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This article is written by Sadanand Kamath, a fellow enthusiast of Hindi movie music and a contributor to this blog. This article is meant to be posted in atulsongaday.me. If this article appears in other sites without the knowledge and consent of the web administrator of atulsongaday.me, then it is piracy of the copyright content of atulsongaday.me and is a punishable offence under the existing laws.

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4548 Post No. : 16128

Today, December 30, 2020 is 7th Remembrance Day of Lakshmi Shankar.

What a musical journey Lakshmi Shankar had in her career spreading over 7 decades! Her journey from a Bharatnataym dancer to Uday Shankar’s ballet dancer, an actress in a Tamil film, a playback singer in Hindi films, a Hindustani classical vocalist and as a catalyst in spreading the Hindustani classical music across the continents is unparalleled. And it is more so for a woman who had to cross the societal barrier. Lakshmi Shankar was really a woman of substance.

In 2009, 83-year-old Lakshmi Shankar received a Grammy Nomination for Best Traditional World Music Album. Although she could not make it to the final list, the Grammy nomination itself was a great event for a woman Hindustani classical vocalist in the Western music dominated award. The irony is that she never got the status of a celebrity in her own country. She did not get any ‘Padma’ awards from Government of India nor any award from Sangeet Academy – whether Central or State levels.

Lakshmi Shankar, was born as Mahalakshmi Sastri (16/06/1926- 30/12/2013) in Jamshedpur where her father Vaidyanath Sastri was employed in Tata Iron and Steel Company as a Chartered Accountant. He was a native of a village in Pudukkottai district. Her mother, Visalaksi was from Palghat (Palakkad) district – both districts being part of the then Madras Presidency. During Vaidyanath Sastri’s stay in Jamshedpur, Mahatma Gandhi made a number of visits to Jamshedpur. The result was that he became attracted to Gandhian ideology. Mahatma Gandhi picked him up to devote time for the upliftment of harijans. He left the job and shifted to Poona (Pune) in 1930 for the assigned work. His other family members, including Lakshmi Shankar, shifted to Madras (Chennai).

At the age of 8, Lakshmi was put under Guru Kandappa Pillai for learning Bharatnataym dance in Chennai. At the age of 11, she performed her arangetram in Bharatnatyam dance. At the age of 13, she joined Uday Shankar’s India Cultural Centre in Almora for training in fusion dances. During her stint in Almora, Lakshmi Shankar got married to Rajendra Shankar, (the next younger brother of Uday Shankar) who was 21 years older than her. Rajendra Shankar, with M.Sc. in Physics and Chemistry was working as a script writer and was handling publicity in Uday Shankar’s Dance Academy. During 1940-43, Lakshmi Shankar travelled across India as one of the dancers with Uday Shankar’s dance troupe. In 1944, Uday Shankar’s India Cultural Centre in Almora was closed down due to financial constraints.

Following the closure of Uday Shankar’s Dance Academy, Lakshmi Shankar with her husband and brother-in-law, Ravi Shankar came to Mumbai. Both the Shankar brothers got associated with Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). While Rajendra Shankar joined Bombay Talkies (later Filmistan) as story and script writer, Ravi Shankar got his first assignment for scoring music for Chetan Anand’s ‘Neecha Nagar’ (1946) followed by K A Abbas’s ‘Dharti Ke Laal’ (1946). In the first film, Lakshmi Shankar sang for Kamini Kaushal a lullaby so na o nanhi so na. In ‘Dharti Ke Laal’ (1946), she sang beete ho sukh ke din aayee dukh ki ratiyaan.

With these two films, the musical collaboration of Lakshmi Shankar with her brother-in-law, Ravi Shankar started which continued until the latter’s death in December 2012.

Ravi Shankar and his other associates were disillusioned with IPTA as they were not given the freedom in creating the work of their respective fields. Ravi Shankar set up his own artists’ group in which his wife Annapurna Devi, sister-in-law, Lakshmi Shankar and his elder brother, Rajendra Shankar, Zohra Sehgal, Shanti Bardhan etc became the important part of this group.

It was around this time that Jawaharlal’s Nehru’s book ‘The Discovery of India’ (1946) was published and Ravi Shankar felt that this book was a good choice for adapting it as a ballet-cum-opera on the stage. He got the financial backing for the project from Indian National Theatre, the cultural wing of the Indian National Congress. While Ravi Shankar and Annapurna Devi took charge of the music, Rajendra Shankar wrote the script and looked after the production. Lakshmi Shankar and Sachin Shankar became the main dancers to be choreographed by Shanti Bardhan.

The premier of ‘The Discovery of India Ballet-Cum-Opera’ was held in New Delhi in April 1947 in the presence of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The premier of the ballet-cum-opera was highly successful. Later, it was staged at many prominent cities all over India because of which Lakshmi Shankar became a well-known dancer.

In 1948, while the ballet-cum-opera was still being staged, Lakshmi Shankar fell ill and was diagnosed as suffering from pleurisy affecting her lungs. She was taken back to her house in Chennai for recuperation. The doctor advised her to give up dancing as it would be too hard for her weak lungs. With this, her professional dancing career came to an end.

After a complete recovery from illness, Lakshmi Shankar returned to Mumbai where her husband was already working as a story and screenplay writer in Amiya Chakraborty’s film production company, ‘Mars & Movies’. [Lakshmi Shankar’s younger sister Kamala Sastri was married to Amiya Chakraborty in 1951]. In the absence of dancing, she thought of pursuing the playback singing career in films.

Post-illness, Lakshmi Shankar sang jingles in some advertising films and got a chance to sing a bhajan ‘in Aandhiyaan (1952). It was during her rehearsal of the song recording for the film ‘Mastaana’ (1954) when its music director, Madan Mohan advised her to learn Hindustani classical music as he felt that her voice was most suited for thumri singing. Though Lakshmi Shankar liked Hindustani classical music in instruments, she was not keen to become Hindustani classical vocalist.

It was because of Madan Mohan’s persistence that Lakshmi Shankar agreed to give a try. The next day, Madan Mohan came to her house with Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan of Patiala Gharana and with a harmonium. Madan Mohan played on harmonium and Ustad played on his swarmandal. Ustad’s one line of some bandish mesmerised Lakshmi Shankar so much that she resolved to learn Hindustani classical music as a vocalist from him.

Lakshmi Shankar completed her training in three years’ time. In January 1957, she gave her maiden performance at Entally Music Festival in Kolkata which was very much appreciated. With this success, she was invited to many music festivals all over India. She continued learning Hindustani classical music with Professor B R Deodhar and completed her Bachelor of Music degree under him. In the meanwhile, she occasionally sang for Hindi films as playback singer about 30 songs in 20 films from 1946 to 1974. In the Marathi film ‘Pativrata’ (1959), she had sung 2 thumris with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.

In 1962-63, she got her first opportunity for a 4-month tour to the USA and Europe as a part of Uday Shankar’s group as a lead vocalist and the music director of the ballet orchestra. In 1968, Ravi Shankar organised the Festival of India in the USA in which she was again a lead vocalist along with many eminent musicians from India. In 1970, she travelled to Italy (Rome, Florence and Venice) and the Shiraz Festival in Iran for her solo performance as a vocalist.

Some of Lakshmi Shankar’s notable works included her cross collaborations with George Harrison in 1974. One of her collaborations with him was a Krishna song in English, ‘I am missing you’ which received good receptions in its live performance throughout the USA. This song made her well-known in the Western countries. The English song was written by Pandit Ravi Shankar. She also sang a couple of soulful bhajans in Attenborough’s Oscar winning film ‘Gandhi’ (1982) for which Ravi Shankar was the music director.

Lakshmi Shankar had been travelling quite often on her musical tours abroad either as a part of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s troupe or as a solo performer. For this reason, Lakshmi Shankar moved to the USA along with her family and took permanent residency near Los Angeles in 1984. She cut many discs in the USA and Europe besides India. Later in her life, she started teaching Hindustani classical music to American-Indians in her house in Simi Valley, California.

With the death of Pandit Ravi Shankar on December 11, 2012, Lakshmi Shankar’s collaborations with him of over 7 decades ended. It had started first as dancers in Uday Shankar’s academy in 1939, as a playback singer under his music direction in 1946, as a dancer in his ballet-cum-opera ‘Discovery of India’ in 1947-48 and both national and international collaboration from 1963 onwards with him. After Ravi Shankar’s death, Lakshmi Shankar’s health started deteriorating. Almost one year after her mentor’s death, Lakshmi Shankar passed away on December 30, 2013.

On the occasion of the 7th Remembrance Day of Lakshmi Shankar, I am presenting one of her popular non-film Krishna bhajans, ehi Muraare kunjavihaare (1979). She has rendered this bhajan in Raag Pahadi. Most of the on-line references have accredited this Sanskrit bhajan to Jayadeva. But a section of the listeners has pointed out that this bhajan is not found in Jayadeva’s Ashtapadi.

Lakshmi Shankar recorded this devotional song in the USA which became a part of a Long-Playing Record, ‘Lakshmi Shankar Sings Devotional Songs’ for ISCKKON Golden Avatar Productions in 1979 under the orchestration of L Subramaniam, a renowned violinist supported by Ustad Zakir Hussain on tabla. I feel that Lakshmi Shankar may have composed the tune herself. Later, sometime in the 1980s, she sang live on All India Radio/Doordarshan as part of the National Programme of Music. I personally like her live version because of the audio quality, the clarity of the words, the excellent tabla rhythm and the elaborations with which Lakshmi Shankar rendered the bhajan.

How could Lakshmi Shankar mesmerise her foreign audience with her bhajans? The answer is that she did with her emotive voice as evident in this bhajan.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Acknowledgements:

1. ‘Poignant Song – The Life and Music of Lakshmi Shankar’ (2019) By Kavita Das.

2. An Interview with Lakshmi Shankar by Shreen Isal, June 2001 published in http://www.associationsargam.com

Audio Clip: (Record version)

Video Clip: (From live concert on AIR/Doordarshan)

Song-Ehi muraare kunjavihaare (Lakhmi Shankar NFS)(1979) Singer-Lakshmi Shankar

Lyrics (Based on record version)
[The equivalent lyrics are written based on the phonetics of Sanskrit stotram].

ehi muraare
ehi mura…are
ehi muraare kunjavihaa…re
ehi praṇata jana bandho
ehi muraare kunjavihaare
ehi praṇata jana bandho
hey Madhava madhumathana vareṇya
Keshava karuṇasindho

raasa nikunje gunjati niyatam
raasa nikunje gunjati niyatam
bhramarashatam kil kaanta aa
ehi nibhṛta pathapaantha..aa
tvamiha yaache darashandaanam
tvamiha yaache darashandaanam
he Madhusoodan shanta
ehi muraare kunjavihaare
ehi praṇata janabandho

nava neeraj dhara shyaamal sundara
nava neeraj dhara shyaamal sundara
chandra kusum ruchivesha
gopigaṇ hṛidayesha..aa
govardhana dhara vṛindaavanachara
govardhana dhara vṛindaavanachara
vanshīdhara paramesha
ehi muraare kunjavihaare
ehi praṇata janabandho

Raadharanjan kansaniṣhoodan
Raadharanjan kansaniṣoodan
praṇatistaavaka charaṇe
nikhila niraashraya sharaṇe
ehi Janaardana pitaambaradhara
ehi Janaardana pitaambaradhara
kunje mantharapavane..ae
ehi muraare
ehi muraare
ehi muraare kunja vihaare
ehi praṇata jana bandh..o
he Madhava madhu mathana vareṇya
Keshava karuṇa sindho

——————————————
English Translation (Source: http://www.kksongs.org )
——————————————

O killer of the demon Mura who roams in the gardens, come near.
O Mādhava, who is the friend of those who bow upon, who destroyed Madhu, who is desirable, who is Keshva and who is the ocean of compassion, come near.

Hundreds of shiny bumble-bees are continuously buzzing in the gardens of [our] transcendental mellows. O You, who beyond the paths of material standards, come near. We all are craving for the sight of You, O Madhusoodana, who is calm.

O You, who holds a new lotus, who is dark in complexion, who is beautiful, who is decorated with chandrakusuma, who rules the heart of group of Gopī, who held Govardhana, who roams in Vrindaavana, who holds a flute, who is the supreme ruler.

O who gives pleasure to Rādhaa, who destroyed Kamsa, who is complete. I am bowing into Your feet which is the shelter of the unsheltered.
O Janaardana, who has yellow robes, come close to me in this garden.


This article is written by Bharat Upadhyay, a fellow enthusiast of Hindi movie music and a regular contributor to this blog. This article is meant to be posted in atulsongaday.me. If this article appears in sites like lyricstrans.com and ibollywoodsongs.com etc then it is piracy of the copyright content of atulsongaday.me and is a punishable offence under the existing laws.

According to Wikipedia, “Born in 1926, Lakshmi Shankar started her career in dancing. In 1939, when Uday Shankar brought his dance troupe to Madras, (recently renamed Chennai), she joined the Almora Centre to learn Uday Shankar’s dance style based on the Indian classics, and became a part of his troupe. She later married Uday Shankar’s brother, Rajendra (with nickname Raju).
Read more on this topic…


This article is wrtitten by Sadanand Kamath, a fellow enthusiast of Hindi movie music and a regular contributor to this blog.

Among the singers of devotional songs, one name that comes to my mind is Lakshmi Shankar. It was almost a daily ritual for me to listen to one of her devotional (bhajan) songs almost every day in the morning on All India Radio, Bombay (Mumbai). At that time, I had no inkling that she was a classical dancer and later a renowned classical vocalist of Patiala Gharana. I was not even aware that she belonged to the illustrious Shankar family.
Read more on this topic…


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