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Lata Mangeshkar: End of an era – the passing of a nightingale

Beginning her career from the 1940s, Lata Mangeshkar soon established herself as a prominent playback singer in the Hindi film industry at a time when the profession was dominated by such divas as Shamshad Begum and Noor Jehan.

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New Delhi: Lata Mangeshkar, also known as The Queen of Melody and the ‘Nightingale of India’, was one of the several music legends of our time whose music has inspired generations and defined whole eras of music in India.

One of the most prolific singers of all time with a catalogue of over 25,000 songs in a career spanning over eight decades, she sang in a thousand Hindi songs and 36 regional films. Her songs traversed across genres such as filmi, classical, ghazals, bhajans, folk and pop.

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Beginning her career from the 1940s, Lata Mangeshkar soon established herself as a prominent playback singer in the Hindi film industry at a time when the profession was dominated by such divas as Shamshad Begum and Noor Jehan.

Throughout her career, she worked with legendary music directors that include Shankar-Jaikishan. Naushad Ali, Madan Mohan, RD Burman, SD Burman Salil Chaudhary, Roshan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and AR Rahman. Over the years, Lata Mangeshkar was the singing voice for leading ladies of Bollywood from Geeta Bali, Kalpana Kartik, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Waheeda Rehman, Nargis, Hema Malini, Rekha, to Preity Zinta, Madhuri Dixit and Kajol.

Lata Mangeshkar’s impact on the Indian music scene has been unprecedented, as whole eras have been marked by her presence making her an icon that is seldom to be matched. Ever since she first became a name, the wheels have never stopped and she became the kind of voice that film makers and music directors would search for, with many female singers trying to sing just like her.

She was the kind of voice every listener would want in their quest for the right timbre, tone, expression, quality, melody and feeling, and without a doubt Lata Mangeshkar had it all.

Melodic traditional classical, ghazals, effervescent young romance, haunting tragedy with echoes of the heart, sultry cabaret numbers, bhajans soaked in ever flowing devotion or powerful, beautiful and soulful patriotism and love for country, Lata Mangeshkar’s voice possessed everything that one ever could ever want from a perfect voice. Some of her biggest hits include ‘Ayega Anelwala’ from “Mahal”, ‘Vande Mataram’ from “Anand Math”, ‘Jiya Jale’ from “Dil Se’, ‘Lag Jaa Gale’ from “Woh Kaun Thi”, ‘Piya Tose Naina Laage Re’ from “Guide”, ‘Mera Saaya Sath Sath Hoga’ from film “Mera Saya”, Pyar kiya to darna kya’ from “Mughal E Azam” , “Shola jo Bhadke” from “Albela”, “Piya bina” from “Abhiman”, “Yeh Kahan Aa Geye Hum’ from “Silsila”, etc. Some of her most famous non-film songs include ‘Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon’, which was sung in 1963 in commemoration of the Indian soldiers who died in the Sino-Indian war.

The song was this year included in the Beating the Retreat ceremony. She also sang many evergreen Bengali songs specially brought out during Durga Puja, as well as bhajans of Meera Bai. Born in 1929 in Indore, British India, Lata was the eldest daughter of Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar, a Marathi and Konkani musician, and his wife Shevanti. Lata’s father, a classical singer and theatre actor, started teaching her music at an early age.

By the time she was five, Lata was seen participating as an actor in plays written by her father. The untimely death of her father in 1942 put the onus of supporting the family on her shoulders and she never looked back since then.

Lata Mangeshkar was a soprano singer possessing an unparalleled range able to belt notes with a power that few could ever muster. Though primarily classical, her voice did touch into other dimensions of film music, incorporating a mix of traditional and modern giving her a voice that is simply unmatched even today. One of the most versatile singers in Indian cinema her voice extended far beyond just Bollywood but also Marathi, Tamil and Bengali and was able to push well into modern cinema, possessing a richness in her tone and texture which was extremely emotive and was able to capture hearts.

What made her singing unique was not her technique or skill, but rather the texture of her voice had a passion, heart and quality that might be too complex to explain but it was what grabbed the hearts and minds of her listeners, which is all the more a massive loss to the Indian music scene.

Another high point of her voice was her sense of melody and tune, which was precisely what earned her the moniker “The Queen of Melody”, as she also had remarkable accuracy at maintaining her pitch while never going out of tune. Lata Mangeshkar received several awards and accolades during her eight-decade-long career. In 1989, she was given the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, and the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, in 2001.

The French government conferred her its highest civilian award — Officer of the Legion of Honour in 2007. She is also the recipient of three National Film Awards, fifteen Bengal Film Journalist’s Association Awards, four Filmfare Best Female Playback, two Filmfare Special Awards, Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award and several others. In 1974, she became the first Indian to perform at Royal Albert Hall, London.

Furthermore, she also holds the distinction of being the most recorded artist in the history of Indian music. Her four siblings — Meena Khadikar, Asha Bhosle, Usha Mangeshkar and Hridaynath Mangeshkar are also accomplished singers and musicians. With her passing today, a massive void has been rendered in the Indian music scene, though with her enormous catalogue, her once in a lifetime voice and everlasting presence, she has become immortal and through her songs she will live forever on. 

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