Songs That Tug At Your Emotions – Song #21

The twenty-first day of songs in this series on the first day of the New Year 2018.

In the last twenty days, we have taken up songs of eleven male singers: Talat Mahmood, Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar, Mahendra Kapoor, SD Burman, KL Saigal, Pankaj Mullick and Jagmohan ‘Sursagar’. We also took up songs of nine female singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Suman Kalyanpur, Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt, Uma Devi (Tun Tun), Suraiya and Zohrabai Ambalewali and Sudha Malhotra.

Tonight, we shall take up a song of our tenth female singer: Amirbai Karnataki and the song is a huge favourite: Vaishanav jana to tene kahiye. This bhajan was penned in the 15th century by Narsinh Mehta in Gujarati. The bhajan brings out how a Vaishnav Jan (Vishnu’s follower) must tailor his/her life

Amirbai Karnataki was born in Bilgi town, District of Bijapur in Karnataka into a middle-class family. She was a famous actress/singer and playback singer of the early Hindi cinema and was popular as Kannada Kokila. This bhajan by Narsi Bhagat (she acted in the 1940 movie with that name) made her very famous, indeed. The Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi became an ardent fan of her singing this bhajan. Amirbai was not just an accomplished actress and singer in Hindi movies, she was well versed in her mother tongue Kannada and also Gujarati in which this bhajan was penned by Narsi Bhagat.

When it comes to her singing, we first of all recall Kavi Pradeep’s rebellious songs, before independence, that she sang together with Khan Mastana. She also acted in the movie. Anil Biswas had composed it: Door hato duniya waalo Hindostan hamaara hai (Kismat, 1943). Other of her songs that I recall are: Chanda des piya ke jaa (Bharthari, 1944), O janewale balamwa laut ke aa, and Rum juhum barase badarva (Rattan, 1944).

(Pic courtesy:

Narsinh Mehta, also known as Narsi Mehta or Narsi Bhagat was a Vaishnav bhakat and poet who lived in Gujarat from 1414 to 1481. In Gujarati literature he is known as Adi Kavi (first amongst poets). He was from Junagarh in Saurashtra. He lost his parents when he was five years old. He couldn’t speak until becoming eight years old. He married when he was 15 years old. He and his wife stayed at his brother Bansidhar’s house in Junagadh. However, Bansidhar’s wife (Sister-in-law or bhabhi) did not welcome Narsinh very well. She was an ill-tempered woman, always taunting and insulting Narsinh Mehta for his devotion (Bhakti). One day, when Narasinh Mehta had enough of these taunts and insults, he left the house and went to a nearby forest in search of some peace, where he fasted and meditated for seven days by a secluded Shiva lingam until Shiva appeared before him in person. On the poet’s request, the Lord took him to Vrindavan and showed him the eternal raas leela of Krishna and the Gopis. A legend has it that the poet, transfixed by the spectacle, burnt his hand with the torch he was holding, but he was so engrossed in the ecstatic vision that he was oblivious to the pain. Mehta, as the popular account goes, at Krishna’s command, decided to sing His praises and the nectarous experience of the rasa in this mortal world. He resolved to compose around 22,000 kirtans or compositions.

Vaishnava Jan To ishis most popular bhajan. The bhajan is about the life, ideals and mentality of a Viashnava Jana (a follower of Vishnu). In the Hindu trinity (trimurti) that includes Brahma. Shiva and Vishnu, whilst Brahma is the Creator God and Shiva is the Destroyer of Evil and Transformer, Vishnu is the Preserver or the Protector.

વૈષ્ણવ જન તો તેને કહિયે
જે પીડ પરાયી જાણે રે
પર દુ:ખે ઉપકાર કરે તો યે
મન અભિમાન ન આણે રે. ॥ધૃ॥

वैष्णव जन तो तेने कहिये
जे पीड परायी जाणे रे ।
पर दुःखे उपकार करे तो ये
मन अभिमान न आणे रे ॥

vaiṣṇava jana to tene kahiye
je pīḍa parāyī jāṇe re,
para duḥkhe upakāra kare to ye
mana abhimāna na āṇe re

Call those people Vaishnavas who
Feel the pain of others,
Help those who are in misery,
But never let self-conceit enter their mind.

સકળ લોકમાં સહુને વંદે,
નિંદા ન કરે કેની રે
વાચ કાછ મન નિશ્છળ રાખે
ધન ધન જનની તેની રે. ॥૧॥

सकळ लोकमां सहुने वंदे,
निंदा न करे केनी रे ।
वाच काछ मन निश्चळ राखे,
धन धन जननी तेनी रे ॥

sakaḷa loka māṁ sahune vande,
nindā na kare kenī re,
vāca kācha mana niścala rākhe,
dhana dhana jananī tenī re

They respect the entire world,
Do not disparage anyone,
Keep their words, actions and thoughts pure,
The mother of such a soul is blessed.

સમદૃષ્ટિ ને તૃષ્ણા ત્યાગી
પરસ્ત્રી જેને માત રે
જિહ્વા થકી અસત્ય ન બોલે
પરધન નવ ઝાલે હાથ રે. ॥૨॥

समदृष्टि ने तृष्णा त्यागी,
परस्त्री जेने मात रे ।
जिह्वा थकी असत्य न बोले,
परधन नव झाले हाथ रे ॥

sama-dṛṣṭi ne tṛṣṇā tyāgī,
para-strī jene māta re,
jihvā thakī asatya na bole,
para-dhana nava jhāle hātha re

They see all equally, renounce craving,
Respect other women as their own mother,
Their tongue never utters false words,
Their hands never touch the wealth of others.

મોહ માયા વ્યાપે નહિ જેને,
દૃઢ વૈરાગ્ય જેના મનમાં રે
રામ નામ શુ તાળી રે લાગી
સકળ તીરથ તેના તનમાં રે. ॥૩॥

मोह माया व्यापे नहि जेने,
दृढ़ वैराग्य जेना मनमां रे ।
रामनाम शुं ताळी रे लागी,
सकळ तीरथ तेना तनमां रे ॥

moha māyā vyāpe nahi jene,
dṛḍha-vairāgya jenā manamāṁ re,
rāma-nāma śuṁ tāḷī re lāgī,
sakaḷa tīratha tenā tanamāṁ re

They do not succumb to worldly attachments,
They are firmly detached from the mundane,
They are enticed by the name of God (Rama),
All places of pilgrimage are embodied in them.

વણ લોભી ને કપટ રહિત છે,
કામ ક્રોધ નિવાર્યાં રે
ભણે નરસૈયો તેનું દર્શન કરતાં
કુળ એકોતેર તાર્યાં રે. ॥૪॥

वणलोभी ने कपटरहित छे,
काम क्रोध निवार्या रे ।
भणे नरसैयॊ तेनुं दरसन करतां,
कुळ एकोतेर तार्या रे ॥

vaṇa-lobhī ne kapaṭa-rahita che,
kāma krodha nivāryā re,
bhaṇe narasaiyo tenuṁ darasana karatāṁ,
kuḷa ekotera tāryā re

They have forsaken greed and deceit,
They stay afar from lust and anger,
Narsi says: I’d be grateful to meet such a soul,
Whose virtue liberates their entire lineage.

The movie Narsi Bhagat was a 1940 Vijay Bhatt movie. Vijay Bhatt later covered himself in glory by making the iconic movie Ram Rajya (1943) Baiju Bawra (1952) and Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959) that had Shehnai Vaadan by Ustaad Bismillah Khan throughout in the movie. The movie starred Vishnupant Pagnis in the title role and Durga Khote as Manekbai. Shankar Rao Vyas was the music director and also composed this bhajan and other songs of the movie.

Lord Shiva showing Narsi Bhagat Ras Leela in Vrindavan

Please enjoy Amirbai Karnataki sing one of the most popular bhajans in Indian culture: Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye….

I don’t think there is another bhajan in our culture that toches the chords of our hearts more than this. Its composition is in Raag Khammaj, Tal Kaherava that I have already told you enough about. I have also told you that since Khammaj employs both Shuddha and Komal Nishad, it is both happy (Shuddha) and has pangs of separation (Komal). Here too, the happiness is in being a Vaishanav Jan and the ache is in empathising with someone who is in pain.

The bhajan is often in the creases of my mind and truly tugs at my emotions.

I hope you enjoyed it too.

Please await tomorrow’s song.


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