Random Thoughts

Tagore, Savithri Krishnan and Carnatic Music

Savithri Krishnan (nee Govinda) was a fourteen year old girl who lived and went to school at Adyar when she was introduced to Rabindranath Tagore. She was a student of the Fourth Form and had no idea at all who this man was, when her drawing teacher came to fetch her to be presented before the poet. She was playing outside her home with her friends in the gruelling heat of June.

She was quite annoyed by this demand. She refused straightaway. Then this drawing teacher went into her house and caught hold of her mother in the kitchen and requested her to prevail upon the daughter. After much coaxing and cajoling, the little girl finally agreed to accompany the teacher.

Tagore was sitting surrounded by some of the top intellectuals from the South (as well as Bengal, including Professor P.C. Mahalanobis, the founder of the Indian Statistical Institute) when the girl arrived along with her two sisters. He was busy writing something and for a while didn't pay any attention to the girls. Savithri's temper rose further. Quite apart from the fact that it was a boring business, her game had been interrupted. But, as custom demanded, the poor thing waited till Tagore was finished with whatever he was writing.

He looked at the sisters and requested them to sing for him. They sat on the floor and sang a few Meera Bhajans. After a while, Tagore looked at Savitri and said, "Why don't you sing alone? Sing a pure South Indian song for me." She tried as best as she could. The song she sang begins with "Meenakshi ...". You can hear it in the audio attachment below.

Tagore stayed over for a few days and he told her to come to him daily and sing for him. She did this, willingly or unwillingly, I can't say. And then Tagore came out with a preposterous idea. "Savithri, come with me to Santiniketan for your studies!" She said, "How can I? I don't have the finance and I need my guardian's permission. The guardian was an uncle, who had recently met with an accident. Tagore said, "I think your guardian will not object - I have a premonition."  ("divyadrishti" was the expression Savithri Devi used to describe Tagore's statement.)

"divyadrishti" it was indeed and Savitri went over to Santiniketan. She knew no Bengali at the time. She felt lonely and missed her family in the beginning. But gradually she got used to the place and gathered enough courage one day to come up to Tagore with an exercise book (costing her 4 annas) and ask for his autograph. Tagore wrote for her a couplet. Here is a (terrible) translation:

If my song can ever find a shelter in your voice,
That could be my gift, or to me a gift of your choice. 

The Calcutta Doordarshan interviewed Ms. Savithri Krishnan many years later. She was seventy years at the time. I collected the information above from this interview. Straight from the horse's mouth.

Photograph of Savithri Krishnan -- extreme right 

Unfortunately for my friends at Boloji, she spoke almost entirely in Bengali. But there were little bits of English too that she used as she recalled her first meeting with Tagore. A large part of the interview deals with the Carnatic tunes Tagore picked up from Savithri Devi to compose some of his most well-known songs. Even at the age of seventy, I think she did a great job in rendering the Tamizh and the Bengali versions.

There were two songs that she sang and I have included them in the audio clip. The Bengali counterparts are "basanti hey bhuvanomohini" and "bedona ki bhashaey re". I have cropped out the Bengali conversation from the interview and retained only the English words she used and the songs she sang (both in Tamizh and Bengali).

I have also added another famous Tagore song "baaje karuno shurey". This was sung by Smt. Kanika Bandyopadhyay during Tagore's Birth Centenary Celebrations in 1961. She is no more. The original Tamizh version "needu charanamule" in the recording below was sung by Swagatalakshmi Dasagupta (1999). According to the Sangeeta Sudha, the song was composed by Thyagaraja and its tune is set to Raga Simhendra Madhyam.  

This post would be incomplete if I didn't add my latest translation of the song "baaje karuno shurey". But first, so as to help you follow the song in Bengali, I am writing down the Bengali words.

“baaje koruno shurey (haay doore)
tabo charantala-chumbito ponthobina.
mamo paanthochito choncholo
jaani na ki uddeshe.

junthigondho oshanto shomire
dhaay utola uchhashey,
temoni chitto udashi rey
nidaruno bichchhedero nisithe.”

And here is the translation, or at least the first draft.

"Far away, a plaintive tune
Plays the veena of the path kissed by your feet.
This mind mine feels restlessly wayward
What it seeks I do not know alas. 

Pursuing in this untamed breeze
Jasmine flavours lost in turbulence
Likewise the heart's melancholy
So agonizing on this night of separation."

Immediately below is the link to the songs, which I hope you will be able to download. (If you cannot but are interested in listening, please send me your email addresses and I shall mail the link to you from my dropbox account.) The first song is Swagatalakshmi’s version of "needu charanamule". This is followed by Kanika’s unforgettable rendition of the song I translated above. Finally, you can hear Savithri Krishnan,  at the age of seventy, singing the original songs "basanti hey bhuvanomohini" and "bedona ki bhashaey re" were based on as well as their Bengali versions!

Link to Songs

Image of Tagore (c) Gettyimages.com


More by :  Dipankar Dasgupta

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Views: 3710      Comments: 23

Comment To Souri Das

I am sorry. I don't know what happened to the link. I can't find it in my own collection either. If I can locate it, I will let you know.


01-Sep-2021 22:31 PM

Comment I didn't find any audio clip of savitri devi. It shows that Audio files were deleted.

Souri Das
01-Sep-2021 10:48 AM

Comment How nice to hear of Savithri in her later years.
I knew her well in Nova Scotia, we started a school for dropouts & exceptional students. Everyone called her Ama. she was the calming influence, & encouraged nutrition with an endless supply of fresh fruit for those who sat with her surrounded by her musical instruments. Sage & yet daring. I played tennis with her when she was over 65 & she was always up for adventure. I drove her around in my old car, happily. She loved to sing & laugh. Bruce

Bruce MacLellan
05-Sep-2019 15:11 PM

Comment Dear Ms. Ghosh,

In case you are unable to open the links, please let me know your email address. I will resend them. Incidentally, I hope you are familiar with some of the other Carnatic songs that made there way into Tagore music.


Dipankar Dasgupta

07-Mar-2019 10:22 AM

Comment These links should be helpful.




07-Mar-2019 09:59 AM

Comment Dear Ms. Ghosh,

Swarabitan Vol. 36 lists the song Bushwabinarobe. It says that the song is set to Raga Shankaravaranam and tala “talferta”. I am not sure what the latter means.

Searching for other details.


Dipankar Dasgupta

07-Mar-2019 09:01 AM

Comment Dear Ms Ghosh,

I will search Tagore’s Swarabitan and elsewhere and let you know if I can find a proper answer to your question. Thanks for the inquiry.


Dipankar Dasgupta

07-Mar-2019 08:34 AM

Comment Your article reached us just in time. We are organising a fusion music program in Mysore on "the influence of Carnatic ragas on Rabindra Sangeet".
We learnt that "Biswabina robe biswajon mohichhe" is on raag Shankaravaranam and influenced by a Carnatic song which was picked up by Indiradebi
Can you help us with the title of the Carnatic number?
We are guessing "Nagalingam bhajeham" composed by-Muthuswamy Dikshitar, but not very sure.

Look forward to hearing from you
Sharmila Ghosh

Sharmila Ghosh
06-Mar-2019 23:49 PM

Comment @ Amitava Sarkar

Dear Mr. Sarkar,

I have a recording of her AIR interview. However, it is around 38MB in size. I am not sure if I know a way of sending it to you except through the gmail cum google drive route. If you wish me to try, please let me know your email address.

Thank you for reading this piece. I wrote it a long time ago.

Dipankar Dasgupta

06-May-2016 09:55 AM

Comment Dear Mr. Dasgupta,

This is a very inspiring piece. I discovered it only now while searching on Tagore songs.

I had a chance of listening to a recording of Savitri Krishnan recounting her days in Santiniketan, courtesy a friend at Bengaluru. The talk is exactly in the spirit described by Mr. Devdutta Joardar. She was describing the quiet evening when she could hear only strains of Tagore songs - Dinendranath teaching the students - and she broke into "ashru-nadir sudur parey..." The way she sang the notes of "parey" was simply out of the world and in one stroke defined Purvi in its essence.. just two lines of magic.

I shall greatly appreciate if you would send me the songs so that I can share them with my friends who have crossed sixty and not conversant with "bishwa-jora phand"...

With best regards,


Amitabha Sarkar
02-May-2016 11:09 AM

Comment @ chudamani

I found this clip from The Hindu. It might answer some of your questions. Also, you may want to contact the organizers directly.


Dipankar Dasgupta

27-May-2014 04:28 AM

Comment @ chudamani

Let me do a little search please. There should be articles on the subject, but I do not know if they are written in English. I will get back to you.

Dipankar Dasgupta

27-May-2014 02:28 AM

Comment @ chudamani

Thank you for the information friend. Since I do not know Telegu or Tamil, I made this mistake.

Dipankar Dasgupta

27-May-2014 02:26 AM

Comment Dear Sir,

I need a small help from you. I want to know more details about Tagorji`s love towards Carnatic Music.

Please let me know any reference in this regard.


21-May-2014 06:23 AM

Comment Dear Sir,
Namasthe. I am from Hyderabad. I read your article. Music has no barriers. Let me tell you one thing, "Needu charanamule"is Telugu song but not Tamil.


21-May-2014 06:19 AM

Comment @ Revathi

Thank you for reading this article. I think Tagore did get influenced by everything that he found beautiful. Not only in India, but also abroad.

I am afraid, I do not have Savitri Krishnan's contact address. I never came across her in person, but there should be people who know a lot more about her.

Best wishes.

28-Jul-2013 08:05 AM

Comment I happened to see this article and extremely happy to note that Music has no barriers and brings people together.I would like to know how many more such songs got the Bengali touch. i would be grateful if i could have the contact number or email id of Savithri Krishnan.
Thank you.

27-Jul-2013 13:03 PM

Comment @j jayaraman

Thank you so much for your touching comment. To me at least, Savithri Krishnan represents a wonder. I noticed that the link to her songs I had provided at the end has turned corrupt. I will approach the Editor and see if it can be put up again.

Best regards.

19-Mar-2013 03:11 AM

Comment @ TagoreBlog

Thank you Kumudbabu for reading this piece. I noticed your comment only today after receiving a message from boloji!! I know you are a great translator, so I feel somewhat embarrassed that you read my translation. Best wishes.

19-Mar-2013 02:57 AM

Comment savitri amma came to sri ramanasramam in 1986 on visit from canada, with the Arunachala Ashrama NovaScotia group....and thus into my life. she took a liking to me and her "mollikaa bo nei" stands tall above the rest of the stentorian himalayan range of songs she 'belted' out without fear or favour or dependence on amplification. i will love to hear more about conversations with her. i visited her twice at her [and her sister's home in B'lore]. yes she wheezed horribly and suffered the continuous blaring of wedding sounds from the plot adjacent to her window!. she called me to say she was going to be honoured at Shantinik and the passed on two of her paintings from her younger days, to me. they were on sheet stuck on poor cardboard, but showed a multifaceted person. and yes spot on...she could take joke and roar at one.

j jayaraman
18-Mar-2013 17:02 PM

Comment This is really unique.
It shows Tagore's reach through music. You deserve thanks for bringing this to the notice of music lovers, Dipankar.

18-Jan-2013 04:20 AM

Comment Dear Devadatta,

Savithri Krishnan was about seventy when she was interviewed by Kolkata Doordarshan. It was that interview that provided the material for my piece above. Since you too heard her when she was seventy, the two events must have occurred around the same time. Your comment brings out new information. I wasn't aware of these details. I am sharing your comment with other people I have come across on cyberspace, since it is unlikely that too many boloji readers will read my post. Regarding your suggestion that I try a similar exercise in memory of the great one, I am not sure that I have enough knowledge or ability to carry out that work. It calls for a level of competence I simply don't possess. However, given your knowledge about this genius, you should definitely give it a try.


17-Jan-2013 01:28 AM

Comment Dipankarda,

Is it a new piece? I liked it. I once had the privilege of witnessing Savithri Krishnan's performance at Tagore Research Institute in Calcutta, with which my father was connected. She was then in her seventies, a vibrant personality, quite boisterous with something of a tomboy in her. She was recalling her Santiniketan experiences in a mix of English and very idiomatic Bengali. With the latter she was out of touch, as a result of her long sojourn in Canada, but she spoke it eagerly, thoroughly enjoying herself as she did. She was a wonderful raconteur, and broke into songs every now and then. Being an asthamtic, she panted her way through talk and music, loudly spraying inhaler as she went on, and assuring the audience with, "Never mind, I shall sing" (in English). As her voice soared, the effect was overwhelming. Her being asthamtic reminded me of another singer, who was then dead, and the power of the voice strengthened the impression.

I think you should write such pieces on some other maestros of the genre as well, in your excellent English. Not the elite singers of exclusive minorities, but singers who turned Rabindrasangeet into an expression of warm-blooded homo sapiens.


Devadatta Joardar
16-Jan-2013 06:53 AM

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