(Part – I) Remembering the Mesmerizing Voice – Amirbai Karnataki

I was waiting for this opportunity for a long time. Last year I happened to miss her death anniversary. So I was keen this year.

Amirbai-Karnataki 1
What should I say about Amirbai’s voice! I was totally enchanted with her voice, when I started collecting and listening to her songs. Her voice was conventionally as per requirement of the era. It was slightly nasal, slightly raw, very expressive, in fact it had a correct amount of all the properties necessary for a playback voice. Moreover she was an actress as well. And it is less known that she also composed for a Hindi film named Shahnaz in 1948.
Also known as Kannad Kokila, Amirbai was born in Bilgi, a town in the Bijapur district of Karnataka and was from a family of musicians and actors. Her parents, Husainsaab and Ameenabai, worked for and ran a theatre too. Her uncle and aunts were in the same field. It’s not at all surprising that Amirbai and Gouhar bai were trained in Indian classical music and it helped her a lot in her career.

amirbai with gouhar bai from thehindu
                                    Image from ‘thehindu.com’

Out of five siblings, Amirbai and her sister, Gouharbai were trained in Indian classical music. Later, Gouharbai worked for Bal Gandharv Natak Mandali, and married him later. She has a number of Marathi songs to her credit too.
Amirbai came to Mumbai in the 30s (exact year not known) and Gouharbai helped her get a role in a Hindi film called, Vishnu Bhakti, which was released in 1935. Amirbai went on to act and sing in a few movies like, Sardar (1940), Darshan (1941), Station Master (1942) etc. But none could bring her fame and admiration.

But good fortune was awaiting her the next year. Ashok Kumar and Mumtaz Shanti starer Kismet was released in 1943. Amirbai got to sing fabulous songs for the main lead. All the songs from Kismet were very popular and Amirbai could taste fame and popularity. Of course she deserved all of it.

amirbai 2
Image from varmaindianclassics

Her era was about to start. She continued her success story in the 1940s. When Lata Mangeshkar entered the world of Hindi cinema, the tsunami engulfed the careers of a number of popular female playback singers. Amirbai also was one of them. She however continued her acting career, singing along with it. In the 1940s, she acted in a number of films, Maali (1944) where she was opposite Master Krishnarao, Hatimtai (1947), Kismat Ka Sitara (1947), Jadui Bansuri (1948), Jadui Shehnai (1948), Roop Basant (1949) etc. I tried searching for the songs, but except for a song from Kismat Ka Sitara, I drew a blank.
In the 1950s, her playback career in Hindi films was almost finished. She still continued acting in films, now small roles, that of character artist. Her films as an actress include, Luv Kush (1951), Deewana (1952), Veer Arjun (1952), Aansoo (1953), Subah Ka Tara (1954), Shaheed E Azam Bhagat Singh (1954), Dark Street (1961), Jadui Angoothi (1964) etc. In the majority of the films, she didn’t sing, except the film, Luv Kush.

Throughout her career, she worked with the prominent as well as the lesser known composers of the era. Her major association was with Naushad, Khemchand Prakash, who composed a number of melodious songs for her. Anil Biswas was the composer whom she got her first success with in 1943.
Later she sang for S D Burman, C Ramchandra, Ghulam Mohammad and many more composers. Some of the songs are still popular, some are forgotten, but the majority still surviving, thanks to Amirbai’s perfect rendition.

Her married life wasn’t very pleasant. She suffered a lot at the hands of her first husband. More about it in the next part of the post.

Today, on her 55th death anniversary, let’s remember her magical voice, with my favourite solos sung by her. As usual the songs are in No particular order.

1. Desh Piya Ke Ja Chanda – Bhatruhari (1944) / Khemchand Prakash – Pandit Indra
It’s my most favourite song by Amirbai Karnataki. It’s such a wonderful song. The lady asks the moon to go to her beloved and bring him back. Amirabai’s strong Indian classical music base is evident. Her rendition is flawless.

2. Sooni Padi Hai Pyar Ki Duniya Tere Bagair – Karwan (1944) / Bulo C Rani – Butaram Sharma
Again a perfect ghazal! What a performance. How expressive can anyone’s voice be? The emptiness in life, the futile love, the disheartening agony. All of it is there in her voice. Her sad songs would definitely outnumber the happy ones on my list. I can listen to the song umpteen times. I never get enough of it.

3. Meri Muniya Ki Akhiyan Mein – Vidya (1948) / S D Burman – Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
Amirbai was at home with all kinds of songs. While her songs in blue mood are more popular, let’s stand to the wonderful lullaby. Her voice is full of maternal emotions, full of love for the child. She didn’t forget to ignite patriotism in her daughter’s mind.
Amirbai played the character of Suraiya’s mother in the movie Vidya. While Suraiya got to sing a number of songs, Burman da also offered three solos to Amirbai.

4. Maar Katari Mar Jana – Shehnai (1947) / C Ramchandra – P L Santoshi
The song was there on my C Ramchandra post. But I’m very fond of the song. The rhythm is very catchy, after the initial lines are sung without instrumental support. Though it’s a song in blue mood, it has a rhythm.

5. Milake Bichhad Gayi Aankhiyan – Rattan (1944) / Naushad – D N Madhok
One of her well known songs. Amirbai sings for the other characters of the film, whereas the main lead songs went to Zohrabai Ambalewali. Nevertheless Amirbai easily manages to leave a mark with just a couple of songs. Really a magical voice. It conveys the exact emotions so easily.

6. Jeevan Jyoti Bujhti Jaye – Vidya (1948) / S D Burman – Yashodanandan Joshi
While I’ve already included the lullaby from the movie on the list, I’m obviously sharing the song that l like the most. The bhajan sung by Amirbai is full of devotion and dedication. Her faith in God is unshakable. She expects him to clear all her agony. The way she sings the word, ‘प्रभू जी’ gives me goosebumps.

7. Dheere Dheere Aa Re Badal – Kismet (1943) / Anil Biswas – Kavi Pradeep
I think the duet version, sung by Arun Kumar and Amirbai is more popular. But I find the solo equally enchanting. Nearly no or very subtle instrumentation. Just the tune and Amirabai’s expressive voice.

8. Main To Gawan Chali Hoon – Sawan Aaya Re (1949) / Khemchand Prakash – Ramamoorthy Chaturvedi
Yet another gem by the duo. Khemchand Prakash really brought out the best of Amirbai. It’s such a pleasant composition! Look at the orchestration, and Amirabai’s very fresh and energetic voice. How beautifully the things complement each other. Amirbai was excellent in her soulful songs. But her jovial songs are delightful too.

9. Kuchh Keh Na Sake Kuchh Keh Bhi Gaye – Shahnaz (1948) / Amirbai Karnataki – Amir Usmani
Here we come to a masterpiece composed and sung by Amirbai Karnataki. It’s a little known fact that she even composed for a Hindi film. Though the film has a number of soulful songs, this charming song became my favourite on first hearing. The tempo of the song is variable, a bit faster in some parts. Such experiments must be novel those days.

10. Teri Pee Pee Ki Pukaron Ne – Bhanwara (1944) / Khemchand Prakash – Pandit Indra Chandra
I must confess that I was not aware of the beautiful song. इस गाने ने सचमुच मेरा दिल लूट लिया.
How naturally she sings. I’m utterly speechless. I could not do justice if I tried to praise her performance.

11. O Roothe Hue Bhagwan – Sindoor (1947) / Khemchand Prakash – Qamar Jalalabadi
Plea of a mother to God for her child. If God himself is unhappy with her, whom should she speak to? The agony prominently stands out in Amirabai’s soulful voice. Again it was Khemchand Prakash who offered her another gem.

12. Kabhi Na Himmat Har Bande – Station Master (1942) / Naushad – Pandit Indra Chandra
Amirabai acted as well as sang for the movie. She sings it on screen. It seems she was not among the main cast. It was the beginning of her career. The song speaks about not giving up in any adversity. It’s such an inspirational song. It motivates you even in its short duration. Amirabai’s voice is soothing, calming, and reassuring.

13. Vaishnav Jan To – Shankar Rao Vyas / Lyrics – Narsinh Mehta
Nearly all the stalwarts have their own rendition of the Gujarati song. It is said that Mahatma Gandhi was fond of Amirabai’s version. The YouTube song mentions it as a private song, whereas it was also a part of the film, Narsi Bhagat released in 1940. Couldn’t find any details confirming it. No doubt it’s a wonderful song.

14. Main Janti Hoon Tum Na Aaoge Kabhi – Leela (1947) / C Ramchandra – G S Nepali
Plea of a disheartened lady. She has lost all her hopes. Such a soulful song! It seems as if Amirbai is really experiencing the pain. What a great pathos!

15. Roti Aankhon Mein Teri Yaad – Nargis (1948) / Husnalal Bhagatram – Qamar Jalalabadi
Listen to the gem! The disappointed lady weeps in agony. But she courageously challenges God with farvour. She is ready to fight against society. But the twinge is in vain. Without anyone’s help she’s weak. Amirbai sings the song with such ease. The second verse starts in a frenzy, but the conniption lasts just for a while. Her dismay is back again. Such contrasting emotions, but she’s so comfortable singing it!

Would you add your favourite to the list?

Disclaimer –
Mehfil Mein Meri, claims no credit for any image, screenshots or songs posted on this site. Images on this blog are posted to make the text interesting. The images and screenshots are the copyright of their original owners. The song links are shared from YouTube, only for the listening convenience of music lovers. The copyright of these songs rests with the respective owners, producers and music companies.

15 Replies to “(Part – I) Remembering the Mesmerizing Voice – Amirbai Karnataki”

  1. Interesting post, and for a change, several songs which I was familiar with (mostly because I had seen the films in which they appeared – Kismet, Rattan, Shehnai, etc). I had never heard Ameerbai Karnataka’s rendition of Vaishnav Jan: beautiful. I love the raw clarity of her voice, it’s not overly shrill or even too nasal in this song.

    One of my favourite Amirbai Karnataki songs is from Rattan, O jaanewaale baalamwa:


    1. Thanks for the appreciation Madhuji.

      “I love the raw clarity of her voice”

      Yes, I love that quality of her voice too. And what fantastic expressions. It is as if she lives the character she is singing for!
      Thanks for the Rattan song, but I’m posting her duets separately in next part.


  2. Anup ji,
    A good post.
    Here is my favourite Amirbai song from film Parbat pe apna dera-1944. MD-Vasant Desai.



  3. Anup ji ,

    A gr8 tribute to a gr8 voice which was completely underrated after the rise of Lata .

    In my school days , I got attracted to this voice when I watched the movies like रतन and किस्मत on Doordarshan .
    मिलके बिछड गयी अँखिया … What a nice rendition …

    Last year I read a book in Marathi
    “अमीरबाई कर्नाटकी ” originally written by Rahmat Tarikeri nd translated by Prashant Kulkarni … It was quite disturbing which gave an account of her tragic married life .. It is good that U r going 2 write about it in Part 2 .

    Anup , I liked Ur selection of songs nd वैष्णव जन तो तेने कहिए was a pleasant surprise .. thnx for that.
    Ur narration in the whole post is also praiseworthy .

    I wud like 2 add a solo from किस्मत
    ” घर घर में दिवाली हैं मेरे घर में अँधेरा ”

    Waiting eagerly for Part 2.

    With best wishes ,
    Pramod Godbole .


    1. Tahnks Pramodji for appreciation.
      Vaishnav Jan To by Amirbai is largely unknown to many of us. But her rendition is superb!
      Thanks for adding the Kismet song. It’s a wonderful song. The pathos in the song really moves the listeners.
      Here it is, घर घर में दिवाली हैं मेरे घर में अँधेरा


  4. Anup,
    Amirbai Karnataki is among my most favourite vintage era singers. A special favourite is ‘O preetam pyare chhod chali ghar baar’:

    ‘Sindoor’ had a number of extremely melodious songs. You have added one. Here is another:

    ‘Koi roke use aur ye kah de’


  5. Dear Anup ji,

    You have filled in a missing link and I am sure there will be many parts to it. One of her earliest, if not the first recording of Baby Amirjaan, a Naat, when she was hardly 11 years old (HMV recording) :

    But she cut her teeth even earlier, at the age of 8. Listen to this audio extract of this Dadra in Raag Piloo dated 1914 :

    So what you see on Sa-re-ga-Ma on TV these days is nothing new . We had talent all the time, but the platform for exposure was not there .

    While you have included a song from “Station Master”, here is another one, perhaps the first of many “Banno” wedding songs in the Hindi Film Industry :

    About her marriage to a Filmi Villain, who turned out to be a villain in real life, she knew when to cut the purse strings and she did divorce him and to the best that we know, she married a Newspaper Magnate, a Gujarati Hindu.

    Thanks again, Anup ji, for showcasing the talent of a “Wealthy” Singing Star of Yesteryears.

    Looking forward to the sequels.

    With warm regards



    1. Thanks a lot Partha Ji for sharing Amirbai’s earlier recordings. I wasn’t aware of those songs. I knew she was a trained classical singer, but she sang so early in her career wasn’t known to me. And the books and sites that I visited as a part of research didn’t mention about it.
      I am going to get the Marathi translation of her biography. I wasn’t aware of the book, otherwise I would have grabbed it much earlier.
      The banno song from Station Master is good too.
      Thanks again for insightful comment.


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