"BAbul morA, naihar chchooTo jAy" - a permanent fixture in
the national consciousness thanks to K.L. Saigal, is known to
every Indian to whom it is synonymous with Raga Bhairavi.
The origins of this composition and its composer - the epicure
Wajid Ali Shah - are not as well known. The following sketch
throws light on the unexpected turn of events that inspired
From: Great Masters of Hindustani Music by Susheela Mishra
Hem Publishers, 1981
Nawab Wajid Ali Shah
Some years ago I saw the film 'Aavishkar' and was impressed
by the subtle and soothing manner in which the famous
Lucknow Thumri "Babul mora Naihar chchooto jaay" in
Bhairavi had been used as a haunting and recurring background
refrain throughout this good film. After the picture was over
and as we were returning home, I asked some of my Lucknow
friends if they knew who was the composer of this very popular
song. I was disappointed when they confessed that none of
them knew, although they had heard this Thumri many times
and liked it very much. If even Lucknowwallas are not aware
of this song, one cannot expect others from other parts of the
country to know anything about it.
This Bhairavi Thumri has been one of the favourites of
famous light classical and classical musicians from Moizuddin,
Malkajan, Gauharjan, and Ustad Faiyaz Khan, to Siddheswari
Devi, Begum Akhtar and Girja Devi of more recent times. But
it was the late K.L. Saigal's simple, yet poignant rendering of
it in the New Theatres Film "Street Singer" that made it an all
India favourite. Even in the farthest South, I remember young
people travelling miles by train or bus in order to see a New
Theatres film and hear their soulful songs. Saigal did not need
an orchestra "of a hundred instruments" or a cacophony of
Western and Eastern instruments to support his voice and boost
its volume. The barest minimum of a Harmonium and Tabla
were all that he needed to render this Thumri with an
expressiveness and emotion that brought tears into every eye.
From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, music-lovers tried to hum and
copy it the way Saigal sang. Even in some of the South Indian
AIR stations, there was no ban on casual artistes having a go
at this song at the end of a Karnatic recital !
Since those days, more than three decades ago, I have heard
'Babul Mora' rendered in an infinite variety of styles by many
reputed maestros of the North, and learnt about the poignant
circumstances that gave birth to this sweet Thumri. It is a well-
known fact that "Lucknow is the mother, and Benares the
sweetheart of the thumri style." A large number of composers
who throve under the lavish patronage of the Nawab rulers of
Lucknow enriched this light classical form whose popularity is
mounting day by day. Among these, the name of Nawab Wajid
Ali Shah (the last Nawab-ruler of Lucknow) stands out in golden
letters. He was not only a munificent patron of music, dance,
drama, and poetry, but was himself a gifted composer, and a
proficient Kathak dancer. He had received vocal training under
great Ustads like Basit Khan, Pyar Khan and Jaffar Khan and
Kathak training under Thakur Prasadji and Bindadin Maharaj.
Although his pen-name was Qaisar, be used the pseudonym
"Akhtarpiya" for his numerous compositions. Under this pen-
name, he wrote over 40 works, poems, prose and Thumris.
"Diwani-Akhtar", "Husn-i-Akhtar" contain his Ghazals. He is
said to have composed many new ragas and named them Jogi,
Juhi, Shah-Pasand, etc.
Wajid Ali Shah was most unfortunate to have ascended the
throne of Awadh at a time when the East India Company was
determined to grab the coveted throne of prosperous Awadh
(Oudh), which was "the garden, granary, and queen-province
of India." In different circumstances perhaps, be might have
succeeded as a ruler because he had many qualities that make
a good administrator. He was generous, kind and compassionate
towards his subjects, besides being one of the most magnan-
imous and passionate patrons of the Fine Arts. But the British
Agent, and some of the treacherous elements in the court of
Awadh availed of his lavish and luxurious style of living, brand-
ed him as "a monster of debauchery, profligacy and vice",
and succeeded in banishing him from his beloved Lucknow.
In recent times, one finds a turn of the tide in his favour.
Attempts are being made to remove Wajid Ali Shah's tarnished
image and to repaint him as a benevolent and gifted monarch
who was more sinned against than sinning. Valuable books
have been published recently giving a full and just assessment
of his virtues as well as his vices. When he ascended the throne,
he took keen interest in the administration of justice, introduced
reforms, and reorganised the military department. But gradually,
he sank into a life of pleasures surrounded by courtesans,
singers, dancers, and eunuchs. In his book "Awadh Under Wajid
Ali Shah", Dr. G.D. Bhatnagar gives the following assessment of
this ill-starred prince:- "Cast by providence for the role of an
accomplished dilettante, he found himself a misfit for the high
office to which he was elevated by chance. Wajid Ali Shah's
character was complex. Though he was a man of pleasure, he
was neither an unscrupulous knave nor a brainless libertine. He
was a lovable and generous gentleman, he was a voluptuary,
still he never touched wine, and though sunk in pleasure, he
never missed his 5 daily prayers. It was the literary and artistic
attainments of Wajid Ali Shah which distinguished him from
When Wajid Ali Shah was a young boy, some astrologers
warned his parents that he would become a Yogi, and advised
them that the boy should be dressed up as a Yogi on each
birthday of his so as to counteract the effect of the evil stars.
When he ascended the throne in 1847 at the age of 24, he had
a fabulous annual income of more then fifteen lakhs of rupees,
most of which he squandered on music, dance and drama. First
of all, he established his famous Parikhaana (abode of fairies)
in which hundreds of beautiful and talented girls were taught
music and dancing by expert-teachers engaged by the royal
patron. These girls were known as Parees or fairies with fancy-
names such as Sultan pari, Mahrukh pari and so on. On each
birthday of his, the Nawab would dress up as a Yogi with
saffron robes, ash of pearls smeared on his face and body,
necklaces of pearls around his neck, and a rosary in his hand,
and walk pompously into the court with two of his Parees
dressed up as Jogans. Gradually he made it into a spectacular
pageant or Mela known as Jogia Jashan, in which all citizens
of Lucknow could participate, dressed as Yogis, irrespective of
caste and creed. In the opinion of Mr. Ranbir Singh it was
this Jogia Jashan on his birthdays that "took the curtain up on
the Hindustani Theatre". Later on, when his favourite venue,
the Kaisarbagh Baradari was built, he began to stage his
magnificant Rahas, obviously a Persianised name for Rasleela,
full of sensuous poetry, his own lyrical compositions under
the pen-name "Akhtarpiya" and glamorous Kathak dances.
Ranbir Singh gives details of Wajid Ali Shah's book entitled
"Bani" in which the author mentions 36 types of Rahas all set in
Kathak style (with colourful names like "Mor-Chchatri",
"Ghunghat", "Salami", "Mor Pankhi" and "Mujra"), and
gives exhaustive notes about the costumes, jewellery, and stage-
craft. Rahas, prepared at a fabulous cost of saveral lakhs of
rupees, became very popular, and was performed at the
Kaisarbagh-Rahas Manzil, most probably, "the first Hindustani
Theatre Hall". Many have regarded Wajid Ali Shah as "the
first playwright of the Hindustani theatre", because his "Radha
Kanhaiya Ka Kissa" staged in the Rahas Manzil was the first
play of its kind. It featured Radha, Krishna, several sakhis,
and a vidushaka-like character called "Ramchera". Songs,
dances, mime, and drama were all delightfully synthesised in
these Rahas performances. He dramatised many other poems
such as Darya-i-Tashsq, Afsane-i-Isbaq, and Bhahar-i-Ulfat.
It is said that Amanat's "Inder Sabha" was inspired by these
dance-dramas, written, produced and staged by Nawab Wajid
Today, however, his pioneer contributions in this field are
seldom remembered. Kathak dance attained new heights of
popularity and glory under his expert guidance and lavish
patronage. Thakur Prasadji was his Kathak guru, and the
unforgettable Kalka-Binda brothers performed in his court.
What with the grand pageantry of the Rahas, Jogiya Jashan,
Dance dramas, and Kathak performances, Lucknow became the
magnetic cultural centre where the most reputed musi-
cians, dancers and poets of the time flourished. The greatest
musicians, dancers and instrumentalists of the time enjoyed his
munificent patronage and hospitality.
But all this pomp and splendour were wiped out in less
than eight years. In February 1854, Wajid Ali Shah was deposed
by the British Resident and exiled into far-off Matiaburj
near Calcutta. Even when the shocking ultimatum was given to
him, Wajid Ali Shah appealed to his beloved subjects not to
offer any resistance, and to maintain peace. The touching des-
cription of the bewailing citizens of Lucknow given in the
Urdu "Asrar-i-Wajid" has been translated into English by Dr.
G.D. Bhatnagar in his book as follows.
"The condition of this town, without exaggeration, was
such that on the departure of Jan-i-Alam, the life became
extinct and the body of the town was left soulless. Grief rained
down from every door and wall. There was no lane, bazar, or
dwelling which did not wail out in full agony of separation from
Jan-i-Alam. All sorts of agonies were produced in the Hindi
musical tunes and notes."
Historians describe how much the people of Lucknow
lammted the exile of their kind and popular ruler. Many of the
poets of the time have depicted their grief in touching verses
like the following :
Lucknow bekas huwa Hazrat jo-gaye,
Fazle gul kab ayegi, kab honge aakar naghma sanjh,
Ek muddat ho gayi murgaane gulshan ko gaye
The royal caravan "of about 1000 persons started from
Lucknow on March 13, 1854 towards Calcutta via Kanpur. The
parting scenes were pathetic, the whole city being thrown into
gloom. Everybody wept and bewailed while bidding farewell to
the unfortunate king. Everywhere there was sorrow. Poor and
rich, young and old, all were bewailing for the King. The
citizens looked helpless and recited mournful nauha (dirges) in
As for Wajid Ali Shah, nothing caused him more agony
than being forcibly parted forever from his beloved Lucknow.
It was at this tragic moment of being torn away from the city
and people he loved that the following lines burst out
from his sorrow-laden heart:-
"Babul mora naihar chchooto jaay-
Chaar kahaar mil, mori doliya uthaye
Mora apna begaana chchooto Jaay"-
"Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts."
One can very well visualise that sad moment of parting through
these touching lines. In fact this song has now come to be
associated with the inevitable bidaayi of every bride from her
parental home - that poignant moment when she is seated in
a doli and is about to be wrenched away from her dear "babul"
into the distant land of her groom. As in the case of a similar
composition of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, perhaps this song also
contains the allegorical meaning of a human being's last
journey on this earth when the body is carried on the shoulders
of 4 pall-bearers. So intense was Wajid Ali Shah's grief at
that moment! Well-versed in Urdu, Arabic, Hindi, and Braj
Bhasha, he composed in a mixed dialect that is easily followed
by the people of Uttar Pradesh.
Even in his exile in Matiaburj, he survived for many
long years, all the while trying to keep the sweet memories of
his Lucknow-era alive by recreating the musical environments
of his Kaisarbagh Baradari. The banished king had been given
a number of fine houses with vast grounds stretching along the
banks of the River Hooghly 3 or 4 miles south of Calcutta.
Because of an Earthen Dome (raised platform), people called
it "Matiya Burj". The king spent lavishly out of his income of
twelve lakhs of rupees per annum and before long a Second
Lucknow arose in this area. "There was the same bustle and
activity, same language, art, poetry, style of conversation - the
same pomp and splendour, the same opulent style of living.
Taking advantage of the Shia Law of Muta, he contracted
temporary legal marriages with as many good-looking and
talented girls as he fancied. Troupes of artistes congregated in
his court, the best singers were enlisted into his service and
there was a larger concourse of musicians in Matiyaburj than
could be found anywhere else in India". ("Lucknow : The Last
Phase of an Oriental Culture").
We come across descriptions of great musical assemblies in
the Darbar Hall of Matiyaburj where the great musicians and
music-lovers of Calcutta gathered to hear Wajid Ali Shah
sing his favourite Lucknow-Thumris, and to marvel at his
dance-performances. The Durbar Hall was lavishly and opu-
lently decorated just as the Lucknow Baradari used to be.
Among the invitees used to be great personalities from
Calcutta's music world such as Jadu-Bhatta (Dhrupad),
Aghorenath Chakravarty (Dhrupad), Sajjad Mohammad (Sitar),
Dhirendranath Bose (Sarod), Shyamlal Goswami (Esraj), Rai
Chand Boral, and several others. In the words of D.C.
Bhattacharya, "Rich and flexible voices filled the air. Thumri
had the pride of place, particularly Wajid Ali Shah's own
compositions that once held Lucknow in thrill - Babul mora
naihar chchootojaay; Jab chchor chali Lucknow nagari; Neer
bharan kaise jaun. The songs rose to great heights of expres-
siveness and created a spell".
When it ceased, Wajid Ali Shah sat in mute silence for a
long while, and then expressed his feelings: "All this time I
was in a dreamland as though transported by unknown hands
to my Kaisarbagh Baradari. Ah, what I have left behind! Now,
only the sweet memories linger."
The loyal citizens as well as their beloved ruler hoped for
a long time that the latter would regain the throne of Awadh
and "return to bestow a fresh spirit to the lifeless people";
but their dreams were never fulfilled. Wajid Ali Shah died on
September 1, 1887 and was buried in Imambara Sibtenabad, in
Wajid Ali Shah's most popular Thumri really turned out to
be one of the saddest and sweetest of parting songs.
Such are the poignant associations of this ever-popular
Lucknow Thumri composed by Akhtarpiya.
"Babul mora naihar chchooto jaay".
There is a beautiful film about Awadh by Satyajit Ray with Amjad khan
(of sholay - babbar khan fame) playing Wajid ali. The cast included
Sanjeev kumar and Sayeed Jaffrey. It is the only film directed by
Ray that is in hindi.
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Satyajit Ray's 'shatranj ke khiladi' is a movie set
in Nawab Wajid Ali Shah's times. it has a great performance
by Amjad Khan (of Gabbar Singh fame) as the Nawab.
In article <706rjd$i...@drn.newsguy.com>,
parr...@ferrari.colorado.edu (Rajan P. Parrikar) wrote:
> "BAbul morA, naihar chchooTo jAy" - a permanent fixture in
> the national consciousness thanks to K.L. Saigal, is known to
> every Indian to whom it is synonymous with Raga Bhairavi.
> The origins of this composition and its composer - the epicure
> Wajid Ali Shah - are not as well known. The following sketch
> throws light on the unexpected turn of events that inspired
> the composition.
> Warm regards,
> Lucknow bekas huwa Hazrat jo-gaye,
> Fazle gul kab ayegi, kab honge aakar naghma sanjh,
> Ek muddat ho gayi murgaane gulshan ko gaye
> "Babul mora naihar chchooto jaay-
> Chaar kahaar mil, mori doliya uthaye
> Mora apna begaana chchooto Jaay"-
-----------== Posted via Deja News, The Discussion Network ==----------
http://www.dejanews.com/ Search, Read, Discuss, or Start Your Own
There is a beautiful film on Awadh by Satyajit Ray starring
Amjad khan (of sholay fame) as Waji ali. Alos in the cast are Sanjeev Kumar,
Sayeed Jaffrey and Shabana Azmi. I believe this is the only film in hindi
directed by Ray.
That would be "Shatranj Ke Khiladi".
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To listen to a very impressive rendition of Babule Moraa
Get the double MAKAR CD about Bhairavi, it includes the song
sung by Vasant Roa Kadnekar.
MAKCD026 rag Bhairavi - The tradition of Indian Clasical Music - DDD -
double CD 173'24.
16 Makar musicians perform raga bhairavi : Padmavati Shaligram, Purnima
Sen, Neela Bhagwat, Purnima Chaudhuri, Pandit Jal. K. Balaporia, Pandit
V.R. Kadnekar, Pandit T.D Janorikar, Ustad Aslam Khan, Girish Karia ,
Pandit Vidur Mallick , Meraj Nizami Qawwal, M. Bahaudin Dagar, Ustad
Chhote Rahimat Khan, Sunil Khan Gupta, Rajesh Vaidhya, Dr Mustafa Raza.
US$ 25 only availaible at http://makar-records.com
: Get the double MAKAR CD about Bhairavi, it includes the song
: sung by Vasant Roa Kadnekar.
i have heard, in passing, a very impressive "Baabul moraa" by a singer more
known for popular music especially the anglicized hindi kind. i cannot
remember her name now but what jumps out apart from the magnificent effort by
the singer is the sweet violin which turned out to be L. Shankar! a double
surprise --can anyone point out the album? it is a recent release i think.