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Lyricist Gandhiji – Revisited

September 20, 2012. ‘Ganesh’ festival holiday. –

My wife and I set out for a short visit to Ahmadabad. As this was our first time, visits to Akshardham temple and Sabarmati ashram were the top priorities. We thought Akshardham temple a very nice place but it was quite hot outside as we set out towards Sabarmati. Our driver too was quite restless due to this unusual heat. As we approached the town, suddenly the atmosphere changed with clouds and a real transfer scene. The sky above was full with storming black clouds getting ready to pour anytime.

Just before this visit, I had read a nice book ‘Meera and Mahatma’ by Sudheer Kakkar. It had many pages describing this sacred place. It had been an ideal laboratory for preparing volunteers for the freedom struggle and ‘satyagraha’. Gandhiji had spent several years here with his novel experiments in many fields. His disciple and close associate Meeraben also spent many years of her youth here. She was a British lady but had faith in Gandhiji’s philosophy and joined in his work at Sabarmati. The book describes their time together, Gandhiji a young revolutionary Prithvising occupying her life for a while, Gandhiji’s advice to her in such a situation. So, I had lots of images of that period in my mind.

Akshardham temple is located far away from Ahmedabad but the ashram is now deep inside the city. It has lot of strict security due to a terrorist attack few years ago. However as we drove into the ashram straight from the busy road, even a security guard was not visible. The straight road took us to the banks of Sabarmati River. On the right, old ashram out-buildings were visible; to the left the modern exhibition area and book shop attracted our attention. Next to this area, a Bapu statue has been installed in a lawn. He is in a sitting yogic posture, wearing loin cloth, body covered with another cloth and looking towards the old place where he had moved actively during 1920-35. While glancing on either side of the road we reached the riverside and spent quite some time silently. Now both the banks have concrete walls and quite modern amenities and many bridges conjoining the two ends of the town. We could have spent more time but water droplets forced us to move away. So, we went to the Meeraben’s hut – once made out of mud and rough floor, now in a memorial with nice flooring and her photograph on the wall. By the time we reached Bapu’s Kuti called ‘Hriday-Kunj’, it had begun to drizzle. Many visitors were drawn in to avoid heavy rains. This is a rather large place with a spacious veranda and courtyard. On one side Bapu’s personal belongings viz. spinning wheel (charkha), writing table and dining table have been preserved and the room with a meshed door is locked. Visitors were taking pictures from the window in the door. On the other side, replica of the charkha and writing desk are placed. Visitors were encouraged to handle them and get a feel of the atmosphere. Many young and old persons were busy in canning the moments in the mobile pictures and videos.

Bapu statue (L) Bapu’s Close Room (R)

At the center of the corridor, my wife drew my attention to ‘The Prayer’ inscribed just below Gandhiji’s oil painting. I sat down to read it carefully. It had two prayers, one in Devnagri (Hindi) and another in Roman Script. I knew the Hindi version well due to the gramophone record in my collection. I had written a long article on it in ‘The record news’ – TRN 2011 [reproduced below, at the end of this article].This was a gramophone disc issued by Maharashtra Government during Gandhiji’s birth centenary (1969).This prayer was sung by Manna Dey and Chorus. Music was composed by Vasant Desai and credit for the lyrics was given to Gandhiji. Left over copies of this disc ended up in Mumbai Chor Bazzar and some of them were found by me in one of the Friday visits to this flea market. There is also a story cum myth in circulation, viz. this was a letter written by Gandhiji to little Maniben (daughter of Vallabhbhai Patel) when she asked several questions about nature and the existence of God.

This was quite surprising and raised several questions in my mind: if this prayer was so old then what was the tune for singing? Was it sung by Bapuji himself with the disciples? And how is it sung today and what changes have occurred in the basic tune in all these years. I saw one lady employee talking to the visitors and decided to ask her. She said, ’This prayer has not been sung in so many years. Once an English woman had recited it here and she only read the English version in Roman script. You might get some more information with our secretary in the office.’ I was shocked and just took out my mobile and put it near the prayer plaque. I had Manna Da’s song loaded. As the sweet voice of Manna Da began to fill the atmosphere, many visitors and employees flocked in to listen to it quietly. I played it couple of times and was quite moved. By this time another employee came with a booklet and a bunch of keys. The booklet contained words of this prayer in Gujarati too. Credit for all the three versions was given as M. K. Gandhi. Now we were special guests and the locked room was opened for us and we were invited to enter. This was quite a surprise and an exciting experience for us. We went in and saw the Bapu’s room with moist eyes. By this time it had begun to rain heavily, as if we were destined to spend more time in this sacred place. So we went to backyard where Kasturba used to live and had a little kitchen and a guest room. We sat there for a while. As we came from Maharashtra and Mumbai, many questions were asked like, ‘What was the role of V.D. Savarkar in the assassination of Gandhiji; how is it that Maharashtrians love and hate Bapu with a similar intensity etc. While discussing, I imagined that Bapu too would have joined us had he been alive.

Soon the rains stopped and we set out to leave. Still, the questions regarding the prayer were haunting me. So, we went to the exhibition area to meet senior person Mr. Amrut Mody, Secretary of the Ashram. He listened to my query patiently and meanwhile called his assistant on the phone. A young lady came in with a register in her hand. She was writing something in it and listening to me too patiently. Soon she called a peon and asked to get ‘The collected works of Mahatma Gandhi–vol. 58’. She saw the index quickly and opened up page 436 for me to show the original ‘A prayer’. Dated late 1934, this was a note added to the letter sent to F. Mary Barr. In turn this was a request of Miss Linforth of Chennai to get some message from Bapu. I also learnt that the Gujarati version was penned by Bhanvari Lal whereas Hindi translation was prepared by Uma Shankar Joshi. Reading my mind, a photocopy of this page was promptly given to me. I was now totally stunned with the revelation of ‘The Truth’ at this sacred place. As we thanked and about to leave, Amrutbhai asked me if I can give them copy of the song? They want to play it at Bapu Kuti. Of course I had it with me on the mobile for quick transfer using Bluetooth. So, visitors henceforth will hopefully listen to ‘The Prayer’ while they are reading at the Bapu Kuti corridor.


Lyricist Gandhiji –

Namrata ke Saagar or Samrat ?

Namrata Ke Sagar [2008]

Recently ‘You Tube’ has featured a very interesting video based on Gandhiji’s Bhajan
– ‘O Namrata Ke Sagar’.


The song is sung by Pt. Ajay Chakraborty and ending words are by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi. Mr. Amitabh Bachhan appears at the end, reciting some of the verses of the bhajan. This bhajan ‘O Namrata ke Sagar’ was chanced upon by the illustrious Aditya Birla family of India three years ago. They say that it must have been written by Mahatmaji at their house where Bapuji used to stay often. The composition pleads God to bestow humility on the people and bless the country with prosperity. Reportedly, neither the Congress nor the Gandhi family had any inkling about its existence. The Aditya Birla Group is going to introduce a music album soon, of which this bhajan of Mahatma Gandhi sung in Big B’s voice is going to be a part of the album. The music for ‘O Namrata ke Sagar’ has been composed by southern maestro Ilayaraja. Sources inform that the Mahatma’s bhajan is more like a prayer or soliloquy without poetic meter.

The lyrics of this video sound like –

He Namrata ke sagar, teri apni namrata de
He bhagvan tu kabhi Madad ke liye aata hai?
Jab manushya shunya bankar teri sharan leta hai
Hindustan ki janatase, ek roop honeki shakti do utkantha de


It is interesting to trace the origin and the history of this unusual song.

‘He Namratake Samrat’: August 1969– cut on a special 78 rpm record 

Specially mfd. By The Gramophone Company of India Ltd.
For Gandhi Centenary Committee (Maharashtra State). Hindi QC 1870 OJW 7530.
Manna Dey and chorus, Music: Vasant Desai [Mfd. C.1970)


Transcript of the Song from this Gramophone Record:

He Namrata ke Samrat, He Namrata ke Samrat,

Deen bhangi ki heen kutiya ke nivasi,
Deen bhangi ki heen kutiya ke nivasi,
Ganga yamuna aur godavari ke jalonse
Sinchit isa sundar deshmen
Tujhe sab jage khojanemen, hamen madad de
Hamen grahan sheelata aur khula dil de
Teri apni namrata de, teri apni namrata de,
Bharat ki janatase ekroop honeki,
Shakti aur utkantha de, shakti aur utkantha de, he bhagvan
He bhagvan,
Tu tabhi Madad ke liye aata hai
Jab manushya shunya bankar teri sharan leta hai
Hamen vardan de, hamen vardan de
Ki Sevak aur mitrake naate,
Isa janataki hum seva karna chahate hain
Usa se kabhi alag na pad jaye,
Usa se kabhi alag na pad jaye,
Hamen tyag bhakti aur namrataki moorti bana
Taki isa deshko hum jyada samjhe aur jyada chahe
Hamen vardan de hamen vardan de
He bhagvan, He bhagvan, He bhagvan


Clearly this is not a poem, but reads as prose.

Recently I talked to Mr. Bal Deshpande on Phone. He lives at Nasik. As soon as I asked him about this record and the song, he began to sing it. This is because he was closely associated with Mr. Vasant Desai and was present at the recording of this song in Mumbai.

He told me that this is neither a poem nor a bhajan, but a letter. Gandhiji wrote it to Maniben Patel, daughter of sardar vallabh bhai Patel. Young Mani had asked Gandhiji some questions about the God. How does he look like, where does he stay? Where can I find him? What should I ask him?

This letter was found by Mr. Madhukar Rao Chowdhury who was the President of the “Gandhi Centenary Committee” set up in 1968. Vasant Rao Desai was closely associated with the cultural and music department of Maharashtra State and had launched ‘Ek Sur Ek Taal’ movement among school children. Mr. Chowdhury requested him to set tune to this letter and thus the letter took the form of a song. Special records were made by state Government and distributed to its institutions. Many copies were lying in go down and later on scrapped. Die hard record collectors found few copies in Mumbai ‘Chor Bazzar’ and thus this part of the history was preserved.—Dr. Suresh Chandvankar, October 2008




  2. Ajay Purohit says:

    What a lifetime gift this is? Words are not enough to explain my joy! Thanks for all who made it possible.

  3. Dr. Rustam Bora says:

    Gandhi ji – The Rule
    The Rule of Love , Faith, Believe and much more…
    Many years passed…India got Freedom…. Generation is in its change… History is not only which is written in books of school or colleges… but many un-archived facts are also has a historic value.
    This post is really a part of such information which makes History Rich in its Value…
    Really a informatic Post.
    Thanks for sharing such a informatic post…

  4. A mesmerizing experience1 Bapuji’s bhajan is superb.

  5. Ravindra Sankalia. says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this letter poem song sung by Manna Dey and recited by Amitabh Bacchan. It was something out of this world, a divine experience.

  6. Khurshid Khan says:

    So simple yet so profound – what a great prayer song!!
    Subhan Allah!!!

  7. Arunaraje Patil says:

    I was happy to see that someone had found this song ‘Hey namrata ke samrat’ sung by Manna Dey and composed by Vasant Desai. He was my uncle-in-law and he used to share with us, his nephew Vikas and me, a lot about his work. We are both filmmakers and often went to his recordings. I remember him sharing with us vividly about Gandhiji’s letter which was in prose and the challenge that was to create it as a song. It is one of my favourite songs and like Bal Deshpande, I also began singing it when I saw the words. I think Vishwas Nerurkar and Bishwanath Chatterjee have a copy of the song. They researched, compiled and edited a coffee table book on Vasant Desai which was published in 2008.

  8. Thanks Arunaji

    we r fans of your films – most memorable – Gaharai

    Vikas-ji knows me from long time

    we are record collectors


    and yes i have found this disc in chor bazzar and then shared it with Nerurkar, chatterjee and many others. They have done wonderful work on Vasantrao – so also baba desai with web site
    i have given this song to him as well

    Happy to get deep into the history of the song and visit to sabarmati

    Thanks and stay in contact – i am in Mumbai (cell – 9920813336)

    suresh chandvankar

  9. Vikas Desai says:

    dear suresh …. went thru the attached video [ bhimsenji, bacchhan ] …. as mentioned in our long talk on the tel a few minutes back – since VASANTRAO used to compose for the soul of the words – the situation – i find his manna dey version so much more soul stirring – it goes right inside me – makes me feel – gives me goose bumps ! ! !

    warmly …… vd

  10. yes – i agree with u Vikas

    it internalizes thought processes in your brain when u r listening to audio
    – especially with closed eyes

    hats off to vasantrao=ji
    Also for the song on flip side – Om tat sat


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