The Nationalist Voice of Independent India

“The whole of India sings in the voice of Maharashtra, and that voice is of Lata Mangeshkar,” said veteran journalist P. K. Atre once, when asked about the musical contributions of the Mangeshkar family to the nation. When Lata Mangeshkar sang, her voice was the soul of the civilization speaking to a young nation. Through her training, she took the mantle of millennia-old practices in Classical music and tuned the ragas to popular songs in film music. A voice that stood for many a generation, she democratised music like no other, that her songs are hummed at any given moment in time. However, this article is an ode to one of the many facets of the legendary singer, talking about the patriotism which glided through her notes, and the nationalist dimensions of her musical excellency.

In the late 1950s, the liberation struggle for Goa from the Portuguese hands had stroke many fires. Many revolutionary groups including the Azad Gomantak Dal had started raiding administrative buildings and police stations set up by the Portuguese administration. Already in 1954, The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had joined hands with Goan fighters to liberate the islands of Nagar Haveli. The struggle for Goa needed monetary help to align different activities together in order to set up a coordinated attack. Legendary music composer Sudhir Phadke, who also happened to be an RSS Swayamsevak was to call Lata Didi for participating in a fund-raising concert for Goa in Pune.

Left: Lata Mangeshkar praying the family deity of Mangeshi Shankara at her home. Right: Singing at a fundraising concert with Sudhir Phadke to help the liberation of Goa

Lata Mangeshkar readily accepted to sing for the nationalist cause, which was organised at Hirabaug in Pune in 1954-55. It is interesting to note that her roots trace back to Mangueshi, a small hamlet in the state where resides the Mangeshi Shiva – the family deity of the Mangeshkars. According to Lata Didi, it was Swatantryaveer Savarkar who instilled nationalism among her siblings when he used to visit her family frequently to meet her father Master Dinanath Mangeshkar. “When Sudhir Phadke (also called Babuji) approached me for this nationalist cause, raising funds for the activities of liberating Goa, I agreed immediately…I have no clue what was the amount raised by that concert, but I am glad that I could do my small bit for my Goa, the land of my ancestors, and my country, India,” she said while talking about the incident in an interview in 2015. While the sole purpose of the concert was to support the revolutionaries aiming to liberate Goa, she refused to charge even a single penny for the same.

Lata Mangeshkar singing Ae Mere Watan Ke Logo in 1953, PM Nehru looks by

A similar episode in the life of Lata Mangeshkar was to repeat in 1962 when the nation met with another calamity of the Indo-China War. Here, “Ae Mere Watan Ke logon” was born out of an ode to the widows of martyred soldiers in the war against China. Performed by Lata Mangeshkar at Delhi’s National Stadium as a fundraiser for the bereaved families, the song was composed by C Ramachandra and written by Kavi Pradeep.

It was later on January 27, 1963, following the Republic Day ceremony at Delhi that Didi gave the same performance in front of President Dr S Radhakrishnan and Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The memorable concert aches the hearts of true Indians even today, while it stands as a national song for remembrance of the martyred. The strange coincidence of the song being included in the Beating the Retreat ceremony this year on January 29, was a perfect ode from the nation indebted to the legendary singer who was battling with life for a month.

According to Lata Didi herself, her Nationalistic servitude was inspired by Veer Savarkar who happened to be a close associate of her father. Even after the death of Master Dinanath, a revered singer and theatre artist from the Marathi Natya sangeet fraternity, The Mangeshkar siblings held close ties with Savarkar who used to visit them frequently. “Tatya (Savarkar) was like a family member to us. His thoughts, poems and other literature was being thoroughly discussed and pondered over in our house” said Lata Mangeshkar in an interview along with her brother and music composer Pt. Hridaynath Mangeshkar with DD Sahyadri.

Lata Didi recalls in the interview of insisting her mother to allow accompanying her father Master Dinanath, to participate in a community feast at a Dalit neighbourhood organised by Savarkar. The Hindu Nationalist freedom fighter used to often organise such gatherings to bridge the gap between divided castes and communities on a community level. This was one of the first meetings of the girl who was to rise up becoming the nightingale of India with one of the biggest patriots of the motherland. The influence of Sawarkar on Lata Mangeshkar’s gayaki was to remain for a lifetime.

When young Lata grew up to be an established singer, she had once invited V. D. Savarkar to inaugurate her music album by visiting her residence in Mumbai. Aware of the controversies revolving around him, Savarkar initially declined the offer insisting that the music might not do well after being associated with him. “Even if it doesn’t fare well, I wish my album to be blessed by you” insisted Lata, following which Savarkar graced the function.

Lata Mangeshkar with Swatantryaveer Savarkar at a function in Mumbai

During Savarkar’s last days, Pune University had organised a chair to commemorate his contributions to literature. For this very programme, Pt. Hridaynath Mangeshkar tuned Savarakar’s timeless poems, Ne Majasi Ne, Parat Matrubhoomi La (Oh Ocean, take me back to my motherland) and Jayostute Shri Mahanmangale (Victory to the Goddess of Freedom). The poems composed in pathbreaking tunes have been sung by the Mangeshkar siblings including Usha Mangeshkar and Meena Mangeshkar. While the renderings echo nationalist sentiments fiercely, it is through Lata Mangeshkar’s voice that the gentle innocence of an ’emotional’ Savarkar yearning for his nation is reflected.

Beyond this, what stands out while recalling the nationalism of Mangeshkar, was her rendition of Vande Mataram, India’s national song. Written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in his 1882 novel Anandmath, the song is an abstract ode to India as a motherland, personified as Hindu Goddess Durga. In 1952, when Hemant Kumar composed the verse in a fitting Raga Desh, it was Lata Mangeshkar’s voice that rendered the original offbeat composition with rigour.

On her passing away today, The Prime Minister has expressed his condolences and has recalled his prolonged association with the legendary singer. In 2013, she had also announced her endorsement for the then CM of Gujarat, Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India. Lata Mangeshkar through her philanthropic work, has set up many medical institutions in the name of her father across many cities in Maharashtra. For gracing the inauguration of two of such institutions, Ex-PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and later Narendra Modi (as a Chief Minister of Gujrat) were invited by the Mangeshkar family wholeheartedly.

It is also to be mentioned here that, Lata Mangeshkar will be cremated with state honours in the vicinity of the Shivaji statue at the Shivaji Park in Mumbai. Hearts will continue to beat in resonance with her rendition of Hey, Hindu Narsimha, Prabho Shivaji Raja! (All Hail Shivaji Raja, who rose as a Narsimha for the Hindus) – the very first Aarti of Chhatrapati Shivaji composed by Savarkar himself. From Shivaji Maharaj to Swatatryaveer Savarkar, from singing a bhajan for Advani’s Rath Yatra in 1992 to wishing Narendra Modi well for his tenure of heading the country, Lata Mangeshkar always stood out while unequivocally supporting everyone who fought for the cause of the nation. Her nationalism is although not of the political kind, but a thread that continues to run through her music.

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