Music composer Sachin Dev Burman was born in 1906 into a royal family, but he drew deeply from the folk music of Bengal. As a child, Burman was exposed to the bhatiyali, or boatman songs, of his domestic worker, Anwar. Even after moving to Kolkata, Burman’s first song recorded was the folksy “Dakle Kokil Roj Bihoney”.
In Kolkata, Burman also met reputed Bengali folk singer Abbasuddin Ahmed, who taught him his signature technique of “voice breaking”, which Burman used to great effect when he moved to Mumbai and started composing for Hindi films. Since Burman refused to let actors lip sync to his singing, the songs he has sung have been used in the background. But even these have become classics.
Burman has two such songs n Vijay Anand’s Guide (1965): Wahan Kaun Hai Tera and the moving Allah Megh De, sung by Dev Anand’s Raju, who is fasting to end a drought.
Allah Megh De has been adopted from Ahmed’s most popular song, also titled Allah Megh De. After Ahmed, several singers have performed the number.
Allah Megh De belongs to the Bengali folk genre Jaari Gaan. The name is derived from the Persian “zaari”, meaning lamentation, and the Bengali “gaan”, or music.
Most Jaari Gaan are based on the Islamic legend of the Battle of Karbala, where the outnumbered supporters and relatives of Prophet Mohammad's grandson, Husayn ibn Ali, were massacred by the then Caliph, Yazid. The memory of Karbala is now the source of sectarian battle, since Shias, who are followers of Husayn ibn Ali, greatly play up its remembrance even as Sunnis mostly ignore it. In medieval Bengal, though, such divisions were still to occur, and this song was performed by mostly Sunni Muslims.
Allah Megh De, in particular, tells of the terrible thirst faced by the followers of Husayn ibn Ali during the battle of Karbala. They cry out to God to send them rain-bearing clouds, or megh. Since most Bengalis who sung this song were from the region’s vast cultivator class, Allah Megh De was also acted as a call to the monsoon, vital for the region’s main crop, which is rice.
The Bengali title of the song is also a valid sentence in Hindi. All Burman did was to take it out of its original setting and make it polytheistic: the song in Guide appeals to Ram, Shyam as well as Allah.
After its use in Guide, Allah Megh De also went on to feature in Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein (1977), in which it was lip synced by Rajesh Khanna.
In 2008, the track crossed the border and was part of the Pakistani film Ramchand Pakistani, directed by Mehreen Jabbar and starring Nandita Das.
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