Atul’s Song A Day- A choice collection of Hindi Film & Non-Film Songs

So na o nanhi so na

Posted on: December 14, 2012

This article is written by Sudhir, a fellow enthusiast of Hindi movie music and a regular contributor to this blog.

The dynamo of Indian classical music is stilled. And the strings of the sitar will be played no more.

Pt. Ravi Shankar, the most enduring icon of Indian classical music, and the most influential ambassador of India’s culture to the entire world, passed away on 12th December (India time, 11th December local time) in San Diego, USA. He breathed his last one week after having undergone a valve replacement surgery. At the age of 92, he was still active on stage, still continued to tour, and had just a week earlier been nominated yet once again for the 2013 Grammy awards.

Born in the holy city of Benaras (Varanasi) on 7th April, 1920, into a Bengali brahmin family, he was named Robindro Shankar Chowdhury at birth. A name that he would in early youth, change to Ravi Shankar. He belonged to a family of artists and performers. Uday Shankar and Anand Shankar, the renowned dancers and choreographers, are his elder brothers. The child Ravi Shankar was already touring with the dance troupe of his elder brother, Uday Shanker, as a teenager.

At the age of 14, at a music conference in Calcutta, he heard a performance by the renowned Ustaad Allaudin Khan. At this time, Uday Shankar was beginning a tour of Europe with his dance troupe. Uday Shankar was able to convince Allaudin Khan Sb to join the tour. While on the tour, Allaudin Khan Saahab initiated tutoring the young lad Ravi Shankar, in classical music.

On return to India, the teacher offered the student to continue serious training as a classical musician, on the condition that he gives up touring with his elder brother and stay in India with him.

And so in 1938, Ravi Shankar gave up his dancing career with his brother’s troupe, and came to Maihar to stay with the learned teacher and study Indian classical music, living with his family in the traditional gurukul system.

Khan Sb was a rigorous teacher. Ravi Shankar received training on sitar, rudra veena, rubab, sursingar and surbahar. He learned ragas and the musical styles dhrupad, dhamar, and khyal. He often studied with Khan Sb’s children Ali Akbar Khan and Annapurna Devi. In December 1939, Ravi Shankar gave his first public performance. It was a jugalbandi (duet) with Ali
Akbar Khan, his guru-bhai, who played the sarod. (NOTE: Ravi Shankar married Annapurna Devi in 1941, but the two were separated after a few years, in late 40s)

Ravi Shankar’s education by Khan Sb was completed in 1944. After being in almost total seclusion from the outside world for almost 6 years, he came in touch once again with the current social and political scenario. He moved to Bombay. And with the influence of like minded friends and his own personal beliefs, he joined IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association).

IPTA was created by the communist movement in India, in an effort to engage and involve the luminaries from the fields of performing arts, in the movement to bring focus on to the downtrodden in the society. The group prepared and performed plays and ballets on the themes relating to the plight of the poor. Ravi Shankar composed music for many such ballets in
1945 and 1946. In this time, he also recomposed the music for the popular song “Sare Jahan Se Achcha”. He began to record music for HMV India and later one worked as a music director for All India Radio (AIR), New Delhi, from February 1949 to January 1956. While at AIR, he founded the Indian National Orchestra.

During this time, two significant films were made by the IPTA. The first one is ‘Neecha Nagar’ (1946), directed by Chetan Anand, with screenplay by Khwaaja Ahmed Abbaas. The storyline was based on a short story of the same name, by Hayaatullah Ansari, and in turn inspired by the story ‘Lower Depths’ by Maxim Gorky. This film explored the increasing divide between the have’s and have not’s in the society.

The second one was ‘Dharti Ke Laal’ (1946), produced and directed by Khwaja Ahmed Abbaas. This film dealt with the Bengal famine of 1943, a man-made human tragedy of monumental proportions. (The British PM, Winston Churchill, deliberately allowed this tragedy to happen, and was in many ways instrumental for it. Despite a severe cyclone in 1942, the rice production was down only 5%. But the British, in the face of progressing Japanese army, chose to dump shiploads of food grain in the sea, or moved it to Europe with the excuse of World War in progress, thereby creating an artificial scarcity. As a result, speculation and hoarding ensued, and suddenly there was no rice in the market. Despite repeated appeals from his own officers in India, Churchill maintained a cruel unmoving silence towards this calamity, thereby causing almost 3 million to perish. His one response to a telegram from the government in Delhi about people perishing in the famine was to ask why Gandhi hadn’t died yet.)

These two films are considered pioneering efforts in India, in the field of Neo-Realism, or realistic cinema. Not that films were not being made on social themes that displayed the problems in the society. But the earlier films were more of a theatrical adaptation of such themes (e.g. Mehboob Khan’s ‘Roti’ (1942)). The stark realism of the sufferings of the poor
class, depicted in these two films was something that the cinegoers had not been exposed to before. These two films paved the way for what we now know as Parallel Cinema in India.

Ravi Shankar’s partnership with Hindi cinema started with these two films. The film ‘Neecha Nagar’ is his first Hindi film as a music director. His affiliation with the cinema has been minimal and sporadic. After these two films in 1946, his next offering comes as the music director for the much acclaimed Apu Trilogy, the magnum opus production from Satyajit Ray. Then moving beyond, we find only three more films that he worked with. They are ‘Anuradha’ (1960), ‘Godaan’ (1963) and, then later in 1979, the film ‘Meera’ by Gulzar.

‘Neecha Nagar’ was produced under the banner of India Pictures, Bombay, and directed by Chetan Anand. The star cast of this film includes Rafeeq Anwar, Uma Anand, Rafi Peer, Kamini Kaushal, Hamid Butt, SP Bhatia, Mohan Sehgal, Prem Kumar etc. (The names that we read as associated with these two films are all the leading lights of the IPTA group.) This is he debut film for Kamini Kaushal. The lyrics of this film are written by Vishwamitra Adil and Manmohan Anand. Based on information available thus far, the specific lyricist for individual songs are not identified. The singing voice is that of Laxmi Shankar. Interesting link to note – Laxmi Shankar is the sister in law of Ravi Shankar, and wife of Rajendra Shankar, brother to Ravi Shankar. She started her career as a dancer, and in 1939 joined Uday Shankar’s dance troupe. A little while later, she had to give up dancing on account of some health issues. Being also trained in classical music, she then continued her music education under Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan and Ravi Shankar, and went on to become one of the leading classical singers in India.

This song is a lullaby, and on screen, one sees Kamini Kaushal crooning a girl child to sleep. As the song progresses, the scene broadens to depict a sort of community shelter, where many families seem to be living together. There are more people and more children that the elders are trying to make them sleep. The words are so simple, and music is minimalistic. It is such a soft melody, and is so softly rendered. I located and heard this song for the first time, and have really started loving it.

Listen to this rare performance by Laxmi Shankar for a film song, and see a very young Kamini Kaushal in her debut role. (Incidentally, this film is now available on disc in the market).

Once again, fond tributes to the departed genius of classical music, and an astoundingly prolific performer on the world stage for eight decades. Good bye, Ravi Shankar Sb. While there may be many imitators, but there is never going to be one like you. Go, and regale the Gods in heaven.

sonaa, o nannhi so naa
naa na, ab ro naa

O little one
Sleep now
No, no, do not sob
(Its time to sleep)
Sleep now

roop sonaa jal jal chamke, chandan sulgey jag mehakaaye
deepshikha dheeme se jal ke, aur diyon ko bhi chamkaaye

The halcyon beauty
The more it burns
The brighter it shines
And the burning sandalwood
Spreads fragrance all around
The flickering flame at the top
Burning slowly
Illumines all the lamps

so jaa tu, itna mat jaag, nindiyaa ko aise mat tyaag
laal laal angaara aa ke, palkon ke pardon mein le le
baat deye jagannath bhajan ko, khud hi sab ka dard na le le

Sleep now, o dear child
Do not forsake sleep just so
Let the bright red light
Shine inside your eyelids
Pray to the Lord, appeal to him
Do not take all the sadness yourself

Song- So naa o nanhi so naa (Neecha Nagar)(1946) Singer-Laxmi Shankar, MD-Ravi Shankar


so naa
hmm. . .
hmm. . . sonaa
o nannhi so naa
naa na
ab ro naa
o nannhi so naa
naa na
ab ro naa

roopa sonaa jal jal chamke
chandan sulgey jag mehkaaye
roopa sonaa jal jal chamke
chandan sulgey jag mehkaaye
deepshikha dheeme se jal kar
aur diyon ko bhi chamkaaye
deepshikha dheeme se jal kar
aur diyon ko bhi chamkaaye

so jaa tu
itna mat jaag
nindiyaa ko aise mat tyaag
so jaa tu
itna mat jaag
nindiyaa ko aise mat tyaag
laal laal angaara aa ke
palkon ke pardon mein le le
baant de ye jagannath bhajan ko
khudki sab ka dard na le le
so naa
o nannhi so naa
naa na
ab ro naa

3 Responses to "So na o nanhi so na"

What a combo Laxmi Ravi Shankar square. Her voice is really endearing.


Sudhir ji
Thank you for informative post and song.



Sudhir ji,
I had faith/trust that you would pay tribute to this Legend, who was/will be respected by the world of music. Thanks for the details about his life/contribution and for the song that I was never aware of. I could identify only Kanan Kaushal in the song.
I may want to correct one word here-
second para, tenth line should be
khud hi sab ka dard na le le (instead of khudki) I know, it must be a typo.
Thanks again for the post.


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This blog discusses Bollywood songs of yesteryears. Every song has a brief description, followed by a video link, and complete lyrics of the song.

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