Babul Mora

Oh father mine, my natal home is slipping away from me! Four bearers are decorating my palanquin. That which was mine belongs to others, it is slipping away from me!

Wajid Ali ShahA decadent voluptuary? Or a patron of arts and intellectuals? How should we remember Wajid Ali Shah (1822-1887)? He ruled as the last Nawab of Oudh (Awadh) from 1847 to 1856. Even when he ascended the throne, much of the kingdom was already under the hands of the British. At about the same period, the sun was setting on the great Mughal Empire in Delhi as well, under the hands of Bahadur Shah Zafar. Is it a coincidence that both men were patrons of art ?

Wajid Ali Shah started out, it is said, by being a good administrator, in being interested in reforms. However his passion was not for statecraft but for the arts. Statecraft in those times was no easy beast to handle, was it? It is little wonder that he quietly retreated into his own world of pleasure filled with singers, dancers, actors and courtesans. They say that Nero fiddled while Rome burnt. Awadh did not burn, but it did disintegrate while Wajid Ali immersed himself in his life of pleasure. The British called him debauched, saying that his kingdom was maladministered and lawless. They used it as an excuse to annex his kingdom  and exiled him to Kolkata. Historians today are looking with a more kindly eye at him.

But what do I know of matters of State? My interest in him is as a patron of arts. He himself was a composer and had had vocal training as well as training in Kathak. He is said to have created a number of ragas and written prose, poetry and song. Those of you who missed seeing Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977), do take time to see an interpretation of the last years of Wajid Ali’s rule in Oudh. It is a classic, well worth your time. After seeing the film, if interested, click here to read a critique the depiction of Wajid Ali and Ray’s defence.

It is said that when Wajid Ali left his beloved Lucknow, all his subjects lamented his exile. On March 13, 1854, the royal caravan of about 1000 people left towards Kolkata (source). Wajid Ali Shah was distrait. It was in this grief stricken state that he burst forth with Babul Mora.

Oh father mine, my natal home is slipping away from me! Four bearers are decorating my palanquin. That which was mine belongs to others, it is slipping away from me!’ he wails. It  is written as a bidai song, in the voice of a bride as she leaves her father’s home. It is possible to interpret it as the final farewell to the world as four bearers carry one to the final resting place. For lyrics and translation, see footnote.

Babul Mora is the most famous of Wajid Ali Shah’s works and remains in the public consciousness of India due to K.L.Saigal’s memorable rendering of the song in the film Street Singer (1938). It is set to Hindustani Raga Bhairavi; if you want to know more about this raga, here is an excellent resource.

Coming back to my first question : Was Wajid Ali a decadent voluptuary? Or a patron of arts and intellectuals? Somewhere in the middle I would say. I feel a sneaking sympathy for him despite his having let his kingdom get into British hands with nary a fight. You see, I come from the same mould – my furniture is covered with dust, my cupboards look like disaster zones, my ironing pile is taller than I am, but I am spending all day today with my music and my new painting! I will remember him with kindness for he did help preserve, propagate and enrich the wonderful world of Indian music .

K.L.Saigal’s rendition has to come first. Is it even possible to think of this song without thinking of him? The music was composed by Rai Chand Boral.

Too short to satisfy? Listen below to a more detailed, brilliant rendition by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, a master of his art form. This is Bhairavi in despair, exquisite and memorable.

Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Poetry : Wajid Ali
Music : Rai Chand Boral
Language : Hindi

(Saigal’s version)

बाबुल मोरा नैहर छूटो ही जाए |

चार कहार मिल मोरी डोलिया सजावें
मोरा अपना बेगाना छूटो जाए |

अँगना तो पर्बत भया और देहरी भयी बिदेश
ये घर बाबुल आपनो मैं चली पिया के देश |


bAbul mOrA naihar chUTO hI jAyE

chAr kahAr mil mOrI DOliyA sajAvE.n
mOrA apnA bEgAnA chUTO jAyE

a.nganA tO parbat bhayA aur dEhrI bhayI bidEsh
yE ghar bAbul ApanO mai.n chalI piyA kE dEsh


Oh father (babul) mine (mora), my natal home (naihar) is slipping away (chUTO hi JayE) from me (implied)!

Four (char) bearers (kahAr) are together (mil) decorating (sajAvE.n) my palanquin (DOliyA). That which was (implied) mine (mora apnA) belongs to others (bEgAnA), it is slipping away from me (chUTO hi JayE).

The courtyard (a.ganA) has become (to bhayA) a mountain (=insurmountable) (parbat) and (aur) the threshold (dEhrI) has become (bhayI) a foreign country (bidEsh). This (yE) house (ghar) is yours (ApanO) now (implied) father (bAbul), I (main.n) am leaving (chalI) for my beloved’s (piyA kE) land (dEsh).


Filed under Bhimsen Joshi, Bollywood 30's Music, Hindustani Classical Music, Wajid Ali Shah

21 responses to “Babul Mora

  1. Narasimharaj

    “That which was mine belongs to others, it is slipping away from me!”
    Suja, What a glorious selection-of-a-song!!
    Thank you for the ‘bit’ on Wajid Ali Shah.
    I have a 1963 ‘Cassette Tape” – of the Golden Voice of K.L. Saigal, which I carefully play on a nearly 30 years old BPL Two-in-One. I never miss listening to him sing THIS song!

    What can one say about Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s rendering of the song – except to feel ‘totally captivated’!!

    Keep delighting us – followers of your ‘posts’ – with rare selections.
    Best Wishes.

    • Hello Raj, So you are a long time fan of this song then! I am glad it touched a chord in you. Its 81 years since this film and this song, and it still manages to touch us, doesn’t it! That is the power of a great piece of music. Panditji is marvellous, it is always a pleasure to listen to him.
      Cheers. Suja

      • Narasimharaj

        “Its 81 years since this film and this song,”
        What a coincidence – The film & song are 81 years of age and so am I too!!

        Yes, Saigal, Pankaj Mallick, C.H.Atma, Jagmohan Sursagar, Hemant Kumar, Juthika Roy, LataAsha Mangeshkar ‘Amma’ MSS, MLV, ChittiBabu, Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Ahmed Jan Thirakwa (Tabla), Halim Jaffer Khan (especially ‘pahaadi dhun’ on Sitar) are some of my ‘permanent favorites’.

        There is no escape from “Bhakti Ras” of Carnatic Music and “Shringara Ras” of Hidustani Classical music. Yes, Lot of exiting ‘innovators’ have arrived on the scene and they naturally owe their innovations to the ‘old brigade’!

        Best Wishes.

  2. Ramesh

    A classic post, as befits a classic song and two all time great singers. The poetry is exquisite, the setting historical, the singers majestic and the song itself , haunting. What an experience.

    Amongst the many disgraceful episodes in British history of India, this is one. By the time he ascended the throne, the Nawab was simply a regent for the British. They impose a huge cost on the kingdom for their army, bring it to its knees, then use the pretext to annex it altogether. The Sleeman account of Oudh is another disgrace.

    What a list from Raj of the “old brigade”.

    • Narasimharaj

      Ramesh, I missed mentioning another “perennial favorite” – Begum Parveen Sultana.

    • Disgraceful indeed! As I wrote about the Nawab, I was remembering other stories of British annexation. My gut clenching, I wondered if it hurts me now, so many years afterwards, in a generation far removed, why did it not hurt that generation enough to put up a better fight? On one side the British, ignoble in their trickery, their attitudes of honour hiding avariciousness – and on the other side the Indians more involved in their petty fights and one-upmanship with their own neighbours and brothers than keeping the outsider away, or as in the case of some, just plain apathy. Shame on them all…shame..

  3. Jay


    Is the bidai always set to Bhairavi? In Tagore’s Kabuliwalla, there were those lines that I recall: “wedding pipes wailing the tune of Bhairavi … that seemed to intensify the pain of …. impending separation” and then he closes “My Mini will be married tonight”.

    The historical situation is a real tragedy. And Suja – the “Indians” never existed in the same form and structure as we identify them today. It was a rag tag conglomerate after the decline of the Mughals. For those interested, it is worth watching Michael Wood’s “Story of India” which is a 6 part movie, 1 hr each that is brilliantly produced with excellent analysis.

    Raj, Hindustani music has many ras but Carnatic is limited to bhakti ras. There’s no real innovation happening. Actually, innovation is not that easy – there’s inertia and you have to have imagination to innovate yet retain the ‘ras’ to improve ahead without gimmicks. A flautist Kudamaloor Janardananan covers these in a wide-ranging conversation: Suja – you may recall I’d shared some of his music with you.


    • Hello Jay, What an excellent recall you have to remember a most appropriate quote from Kabuliwalla! I don’t know if indeed there is a strong link between Bhairavi and bidai…the raga’s rather plaintive and wailing notes seem very well suited to the mood.

      You are right of course, there was no ‘India’ as it stands today, not in a sense of a state. But it has long had an identity in the minds of people, a ‘sacred geography’ as says Diana Eck in her very scholarly ‘India, a Sacred Geography’. I read this last year, it was a very interesting read.

      I really enjoyed Janardanan’s music, it is quite beautiful! I hope to feature a rendition by him in my blog when an opportunity comes up. I am however a traditionalist – I like Carnatic Music just as it is. There are so many varieties of music in the world, each offers its own strength. There is no need for any one to offer everything. For me, Carnatic Music is beautifully balanced! I had meant to write a post about it after listening to a recent interview with TMK who seems to seek to change things as well. ‘Leave it alone’ I want to say ‘if you want to make something new, the world is your oyster. But that which stands now is precious, don’t break it down to make the new’.
      cheers. Suja

  4. Jay

    Greetings from chilly Philly!
    Some passages stick. It’s like the line I like to recall from Talat Aziz “har mulakat ka anjam judai kyoon hai, ab to har waqt yehi baat satati hai hamein”.

    I believe and advocate this within my day job “innovation, not for innovation sake”. My view of innovation in music follows a similar thought process. Our daily lives, not just the material part of it, are innovative or evolved extensions in many ways of the past. The music of Karnatic tradition is more than singing kirtanams. The ragams are a language of their own and therein lies its beauty and grandeur. After I sent that link, I reheard the entire interview. There are many dimensions Janardanan touches upon. He says, I’d rather have concerts that are based on ragas. To a certain extent, that still happens in Hindustani. The audience too needs to have an acute sense – most requests from them to artistes ask for renditions of such and such kirtanam or varnam, etc. For the audience that includes me too – it is the song that is the gateway to the ragam and I do realize that it needs to be the other way around. Even when rendering the kirtanams, as Janardanan points out for example how singers break the piece “samagana lola, manasija lavanya..” in endaro mahanubhavulu that breaks the bhava of the lyric itself. I like to think in terms of Sastrigaru’s dialogue in Sankarabharanam “apavidham cheyukka”. We find an audience that is willing to clap at what sounds the most exotic and strident. I came across Janardanan only recently, and was refreshed to find that he’s a thought leader. He has a series of albums ending with`murali’, and many of them are purely Carnatic. I believe that quote you said – don’t break to create new; the challenge is how to imaginatively progress yet preserve. Innovation is a creative process that needs to be hands of experts, ones who have cultivated a strong understanding of the current and alternative forms.


    • Hi Jay,
      Janardanan is not the only one who feels the need to be more raga-centric than lyrics-centric. I have heard Ganesh-Kumaresh say something of that sort when they launched their concept of ragapravaham – compositions with no lyrics. And recently, I heard an interview wit T.M.Krishna who also commented on how as a musicians, he does not think of the lyrics but the melody, the raga and the tala. He also mentioned how lyrics get broken by the melody at times, losing their impact and meaning.

      I agree that for listeners ‘it is the song that is the gateway to the ragam’ but I do not agree with your feeling that it needs to be the other way around. Finally it is the listener who needs to ‘connect’ with the song and if the lyrics are a pathway, why not? I have much to say on the subject, perhaps a blog post on this subject is indicated 🙂


  5. Narasimharaj

    “Innovation is a creative process that needs to be hands of experts, ones who have cultivated a strong understanding of the current and alternative forms”
    What Jay says is true.
    Curiosity took me to ‘google’ a query “Innovations of Balamurali Krishna in Carnatic Music” and I picked up the following from :

    “Characteristic of Balamuralikrishna’s musical journey has been his non-conformism, spirit of experimentation and boundless creativity. Balamuralikrishna has innovated the whole Carnatic Music System by keeping its rich tradition untouched. The ragas like Ganapathi, Sarvashri, Mahati, Lavangi etc. are credited to him. The ragas which he invented represent his quest for new frontiers. Ragas like Lavangi are set to three or four notes in ascending and descending scale.[3] Ragaas created by him, like Mahathi, Lavangi, Sidhdhi, Sumukham have only Four Notes; While Ragaas created by him, like Sarva Sri, Omkaari, Ganapathy have only Three Notes .
    He also innovated the tala system. He has incorporated “Gathi Bedam” in the “Sa Sabdha Kriya” ( Actions in Talas, which can produce sound/Sabdha are called Sa Sabdha Kriya )part of the existing Tala chain, thus throwing open a new chain of Tala System. Saint Arunagirinaadhar used to inject such systems in his famous Thirupugazh, but only as Sandham, while Balamuralikrishna is known to be the pioneer in bringing such Sandhams into a logical rhythm, with Angam & Definition. Thri Mukhi, Panchamukhi, Saptha Mukhi & Nava Mukhi are the Basic Classifications, he has named for his New Tala System”

    a few days back, DD Bharati put out a recorded performance of Ranjan & Gayathri. They sang the song “Krishnaa nee begane baaro …” in a raga & Taala which was totally different from what I’ve heard for years from many stalwart artistes. It was pleasing to listen to them do so. Wonder whether this also falls into the category of ‘innovations’.
    Musical instruments – for Indian Music – have undergone several changes over the years and provide scope for innovative renditions of both Carnatic & Hindustani Music. Can the changes in musical instruments too be called ‘innovations’?

    To say that there is not much scope for innovation in Carnatic or Hindustani Music becomes ‘self-limiting’. Perhaps the characteristics of Balamuralikrishna – “non-conformism, spirit of experimentation and boundless creativity” is latent/potent in several younger generation artistes too – be it Carnatic or Hindustani!

    Your ‘take’ on this?

    Best Wishes.

  6. Suja: I don’t always react but I read everything you write in your early paragraphs. Your writing is always very, very good … and truly scholarly. What are your influences? What are the triggers to your thought-processes? I often wonder tum na jaane kis jahaan mein kho jaa rahe ho.

    • Thank you Srinivas 🙂 You know how much I admire your writing, so you will not be surprised that your words of praise have left me in a self-satisfied glow this morning 🙂
      So you haven’t abandoned me in spite of my abandoning your very dear Hindi film music! Well, I didn’t really mean to abandon it, I have just become so immersed in classical music that there is little space for more. आपने ठीक ही कहा, कोई और ही दुनिया में खो पडी हूँ ! दुनिया ग़म भरी ना सही, हम सब अपने अपने दुनिया में तनहा ही रहते हैं You know what a chatterbox I am in real life – my head constantly buzzes with words and ideas पर मेरे सुनने वाले कोई होते नहीं हैं ! पर इधर in this blog कोई सुने या ना सुने, मेरे ख्याल शब्दों में साकार हो जाते हैं !
      Thanks and hugs 🙂

  7. Narasimharaj

    I read Srinivas write : “What are the triggers to your thought-processes?”
    Well, to SWIM, one needs to LIKE WATER & enjoy ‘swimming’!
    I think Suja did exactly that – ‘started singing/listening to Music & LIKING IT’, and that keeps ‘triggering her’ to WRITE her enjoyable ‘posts’ – Music To My Ears’.
    Suja, your reasoning/explanation?

  8. Ravi

    Catching up on some of your posts that I missed, Suja. Enjoyed reading this, too. This reminded me of the Ghazal, “Lagta Nahi Hai Dil Mera,” rendered dolefully (and beautifully) by Deepender Deepak Sharma ( More on it here:

    • Hi Ravi , would love to listen to your recommended song but am travelling at present. I will absolutely listen once back; I am always attracted to the doleful songs , I must be a closet depressive! Cheers. Suja

  9. Ravi

    Safe travels, Suja.

    Doleful songs makes one contemplative, not necessarily depressive, I think.

    A while back I had read an article, “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy,” and passed it on to my kids and others. Perhaps you’ll find it interesting:

  10. Hi,
    I once wrote to you long ago (A Year) complaining plaintively about my son not liking CM remember? Well, he still doesn’t like it much, but he, just like your son, has started a band 😀 Also he is more than willing to jam (sounds pretentious, but can’t think of a synonym) with Carnatic Musician friends and he is extremely appreciative of their efforts. His sass is limited to me. He is 13 now, the next 3 years (14 – 17) is probably going to be lost in public exam preparations, but, he has a good foundation.
    I am now pinning all my hopes on my younger son who is just 5. He is only going to get CM for the next 2+ years. Tougher to get him to sit down and learn but, he has excellent ears. He recognised the English national anthem matches Dikshitar’s Santhatham Paahimam all by his little self last year when we were watching a India-England test match.
    I was listening to a Jugalbandi between Pt Bhimsen Joshi and BMK when I thought of your website and whether you featured Hindustani Singers. I adore Pt. and BMK equally. I listen to songs from a kannada movie Sandya Raga whenever I am nostalgic:
    Please listen, enjoy and feature if you are as enamoured.
    I was also utterly thrilled to see your reference to the Nawab of Oudh, Doesn’t the daguerrotype in your post look exactly like Amjad Ali Khan in the movie? The movie shifted me from a very communist “Down with all ruling class” to a better, more nuanced appreciation of their contributions, failings and tragedies.

    • Oh hello again! Yes, I remember your email to which I had replied in great detail 🙂 Its great that your son has started a band, it will give him all kind of skills like working with other musicians, the importance of timing, organised creativity (this was a challenge for my son! creative brains dont like organisation) and such.. Good step! And its wonderful that he is jamming with friends who sing/play CM. It will give him better appreciation of the skills involved…

      5 is a good age to start training in CM. I wish you the best of luck with your little one!

      Thank you for the link to the song from Sandhya Raga – this is the first time I have heard it, I was thrilled to hear the duet!! Now to see if I can get hold of this movie with subtitles…

      You are right, Amjad Ali Khan was a great choice for the role, wasn’t he? He looks like the Nawab and he acted so well too…Interesting how the film effected you…
      Cheers. Suja

      • If you can get it, please watch Hamsageethe too.
        Another excellent kannada movie with BMK voice. Anant Nag of malgudi days fame acting. The movie is based on a novel based on a real life incident.
        I recently heard songs from a malayalam movie Gaanam –

        I had this in a mix tape as a child, I never knew these were from a malayalam movie! Again BMk + Yesudas!

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