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08 March 2012

My Favourites: Holi Songs

It’s the month of Phagun and today is Poornima – the full moon. The stage is set for the festival of colours, colours that celebrate the vitality of spring. Holi must be in full swing in India. I had had great plans for a Holi post, but have not been able to muster up the enthusiasm or the spirit to write one. However, I have been neglecting my blog of late, and so, this is a hastily put-together post, with no real research involved. 

A bit of background: Though it has religious overtones* (for Hindus), Holi is more commonly a festival bidding goodbye to winter and welcoming the coming of spring, based on the old custom of celebrating good harvests and the fertility of the land. Rang Panchami  falls on the fifth day (panchami) of the full moon.

Originally, the colours used for Holi were derived from natural sources such as dried spring blossoms and leaves – Mehendi, Gulmohur, Hibiscus, Marigold, Jacaranda, Flame of the Forest or from fruits, berries, or bark of woods. Today, the colours are chemically produced, and some, if not all, are toxic at some level or another.  

Bhang, a preparation made of the ground buds and leaves of cannabis, and mixed with milk, ghee (clarified butter) and spices, is popularly associated with Holi, particularly in North India, where the festival is celebrated with a fervour not usually seen in the south of the country. The above-mentioned Bhang base is added to water to make a cheap intoxicant, or to thandai, a milk-based drink prepared with a mixture of almonds, fennel seeds, rose petals, coarsely-ground black pepper, cardamom, sugar, watermelon kernels and seeds of the vetiver – a perennial grass known colloquially as khus, to make an intoxicating thandai. 

Despite its popularity as a festival, and considering the number of Hindi films that are made, there is a perplexing paucity of songs filmed around scenes of Holi. These are a few of my favourite Holi numbers, in no particular order.

Navrang (1958) 
Singers: Asha Bhosle, Chitalkar, Mahendra Kapoor
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: Bharat Vyas 
In a musical score that stood out for sheer virtuosity, this is perhaps not the best number; one cannot fault it for its sheer exuberance, however, nor for the ease with which the singers keep pace with a tune that veers between folk and classical. As a set piece, a stage entertainment for the benefit of the royal court, it's a song where everything comes together - lyrics, singing and picturisation, with heroine Sandhya doing double duty as both the man and the woman, front to back. The song climaxes with the coming alive of Ganesha, who, in the form of an elephant (a rather cute one), moves gracefully, and in time with the artiste, thus proving the poet's (Mahipal) boast that his writing can bring a statue to life.

Kohinoor (1960) 
Singers: Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar 
Music: Naushad 
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni 
Holi is a festival that cuts across barriers of class and economics. And so you see the Prince Dhivendra Pratap of Kailash Nagar, and Princess Chandramukhi of Rajgarh forget themselves in celebrating the spirit of the festival in their respective kingdoms. They are newly affianced to each other, and even though neither have met, they are both tolerably pleased with each other's portraits. Little do they know that the end of the festivities will also see the beginning of their troubles.

Mother India (1957) 
Singer: Shamshad Begum 
Music: Naushad
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
It's amazing how many Holi songs portend the beginning of the end. While it's obviously a happy time, and the villagers are celebrating the coming of Spring, it is easy enough to see that the seeds of trouble are being sown right there, during the song. As Kumkum and Chanchal (who bears a marked resemblance to sister Madhubala in this song) dance and sing (Shamshad Begum lends voice to both), and Nargis is lost in memories of her late husband, it is evident that Birju (Sunil Dutt) is up to no good. His brother (Rajendra Kumar) stops him, but for how long? And so the tale plays out, until, in the climax, a mother has to weigh one of the most difficult questions a woman will ever face. 

Aan (1953) 
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Shamshad Begum Music: Naushad
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Confession time. I liked this version of 'The Taming of the Shrew' (even though, as a feminist, I usually do not like the trope) particularly for all the swashbuckling and swinging-from-vines that a young and very handsome Dilip Kumar got to do; he looked like he was having so much fun. Definitely not for the faces that Nimmi was pulling - her 'angry' face definitely scared the living daylights out of me, and honestly? It is worse than her usual lachrymose woe-is-me expression. The song also had handsome Premnath, and an imperious Nadira (hard to believe that it was her first film) and surely, the irony of the lyrics Aaj koyi raaja na aaj koyi raani hai was not lost on them? 

5. Piya sang holi kheloon  
Phagun (1973) 
Singer:Lata Mangeshkar 
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
A couple of decades earlier, a film by the same name starred Madhubala. This film, by Rajinder Singh Bedi, who is also the film's scriptwriter was a better one (in my opinion), because it was a social commentary along with being a very good entertainer. The song, coming as it does in the first half of the movie, is the pivot around which the movie rests. Therefore, the video breaks off abruptly (as does the song) to segue into the next scene which is the turning point in the script. A lovely score by SD Burman, and excellent performances from Waheeda Rehman and Dharmendra lifted an already strong script. Jaya Bhaduri plays a small, but pivotal role, as their daughter.

Sholay (1975) 
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar 
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Sholay was not known for its music exactly. In the curry-western potboiler, the songs were only added to Indianise its very western plot origins. And so, despite a score that included the foot-tapping Mehbooba mehbooba, and the ode-to-undying-friendship Aye dosti hum nahin todenge, the film is remembered more for its truly remarkable dialogues, and dry one-liners.

However, the Holi song, coming as it does at a decisive moment in the script pulled the narrative forward. Gabbar's men have been routed by the two toughs hired by the Thakur, and Gabbar does not forgive, or forget. Holi kab hai? he asks, and the scene shifts to the villagers who are getting ready for the festival of colours - everyone, including the usually taciturn Jai, until he sees Radha. The contrast between her widow's white and the colours of the festival stings, and so he withdraws, leaving Veeru and Basanti to celebrate their blossoming love. 

When the song ends, Gabbar is ready for his first faceoff with the two men who had the temerity to step into the lion's lair.

Insaniyat (1955) 
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar 
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
The only film in which Dev Anand shared screen space with his contemporary Dilip Kumar (yes, that moustachioed chap behind Bina Rai is indeed Devsaab), Insaaniyat was also perhaps the only film in which Dev moved away from comfort zone of his usual urban characters; he has confessed that he was totally uncomfortable with the moustache and costumes that he had to don as first the sipah salar of a the ruler of a petty kingdom, and later as the rebel who leads the villagers in their fight for justice. The song is an unusual Holi number - the colours and pichkaris only make their appearance towards the end.

Produced and directed by SS Vasan, Insaniyat was the remake of a Telugu film Palletoori Pilla, and as was his wont, he ensured that some of the dances were huge spectacles. Throw in a (very talented) chimpanzee into the mix and you have a passable entertainer (the film fell short of its exceptional casting). Dev is woefully miscast, though he does try valiantly.

Silsila (1981) 
Singer: Amitabh Bachchan 
Music: Shiv-Hari
Lyrics: Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan
Probably the Holi song to beat all Holi songs, this raunchy UP folk song became a bigger hit than the film, which did not fare too well at the box-office, with people seeing it as reel imitating real. Silsila saw the debut of classical musicians, santoor maestro Shiv Kumar Sharma and flautist Hari Prasad Chaurasia as music directors. Amitabh, who was closely associated with the music of this film, sang two numbers, while also lending voice for the poetry that was an integral part of the third. Rang barse  was written by Dr Harivanshrai Bachchan, who went back to his UP roots, and used the earthy village idiom for its lyrics.

Few know that one of the songs in Silsila  was jointly composed by Amitabh and Shammi Kapoor in an impromptu jamming session during the shooting of Zameer. In Shammi Kapoor Unplugged,  the veteran remembered Amitabh calling him up to ask his permission to use 'their' tune in his new film; Shammi, who had completely forgotten the episode graciously gave his permission, and the tune became Neela aasman so gaya.

Rajput (1982) 
Singers: Mahendra Kapoor, Manhar Udhas, Asha Bhosle, Dilraj Kaur 
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
I know the eighties were not a decade known for good music, but this is a pleasant tune, for all that. It makes the list more for its picturisation than anything else, coupled with the fact that there is serious eye-candy on display - Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini, and Ranjeeta Kaur. A multi-starrer that also included Rajesh Khanna and Tina Munim, this potboiler, directed by Vijay Anand harked back to the days of feudal kingdoms and princely states, and contained most of the tropes associated with such films.

Balika Badhu (1976) 
Singer: Sapan Chakraborty 
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Based on a Bengali novel by the same name, and dealing with child marriage, director Tarun Majumdar made the film in Bengali in 1967; it saw the debut of a young actress who would soon be familiar to Hindi audiences - Moushumi Chatterjee. The remake by the same director, nine years later, starred a young Rajni Sharma as the child bride opposite Sachin.  

Married off while studying for his matriculation to a girl three years his junior, Amal (Sachin) finds himself more annoyed by his new bride than in love with her. It is only when she leaves for her maternal abode, as was the norm, that he realises how much he misses her; so much so, he has no interest whatsoever in taking part in the Spring festival, though he is shocked to see that his sister (Kajri) and brother-in-law (Asrani) have no qualms in flirting under the guise of the festivities.

What are your favourite Holi songs?

*Holi is the celebration of the triumph of good over evil; one myth is that of the burning of the demoness Holika, when she tries to kill her nephew Prahlad. Yet another myth deals with the death of Kamadeva, the god of love. In accordance with the wishes of the gods that Shiva marry Parvati, Kamadeva disrupts Shiva's meditation. Enraged, Shiva opens his third eye and burns Kamadeva to ashes. Once married to Parvati, Shiva gives in to Rati's (Kamadeva's wife) pleas and brings the god of love back to life. Holi celebrates this event. 


  1. Lovely List, anu!
    You have listed all my favourite Holi songs, leaving me with none. But I will come up with some soon.
    The first that comes to my mind is
    holi aayi holi aayi from mashal, where Hridaynath recycled his song from jait Re Jait, which in original sounded much better


    aaj na chhodenge bas humjoli from Kati Patang

  2. One Holi song, which I liked from more recent times would be the song from Mangal Pandey

    And there is the other song from Zakhmee, which I don't like much, but it pops up in my mind ver yoften.

    Can nadiya se dariya from namak Haram be considered as a Holi song?

  3. Happy holi, Anu! My husband and I don't play holi, so we've spent it at home, watching a movie - but I'm now getting a taste of the festival, just reading your post. :-) Some lovely songs there, including ones I already like. The Insaniyat one was new to me, but lovely. I really liked it. :-)

    The one holi song that occurred to me while reading your post was the Kati Patang one that Harvey mentions. One new-ish holi song I like is Holi khele raghuveera from Baaghbaan:


    And while this song isn't strictly a Holi song, the verse about Holi is lovely:


  4. This is another favourite of mine, from Anjaan: Holi ki aayi bahaar dekho:


    There's also a nice one which goesHoli re holi rangon ki toli, from the Hema Malini-Rakesh Roshan starrer, Paraya Dhan. Can't see it on Youtube, but if I find it, I'll leave a link. 

  5. Thank you, harvey. I do not much like the song from Kati Patang, which is why I wavered between putting it in. (Don't ask me why.)

    Except for Rang barse I didn't put any of the newer songs because the whole 'dressed in crisp white' (to play Holi!) makes me want to kill someone. That said, I really like the song from Mashaal. Liked the movie too, actually, though I blame Yash Chopra for the whole 'play Holi in white' syndrome that is prevalent today!

  6. There seem to be more 'modern' Holi songs than there were previously, no? Off hand, I am sure I can think of ten Holi songs from new films. Baaghban had one (I notice Madhu has put it up); so did Darr, Waqt and Mumbai Se Aaya Mere Dost.

  7. Madhu, I don't play Holi either. :) Though I like making the Malpuas, Gujiyas and Thandai (*without* the Bhang). But I love watching the colours.

    From the newer songs, I really like Holi khele Raghuveera too. It had a very peppy beat to it; even makes me, with my two left feet, want to get up and dance. Besides, it was nice to see Amitabh and Hema get around to playing Holi and being so flirtatious with each other.

    I did have Piya tose naina laage re in mind, then regretfully gave it up because it also had Diwali, and a couple of other verses - but I agree with you, it's a beautiful song!

  8. This is a completely new song for me, Madhu. Thank you so much for the link.

  9.  I wouldn't mind playing Holi in India if it were not for the chemical colours. A friend of mine in India has initiated a chemicals-free colourful Holi, but I am never there at this time. But as a child I loved it, whenever we got the chance.

  10. "I blame Yash Chopra for the whole 'play Holi in white' syndrome that is prevalent today!"

    Another one for the ever-growing list!

  11.  Here is the link to the Paraya Dhan song

  12. Happy Holi Anu :)
    It was fun as kids, even as a young girl. Today the chemicals would put me off.
    I love those songs on your list - Kohinoor, Mother India etc. I can think of two right now. Both with Mehmood.
    One from Godaan, a typical one.



  13. LOL. But, seriously - have you seen a single Holi song where the main characters (and sometimes all the extras) wore crisply laundered, freshly ironed, brand new white outfits to go out and play Holi? Until Silsila - where everyone wore white?? Then came Mashaal (also from Yash Chopra) where Rati wore this lovely white churidar (and looked absolutely beautiful) and got green colour splashed in a designer manner across one side. Then came a slew of such films - look at all the modern Holi songs - every one is wearing white.

  14. Apparently, there are organic colours available now. And the more environmentally-conscious blokes are making it dry.

  15. harvey, where do you find these links? Obviously, Madhu had searched for it, I did, too, only to be as unsuccessful; and now you waltz in proclaiming 'Here's the link' - amazing! Thank you.

  16. Happy Holi to you too, pacifist. I grew up in the South, though we had North Indian neighbours. Sharma
    aunty would always come with gulal and they seemed to
    have so much fun that I would look wistfully out of the window at them,
    until they came and called us to participate. By the time I came to
    Bombay in the early nineties, the festival had deteriorated into an
    excuse for eve teasing, though the building kids still had fun running
    around. Sort of put me off, especially when I got balloon-bombed from above one building with colours when I was on my way to work!

    I had the song from Godaan on my list, but the other one is completely new to me. Thank you. Is that Padmini with him?

  17. Happy Holi, Anu! 
    This is not fair - all these posts coming on the same day from you, Harvey and Madhu!  I have just managed to listen to the songs here, and I realized that I knew all the songs, except for the one from Insaniyat and the last two!
    A Holi memory that will remain forever - we were in Lucknow at the time, and a group of hijras came over to our house and one of them danced to the song, Dil ki kahani rang laayi hai ..., on our front lawn, and then they wouldn't leave till they were paid to their satisfaction!  I have no idea how much was paid, and my father doesn't even remember the incident !  This was probably in '60 or '61.
    Our local Hindu center celebrates Holi every year, but I don't even go there at that time, so I have missed all the fun and the sweets - no bhang here!

  18. Harvey posted both the 70's songs I knew, so I have no more. :(
    Loved the write-up about several songs. That Insaaniyat was a real bore, Dev with a moustache and someone was named Zangoora !!!
    "SillySila" was another bore, that Ab-Shammi inspiration was lame due to AB's singing (& you know I am a die-hard Dev & AB fan).

  19. So sorry, Lalitha. I think we should all get together and decided on specific *days* to post. We each get two days in a week, and like God, rest on Sundays! :-)

    Smiling at the Holi incident. My first run-in with the Hijras came when I'd just got married; somehow, they always know. So they came up to our flat; I was alone, and I opened the door, only to have them 'bless' me - the usual stuff phoolo phalo suhagan raho; obviously, they wanted money. In a bid to make me feel more generous, I think, they also blessed me that I would have a son soon. And were very shocked when I informed them that, for us, it was important to have a girl child. Anyway, long story short, I'd a nice chat with them, sent them off happy, if bewildered; only, our next-door neighbours (and my MIL, when she heard of it) were even more shocked that I could talk *gasp* to a hijra!!

  20. I'm sorry Harvey spoilt your fun. Maybe you should come into the 80s or the 90s. :) There seem to be more Holi songs in recent years than there used to be before.

    Insaniyat was okay. My problem was that everytime I saw Dev in a moustache and dhoti, I collapsed into giggles. I liked Sillysila when I watched it recently; I think it would have been better if Yash Chopra hadn't welshed out in the end, and had Amit leave Chandni again!

  21.  Yes, you're right - organic colours are available now, and the newspapers begin (at least a week in advance) to publish articles about how you can make wet colours at home from veggies, flowers, etc.

    No idea how prevalent the organic colours are, though. I'm guessing the chemical colours would be much cheaper.

  22. Thank you, harvey!

    Here's a new idea for a post you can do: "How to find songs on Youtube". :-D

    Honestly, I searched for this, but just couldn't get hold of it. Now you come along and put it in - did you upload it after Anu and I had given up in despair? ;-)

  23. I remember, the day after I got married, I was in my in-laws' home (Tarun and I stayed with them for the first few months after we got married), and this gang of hijras turned up. They did all that phool-phalo business, and even had the gall to tell me to make them "mausis soon!! Yuck, yuck, yuck! And my MIL was standing around and nodding sagely and offering them mithai and agreeing to all their bullshit. I have rarely felt so embarrassed in my life.

  24.  Loved the way you got along with the hijras. I never had the guts to talk to one. So I am really proud of you!

  25.  I can imagine your shock!

  26.  Thank you Madhu! Thank you Anu! You are too nice to me, this way you are just spoiling me!
    I just searched under Paraya Dhan holi song on you tube. And if you see this is the first one that comes on the list.

  27.  Really! That is good, but once you are outside on the streets, you can't really control who will throw which colour on you. Not at least in Bombay and I don't get invited to the exclusive Holi parties. *sniff*
    Wah kaun hai tera, musafir jo tujhe party ko invite karega!

  28. Here is a Holi song which we often heard as kids on the radio particularly during Holi, it is almost forgotten now so I am purani yaadien taaza karaoing, (that is Hinglish) by posting the the song from Biswajit-Rajashree starrer Do Dil directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee


  29. The problem with 'making' wet colours at home is that it requires time, and the interest to do something like that. The chemical colours are definitely cheaper. And so easily available, why would anyone go for the alternative? (Except for fear of lead poisoning, cancer, allergens....:D)

  30. I got dive-bombed with balloons filled with the nastiest of colours from atop a building - just when I was on my way to work! Aaargh!

  31. harvey - What strange magic is this?? I searched for 'Paraya Dhan - Holi song' too, but nothing came up. Not. A. Thing. And then you post a link - just like that!! I remember you did that once before - one of my lists had a song that played after 2-3 minutes of screen shots because I couldn't find a link with just the song; then you come along and post the song link without those annoying screen shots!

    I agree with Madhu  - you need to write a tutorial for the likes of us; she's already given you a title. :)

  32. Makes you want to go off and kill somebody, or kill yourself, or both, no?? :)

  33. :) Never having had much to do with them until I came to Bombay, maybe I didn't have the same visceral reactions to them as my MIL and neighbours did. Besides, I'm eternally curious, love talking to people (bet you didn't know that, right? after reading my l-o-n-g posts??) and they  were so shocked with my response to their blessing ek saal mein maa ban jaayegi, munna hoga (echoing Madhu, 'Yuck, yuck, yuck!) that I felt they deserved an explanation of the matrilineal system I come from. They were genuinely interested. So we chatted, I gave them water, some fruits and money, and we parted the best of friends. :)

  34. Thank you for taaza-karoing my purani yaad, Shilpi. :) Actually, you linked to a song I'd never heard before. So, a double thank you.
    I had never known of the film either, since I'm not a great Biswajeet or Rajshree fan, until you linked to a song from it earlier on my blog; it's a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film and it can't be bad.

  35. And yesterday, 'colour poisoning' led to the death of a 13 yr old boy and admitting 200 odd people in hospital in Mumbai:( Become a scary festival now!!!

  36. Och, that is scary! A pox on the makers of these poisonous colours. The know they are using toxic ingredients but  will still persist for the sake of making a few bucks.

  37.  Anu, you must be the first person I have ever heard of, who made the hijras sit down and listen to a talk on the matrilineal system in Kerala!  More power to you!  I bet they are still talking about it in their circles!

  38.  Thank God, this practice didn't exist in Madras in my time!  I would have died a million deaths!

  39. Lalitha, you mean no one blessed you with a son?? Lucky you!!

  40. Lalitha, I think they were just happy to have someone talk to them, they would have listened to a dissertation on economics! :) But they also told me a lot about their community. I must confess that it was a very informative 45 minutes - on both sides.

  41. One does not associate Meera bhajans with Holi songs, no? It is such a beautiful number.

  42. I posted a five favorite Holi songs list, and my top four matched your top four!  They are even mostly in the same order, except that I have nos. 3 and 4 reversed (but I almost listed them the same way that you listed them).  Perhaps this indicates that if one is doing a Holi song list, there is no way of getting around putting those four at the top. :)  Nor is there any way of getting around making the Navrang song number 1.

    For the fifth one on my list, I included one from Mastana that Pacifist added here in comments.  Only, I did not find it because it was a Mehmood song, but because it also stars the lovely Padmini. :)


  43. Richard, welcome to my blog. I think you are right about the top 4 songs; there's no way of making a list without them. I didn't know about the Mastana song at all, until pacifist posted it in the comments. And I did wonder whether it was Padmini in the clip - thank you for confirming that it is. 

    Thank you for posting a comment.

  44. Nice selection, Anu. A very belated 'Happy Holi' to you. (Don't play it much, though my wife makes gujiyas - food, I like!) I like the 'Navrang' song, though my favourite song from that film is 'Tu chhupi hain kahan'. After watching the clip from 'Kohinoor', I wish Meena Kumari had done more roles like this.

  45. lovely selections here, as mush as i loved the holi song from Phagun (one of my favourites of all time and in fact one of the best things about the film, I found the movie rather tedious to say the least. Two holi songs taht stick out on my mind and would definitely make my list if ever i made one are Holi 'Lai hai hazaron rang' from phool aur Patthar and 'Chaan ke Mohalla' from Action Replayy, i personally can't get enough of the latter, I love it to bits 



  46. You didn't like Phagun? :) Well, it takes some getting used to, I guess.

    I haven't seen Action Replay - though I do have a soft spot for both Akshay and Aishwarya. Chirpy song, though, and Ash looks beautiful.

  47. Oh, didn't see this comment, Sridhar. Sorry. I usually make gujiyas too, but this year, I didn't. Now you've made me want to eat them! :(

  48. Was surprise no one mentioned Kati Patang Holi Aaj na chhodenge bas humjoli.  Rajesh Khanna is exuberant singing in Kishore Kumar's voice, unaware of Asha Parekh's inner turmoil.  Asha Parekh is a distant spectator to the revelry and joins in poignant Lata's soft melody.


  49. AK, harvey posted the song in his first comment. :) I'm not fond of the song myself, which is why it didn't make my list.


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