The greatest vocalist who has unprecedented love and devotion for music, rigorous practice (penance), pure and sweet tone - qualities that are the symbols of the Indian culture.
BharatRatna Lata Mangeshkar is the uncrowned empress of playback singing of Indian cinema. Her achievements and eminence is so great that words fall short of describing the greatness and contributions made by her playback singing to Indian cinema. The subject of Indian music and cinema is incomplete without mentioning her name. She is a pride not only of Maharashtra but also of the entire country. She adorns the zenith in the field of vocal music and is world famous and comparable to none. She is known as Latadidi (didi = elder sister), to every Indian!
She has a voice that mesmerizes everyone; one cannot overlook the Queen of Melody who has captured hearts worldwide. Words fail to express the depth and scope of her genius.
She was born to Master Deenanath Mangeshkar and Mrs. Shuddhamati alias Mai Mangeshkar in 1929 in Sikh Mohalla, Indore, Madhya Pradesh. She was the eldest of five siblings and so was addressed as Latadidi or simply Didi. Soon, all came to address her affectionately as Didi. Deenanath Mangeshkar, her father was a renowned and accomplished singer and actor in Marathi musical theatre. All the five siblings - Lata, Asha, Meena, Usha and brother Hridaynath inherited the gift of vocal music from their father. All of them have devoted their life to singing, cultivated the art and acquired mastery over it. They achieved fame not only in India but overseas as well. Her father Deenanath Mangeshkar was Latadidi’s first mentor. In the beginning she learnt music from her father. She started working as an actress in her father’s play at the age of five years. Her first song was broadcast on All India Radio Pune radio on 16th December 1941. Hearing her sing on radio her father was moved to tears of joy and vouched that Lata would take the family name to great heights. She started playback singing for movies in 1942. This was the beginning of an era that lasted nearly fifty years, where she reigned supreme. Even today at this age she continues record one odd song to please her connoisseurs.
After the sudden demise of her father in 1942, when Latadidi was only thirteen years old, the responsibility to support her family fell on her as the eldest sibling. A close friend of the Mangeshkar family, Master Vinayak took the children under his care and helped her establish her career as a singer and an actress in his company.
On the eighth day after her father’s demise, Latadidi had to put on the makeup to act and sing in Pahili Mangalagaur, a Marathi film by Master Vinayak. After the demise of Vinayakrao in 1945, Latadidi moved to Mumbai along with the company. Thereafter she continued her training under the guidance of Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan, Ustad Amanat Ali Khan (Bhendibazarwale), Pandit Aman Ali Khan and for some time under the guidance of Pandit Tulsidas Sharma, from whom she learnt Hindustani classical music.
She chose to be a playback singer for her livelihood. In the earlier years, she had to suffer physical, mental and emotional agony. Once Gulam Haider, a leading music director and a close friend of Ustad Amanat Ali, noticed the range and sweetness of her voice and took her to Subodh Mukherji who rejected her at the first audition saying that her voice was too thin. Outraged by this rejection, Gulam Hyder made her sing the same song on the same day for Mukherji and to her surprise she was selected to sing for a film Majboor. This was her first break.
For this song, she received a meagre amount of 30 rupees as honorarium. In those days, playback singers could not claim any royalty and even the honorarium they received was a pittance. But against all odds she worked hard and with great courage, determination and perseverance she achieved perfection in the field of playback singing. In those days the name of the playback singers was not mentioned in the credit list (titles) of the movie. Only the heroin was mentioned. Latadidi took a strong position in the matter and because of the high quality of her playback singing, could bring about a change in this situation. Playback singers have her to thank that the practice of acknowledging them in the titles is now followed.
Latadidi worked with nearly 175 film directors. She sang thousands of songs in 23 languages. Noted amongst them are C. Ramachandra, Salil Chaudhari, Naushad, Madan Mohan, Sachinda Barman, Jayadev, Lakshmikant Pyarelal, Khayyam, Panchamda (Rahuldev Barman), Datta Davajekar, Sudhir Phadke, Shrinivas Khale and Hridaynath Mangeshkar. Thousands of songs composed by these renowned music directors were sung by Latadidi in her heavenly voice, making them unforgettable.
Whatever the songs - devotional Abhanga from Saint Tukaram’s Gatha (collection) or Saint Dnyaneshwar’s Virani songs of anguish of separation (from God), Lavani, children’s songs Angai (lullabies), devotional songs, Dhrupad (a type of Indian classical music), Qawali (Sufi Muslim devotional songs), compositions of Ravindranath Tagore (Ravindra Sangeet), poetry of famous Marathi poets like Shanta Shelke, P. Savalaram, Mangesh Padgaonkar, Kusumagraj, Grace etc., Mirza Ghalib’s Urdu Gazhal, she sang them all with ease and made them immortal.
Her contribution to Hindi and Marathi cinema, Marathi songs and devotional songs is voluminous and of very high quality. Its vastness is simply unparalleled. She worked with veteran music directors, from Salil Chaudhari, Ramachandra Prakash and Naushad to the new generation music directors like A. R. Rehman for Hindi cinema. For Marathi and Hindi cinema she sang duets in accompaniment mainly with other great singers like Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey, Mukesh, Asha Bhosale, Usha Mangeshkar, Sudhir Phadke, Pandit Hridaynath Mangeshkar and Suresh Wadkar. She was also the music director for five Marathi cinemas, working under the name Anandghan.
This great singer has sung thousands of songs, hundreds of them being all-time greats and unforgettable. Critiques are hard put to identify the best of them all. As a respect to the Deity of music she walks barefoot on stage or in the recording studio, such is her devotion to the art. She has so many songs to her credit that to merely list all the Hindi and Marathi songs she has sung along with the music directors, poets, accompanying singers and instrumentalists and the actresses for whom she sang as playback singer, one would have to take up a research project.
It is a fact however that connoisseurs cherish every song of hers. Many Marathi generations to come will be listening to her devotional prayer of Lord Ganesha and Saint Dnyaneshwar’s Pasayadan, a request to The Lord of Universe for the wellbeing of the living and non-living things in the universe. Her song E Mere Watan Ke Logon addressed to the Indian citizen in honour of the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice of their life for the nation is so melodious and moving that it will stir the emotions of Indians even a thousand years from now. There will seldom be a person in India who does not know Latadidi’s name. There are hundreds of thousands of her fans all around the world. She is the first Asian person having performed in the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London. She is the first artist to have a full house for three successive days in the same hall.
She was awarded the topmost civilian honour, BharatRatna, for her contribution to the field of vocal music. She has also received Late Dadasaheb Phalke Award for her performance in the film industry. Maharashtra State government has also honoured her with the highest State award Maharashtra Bhushan. She has also received many other honours and also honorary DLit from the Shivaji University at Kolhapur. Khairagarh Sangit Vidyalaya, Hyderabad University has awarded her an Honorary Doctorate. The Tirupati Balaji Temple Trust has honoured her with Widwan (knowledgeable). Shankaracharya at Sankeshwar has honoured her with a degree SwaraBharati. One can list a number honours like Jeevan Gaurav, PadmaBhushan, PadmaVibhushan etc. Along with these numerous honours her innumerable fans address her with affection as SwaraSamradnyi (Empress of musical notes), GanaKokila (Indian Nightingale) With so many honours she has become a legend.
She received the Filmfare Award four times and in 1969 she magnanimously decided not to accept it to allow other budding singers to be able to receive them. In those days it was a great honour to receive the Filmfare Award but to take such a decision shows great humility on her part. It shows that along with her God given gift of a sweet voice she also has a large heart. The Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh State governments have initiated honours in her name to be awarded to artists in the field of music.
In spite being such a rich celebrity she is a very simple person without an ego. Dressed in a simple white sari, she is a symbol of Indian culture, a soft spoken, humble, cultured and virtuous person.
Latadidi is a very sensitive person. She loves animals. She is religious and does not miss her daily session of worship, regardless of whether she is at her home in Prabhukrupa in Mumbai or in India or abroad. She loves her relatives and friends and cares for them, enquires about their welfare with great affection. She cares for her very junior artist colleagues as she would her own relations and treats them like equals. When touring abroad she is like a mother to them. She is very humble. Even when the music director is very junior and inexperienced, she follows instructions from him like a student will. She practices repeatedly before a program or a recording so that it will turn out to be perfect.
She is an amateur photographer and takes excellent photographs. Reading is her other hobby. She likes to watch a game of cricket and whenever possible she goes to the stadium to watch matches. In 1983 she gave a special performance in honour of the Indian team that won the World Cup. A stand has been reserved for her permanently at the world famous Lords Stadium in England.
Patriotism and social responsibility are important characters of her personality. She helps the needy people without much fanfare. She has built the Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in Pune and helped to carry out many other social activities without much ado. She reveres Lord ShriKrishna, Lord Mangeshi, Saint Dnyaneshwar, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda and Swatantyraveer Sawarakar. She loves India intensely. During wartime she gave many performances to entertain the soldiers and to help the injured and martyrs’ families. She also gave performances to collect funds for the freedom movement for the liberation of the Portuguese colonies of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, for Baba Amte’s work at Anandvan, earthquake affected people of Gujarat and also during other natural disasters. Innumerable such instances of her coming forward to help the needy can be sighted. This daughter of Maharashtra has made Maharashtra, India and the Mangeshkar family world famous. One can go on writing endlessly to describe her greatness, but in short, one can say:
Divyatwachi Jeth Prachity Tethe Kar Maze Julati
(When we observe supernatural qualities, we offer our obeisance)