Tributes to K L Saigal, the greatest popular singer of the 20th century, on his 114th birth anniversary today.

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It happens once in centuries. A phenomenon occurs, how and when, it cannot be explained. But when it occurs it leaves its impact, it captivates, it affects one and all.Such a phenomenon occurred on April 4, 1904, at Jammu. On that day, Kundan Lal Saigal was born. Destiny did not give this marvellous singer much time to live though. He died at 42. Even after his death, Saigal lives in the hearts of millions of his fans. His golden voice haunts even today.

Saigal’s father Amarchand Saigal was the Tehsildar of this small town in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. In his early age, Saigal was like any other child with an exception, he had good voice. He showed keen interest in singing and the ability to copy songs he listened to. Though his father abhorred his singing, Saigal’s mother Kesar Devi, an accomplished singer, encouraged him to sing by taking him with her to religious gatherings where she used to sing bhajans.

At the age of 12, an important event had happened in Saigal’s life which had matured him enough to become a great singer. It so happened that at that age , Saigal lost his voice. To a lad fond of singing, the reality was terrifying. His mother got worried too. She took him to a Sufi Salman Yusuf who lived in the city outskirts. This was the same peer who blessed Saigal when he was born. Yusuf belonged to Yesvi sect. This sect had rituals, perhaps secret, of that of `zikr’ and `riaz’. They believed that by such practice they will acquire spiritual enlightenment. Their secret was in using music, not to become performing musicians, but to understand `swar’ to reach the divine. Peer Yusuf took Saigal in his fold and bestowed upon him the secret rituals of his order, to practice `zikr’ and `riaz’. For years, he was engrossed in this secret practice with devotion and urge to get his melodious voice back. Perseverance and persistence soon brought back his voice. And then, his voice was tempered in the intensity of `zikr’ and `riaz’. He could transform emotions to his songs. Saigal was aware of this awakening in him. Once, he admitted this to one of his close friends, “I was born at the age of about 12 in a peer’s hut one windy evening in Jammu”. Then on, he became K L Saigal, the name by which he was known as a great singer and actor.In 1932, he reached Calcutta after a brief stint as a clerk in the railways, a salesman with Remington Typewriter Company, and as the manager of a hotel. Saigal’s first recorded song, “Jhulana Jhulao… “, sung in Asavri Ghandhari, created a stir in the musical circle. Even the classical singers took note of it. B.N. Sircar, the owner of New Theater, employed Saigal as singer/an actor in his company. It was the film “Devdas” which raised him to superstardom. He acted and sang in films like “Puran Bhagat” (1933), “Chandidas” (1934), “Devdas” (1935), “President” (1937), “Dharti Mata” (1938), “Street Singer” (1938) among others. His songs in these films, `Dukh ke ab din ‘, `Jeevan been madhur ‘, `Balam aaye baso ‘, `Main kya janoo ‘ and Babul mora ‘ reverberated throughout the country. In 1940, Saigal moved to Bombay. There he acted and sang in many memorable movies. In this short span, at Calcutta and Bombay, he dominated both the fields of singing and acting. Also, he acted in eight Bengali and 29 Hindi films. He sang more then 200 songs. He sang ghazal, geet, bhajan, folk, children’s songs and Ravindra Sangeet. He sang in Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali and Persian. Saigal’s popularity did not remain just inIndia, he was known in Afghanistan, Iran, Kabul, Kuwait, Jakarta among other countries. A phenomenon, which lifted many souls from the morasses of gloom just by the power of his music. Such was the legend of K L Saigal.

(Kind courtesy: ‘Saigal’s magic’ by Pran Kapila @ TheHindu; Photo credit: Shri.Anil Anawalikar)

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