Hindi Language Blog

The Intoxication of Music (Sangeet ka Nashaa) Posted by on Jan 3, 2017 in Hindi Language, Uncategorized

First of all, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year/नया साल मुबारक हो (Nayaa Saal Mubaarak ho)! Over the past four months, it has been my pleasure to share with you my musings about Hindi language and culture, and I’m extremely grateful that you’ve joined me on this journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed my past posts, beginning with a show that prominently features Hindi and North Indian culture and history, Bollywood films and music, Hindu festivals such as Navratri, the history of Indian immigration to America and the important contributions Indian Americans have made to American cuisine, popular culture and literature, the debates surrounding Hindi and its sister language, Urdu, social issues such as the glorification of fairness in India and the caste system, major Hindi literary figures such as Mahadevi Varma and Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ and my personal experiences in Rajasthan and traveling throughout North India and in Calcutta (Kolkata).

In all of these posts, one of my major goals has been to improve the Hindi learner’s cultural literacy; by this I mean just that, in order to learn a foreign language, especially for those not of South Asian origin, it is integral to learn about the culture of which that language is a part. Especially in the beginning stages of my journey to learn Hindi, I immersed myself in Hindi movies, music and Indian literature and dreamed about the day when I would get to travel to India. Even before I began formal Hindi classes in college, the cultural knowledge I had already gleaned from these experiences aided me immensely in learning the language. One of the greatest things about learning a new language is that it unlocks a door onto another culture that may be drastically different from one’s own, affording you the opportunity to appreciate life through an entirely different perspective. And, as you continue learning a language, you quickly learn that culture and language are engaged in an endless feedback loop: through learning about the culture, you come to understand the language more and more and vice versa.

Image by Fred Miller on Flickr; these signs are quite common on buses in California, where I live; it reads: “Our treat; come to McDonald’s and enjoy.”

Another important thing to remember, especially for those who would like to start learning Hindi as part of a New Year’s Resolution, is that the journey to learn a new language, especially as an adult, never ends. Although it may not seem like it at first, this is actually a positive message in that the joy of learning is endless and there are no set goals after which your journey “ends.” Even one of my most distinguished Hindi professors in college, who is British and has been learning Hindi for most of his adult life, in response to the question, “How long did it take you to learn Hindi?” (आपको कितने साल हिंदी सीखने में लगा?/Aapko kitne saal Hindi sikhne me lagaa?) inevitably answers, “I don’t know, I’m still learning” (मुझे नहीं पता; मैं अभी भी सीख रहा हूँ/Mujhe nahin pataa; Main abhi bhi sikh rahaa huun). I’ve heard language learning compared to many things, but one of the comparisons that seems the most accurate and has thus stuck with me is that of a plant you are nurturing; you have to water it every day, even just a little bit, so that, over time, it will flourish and bloom.

In today’s post, I’d like to share one of the most emotional experiences I’ve had in learning Hindi: discovering and listening to the incredible playback singers employed in the popular Hindi film industry, also known as “Bollywood.”

To keep this post relatively brief, I will discuss only five playback singers:


Mohammed Rafi, मोहम्मद रफ़ी (1924-1980)

Even if you are not usually a fan of “oldies,” I encourage you to give this singer a chance. I remember distinctly the first time I heard this talented and versatile singer’s mellifluous voice and was instantly hooked. As with most playback singers, especially of this era, Rafi was trained in the technically demanding Hindustani classical music tradition; but, as a singer of popular film songs, Rafi was capable of singing virtually any type of song with skill and style, from songs extolling India as a nation, melancholy numbers and romantic songs to Urdu ghazals (ग़ज़ल, a type of Urdu poetry), bhajans (भजन, or Hindu religious music) and qawwali songs (क़व्वाली, or music hailing from the Sufi spiritual tradition of Islam). Not only was Rafi’s voice incredibly fluid between genres of music, but he was also able to change the personality of his voice to match the actor’s persona who lip synced the song that Rafi was actually singing.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Mohammed Rafi’s “barsi” (बरसी, fem. noun) or death anniversary celebration at a private club in Jaipur, where local singers performed some of his more popular and classic songs in honor of this legendary singer. I couldn’t help singing along to some of my favorites, like “Chaudvin ka chand,” (चौदहवीं का चाँद or “The 14th Moon/The Moon of the 14th Night”), “Suhaani Raat Dhal Chuki” (सुहानी रात ढल चुकी or “The pleasant night has ended”) and “Khoya Khoya Chand” (खोया खोया चाँद or “The Hidden/Lost Moon”). Here’s a link to one of his lesser known, though fantastically catchy, songs, called “Yun To Humne Lakh Haseen Dekhe Hain, Tumsa Nahin Dekha” (“यूँ तो हमने लाख हसीन देखे हैं, तुमसा नहीं देखा” or “Though I’ve seen a thousand beauties, I haven’t seen one like you”) from the similarly titled 1957 movie Tumsa Nahin Dekha/तुमसा नहीं देखा (I haven’t seen one like you) starring the legendary goofball Shammi Kapoor (शम्मी कपूर).



Udit Narayan, उदित नारायण झा (born: 1955)

Udit Narayan was one of the first singers I ever listened to when I first became interested in Indian culture and Hindi movies. He’s an amazingly prolific singer who is originally from Nepal. Like most Hindi playback singers, he sings in a wide variety of South Asian languages and has won numerous awards for his singing in films. Narayan’s most distinguishing feature is known as his “golden smile” or the powerful auditory quality of his songs which makes it seem as though he is smiling while singing a song. Here’s a playful song featuring an indigenous Australian instrument or “Didjeridoo” called “Jaane Kyoon Log Pyaar Karte Hain” (जाने क्यों लोग प्यार करते हैं, “I wonder why people fall in love”) from the popular 2001 film Dil Chahta Hai (दिल चाहता है, The heart desires) (part of this movie is set in Australia, where there is a robust Indian expat community, hence the didjeridoo), starring Preity Zinta (प्रीति ज़िंटा) and Aamir Khan (आमिर खान) with music direction by the renowned trio Shankar-Ehsan-Loy (शंकर-एहसान-लॉय). The female voice in the song belongs to none other than the famous Alka Yagnik (अलका याग्निक). She and Udit Narayan formed a beloved “singing duo” who would often sing romantic songs together.

Another incredible but melancholy song from the same film sung by an equally, if not more, famous playback singer, Sonu Nigam (सोनू निगम), is called “Tanhai” (“तनहाई” or “Loneliness”):


Arijit Singh, अरिजीत सिंह (born: 1987)

Arijit Singh is a very recent playback singer who skyrocketed to fame in the Hindi music and film industries after being immensely successful in the Bengali music industry for his playful, soulful and versatile voice. As one would expect, he is originally from West Bengal, but sings beautifully in a wide variety of South Asian languages, Hindi included. Singh first became famous in the Hindi music industry with the song “Tum Hi Ho” (तुम ही हो, “There’s Only You”) from the tragic love story Aashiqui 2 (आशिकी २ or Lover 2) (2013). However, my favorite song of his to date is called “Kabira”(कबीरा) and is from the 2013 film Yah Jawaani Hai Deewani (यह जवानी है दीवानी, This Crazy Youth). Here is a great acoustic version of the song that was featured on the popular Indian television program “MTV Unplugged.”



Chithra, चित्रा (1963-present)

Also known as K. S. Chithra, this playback singer is originally from Kerala, but was quite prominent in Hindi playback songs from the 90s to the early 2000s. She, like most playback singers, is classically trained, but in the South Indian Carnatic style rather than North Indian Hindustani style. In addition to popular music, she also sings Indian classical and devotional music and sings beautifully in numerous South Asian languages. One of her most beautiful songs, which strongly features her almost unearthly, mellifluous voice, is called “Kehna Hi Kya” (कहना ही क्या, What Does it Mean Just to Speak?) from the 1995 Tamil-language (later dubbed in Hindi) film Bombay (बंबई), whose music director was the famous A.R. Rahman (ए ०आर० रहमान). This song was featured in the The Guardian’s “1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear” list. Aptly enough, Chitra is known as the “Little Nightingale” in her native language of Malayalam, a quality for which she is also renowned in her Hindi songs.

Monali Thakur, मोनाली ठाकुर (born: 1985)

Like Arijit Singh, Monali Thakur is also an up-and-coming Bengali singer who has now broken into the Hindi film and music industries. In West Bengal, she acted in various Bengali films in addition to singing. She won a major honor in the Hindi film industry when she was awarded the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer with the song “Moh Moh Ke Dhaage” (मोह मोह के धागे or “The Bonds of Infatuation”) from the offbeat film Dum Lagake Haisha (2015). She also won an award for the beautifully sung and playful number “Sawaar Loon” (सँवार लूँ, “I’ll Adorn Myself”) from the period drama Lootera (लूटेरा, The Thief) (2013). Like the Bengali singer Shreya Ghoshal (श्रेया घोषाल), Thakur has a delicate soprano voice, but with her own unique touch.

If there any talented playback singers you’d like me to know and/or write about, just leave a comment below!

शब्दावली की सूची

(Shabdaavali ki Soochi/Vocabulary List):

  1. नया/Nayaa (adjective): new.
  2. साल/Saal (masc. noun): year.
  3. मुबारक हो/Mubaarok ho (phrase): congratulations or happy ___.
  4. सीखना/Seekhnaa (verb): to learn.
  5. मुझे नहीं पता/Mujhe nahin pataa (phrase): I don’t know.
  6. चाँद/Chaand (masc. noun): moon.
  7. रात/Raat (fem. noun): night.
  8. देखना/Dekhnaa (verb): to see, look (at).
  9. लोग/Log (masc. noun): person, people.
  10. प्यार करना/Pyaar Karnaa (verb): to love. प्यार/pyaar or love is a masc. noun.
  11. चाहना/Chahnaa (verb): to want.
  12. दिल/Dil (masc. noun): heart.
  13. जवान/Javaan (adjective): young, youthful. The noun version of this word, जवानी/Javaani, or youthfulness, is a feminine noun.
  14. कहना/Kehnaa (verb): to say, tell.
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About the Author: Rachael

नमस्ते, मेरा नाम रेचल है/السلام علیکم، میرا نام ریچل ہے۔ Hello, my name is Rachael, but I also on occasion go by Richa––an interesting story for another time :) My two great loves are Hindi and Urdu. I first traveled to India (Jaipur, Rajasthan) in college on a Hindi study abroad program. A little over a year later, I returned to the same city to study Hindi in a yearlong program. I've also spent a summer in Kolkata, West Bengal learning Bengali, and I studied Urdu at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a graduate student in South Asian Studies. I hope to share with you the fascinating world of Hindi and Urdu literature, society, culture and film through my blogs!