by Pahadi Sanyal and Uma Shashi from Dhoop Chhaon (1935), which I have used earlier in my post on New Theatres, to as recent as Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani (2009), romantic songs with boat as the metaphor for love have appeared from time to time. In the same genre Prem ki naiya ko maila hai prem nadi ka kinara is an exquisite song by the Sursagar Jagmohan, renowned more for his non-film songs, and Kalyani. The team of the lyricist Faiyaz Hashmi and composer Kamal Dasgupta was also renowned for many iconic non-film songs of various singers.
5. Meri naav padi majhdhaar par karo na karo by Lalita Deolkar from Bhakt Dhruv (1947), music Shankarrao Vyas
I was collecting Lalita Deolkar songs for an exclusive post on her, but this song is too good to be put on hold.
6. Naiya teri majhdhar hoshiyar, soojhe aar na paar by Mohammad Rafi from Awara (1951), lyrics Shailendra, music Shankar Jaikishan
Mukesh was the lead singer in Awara, just as Talat Mahmood was in Babul. And just as Naushad gave Rafi a river song Nadiya mein utha hai shor in Babul, Shankar Jaikishan gives him a boat song, which warns its occupants Prithviraj Kapoor and Leela Chitnis to beware of the stormy times that might lie ahead. Amidst the rage created by Awara hun by Mukesh, this song may have gone into oblivion, but coming at the beginning of the film it is significant in taking the story forward. It is beautifully picturised as well.
7. Chandan ki naiya pe hoke sawaar gori chali us paar by Lata Mangeshkar from Durgeshnandini (1956), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music Hemant Kumar
I have not seen a longer musical prelude than this song. You see Beena Rai on a solitary boat and a bevy of girls on another boat having fun throwing flowers and garlands at each other. One of the garlands thrown by Beena Rai perfectly falls on the neck of Pradeep Kumar, and he in turn throws it back to land on the neck of Beena Rai. Then this sweet song follows as a chorus by the bevy of girls to tease Beena Rai. Hemant Kumar-Lata Mangeshkar songs are a class apart. More well known from this film is Kahan le chale ho bata do musafir.
8. Le chal khevaiya naiya le chal by Lata Mangeshkar from Senapati (1961), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music Madan Mohan
Where was this song hidden? Madan Mohan-Lata Mngeshkar’s ghazals have acquired an iconic status. Now I discover this delightful boat song picturised on beautiful Nalini Jaiwant.
9. Umariya bin khevat ki naiya by Hemant Kumar from Majhli Didi (1967), lyrics Niraj, music Hemant Kumar
Talking about class apart, nothing can be more melodious than Hemant Kumar singing for himself. As the orphaned child is taken to his married sister’s place, after his parents’ death, this poignant song portends the harsh life he is going to face at the hands of his blood-sister Lalita Pawar, to be redeemed by the unrelated Majhli Didi Meena Kumari.
10. Majhi naiya dhhode kinara by Mukesh from Uphaar (1971), lyrics Anand Baxi, music Laxmikant Pyarelal
Jaya Bhaduri takes forward her Guddi’s innocent charm. Though the film does not specifically say so, Uphaar smells of and looks Bengal. Anand Baxi-LP later became known for trivial lyrics and songs, though getting big commercial success. But here Anand Baxi comes up with a soulful song, and LP captures the spirit of Bengal, majhi and naiya beautifully.
The Ultimate Naav Song
Hey kanha nav karo mori paar by Pandit Omkarnath Thakur.
One should use words like ‘the ultimate’ carefully in arts and music, but I have no hesitation in using this epithet for this out-of-the world bhajan by Pt Omkarnath Thakur.