Juthika Roy belonged to the golden era of Indian music (1938-1947) and she had no peer when it came to singing geets & bhajans of Meera & Kabir. I found a treasure trove of Juthika Roy when I was researching on music composers of that era. I heard few of her songs and bhajans and could not stop myself from writing about her. Unfortunately I could not find her earlier songs and bhajans but have managed to (Hopefully) present few gems from her collection.
She started singing at the age of seven and recorded her first Hindi bhajan at the age of 12. She has sung many songs for music directors including her first mentor Kazi Nazrul Islam and the great Bengali music director Kamal Dasgupta. It is said that Kamal Das Gupta and Kumari Juthika Roy recorded a Naat (A poetry that specifically praises the Islamic prophet Muhammad) in the late 1930s that impressed Gupta so much that he embraced Islam.
The Gramophone Company Calcutta in 1927 asked little Juthika to come back after she came of age, but her father did not give up as it was his dream to make her emulate the feat of Master Madan (a talented Ghazal and Geet singer of pre-independence era who recorded only eight songs during his life) who had recorded his first song at the age of 7 years. Their next destination was All India Radio where she auditioned without any instrument with a Rabindrasangeet and she was chosen. The call from The Gramophone Company of India came 6 years later.
Her singing was liked by many including Jawharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi who used to listen to her bhajans before prarthana every morning. When she met Mahatma Gandhi he was busy but eager to listen to her bhajans, so he decided that that she would sing while he had his bath in the next room and she went on singing one bhajan after another without any instrument or accompaniment. She sang “Maine Chakrar rakhi ji”, “Main Ram nam ki churiyan pahenu”, “Gunghukta pat khol re”, “Main to wari jaun Ram”, “Alo main apne Ram”, “Matja yogi mat ja” and “Pyare gungut bangh Meera nachire”.
On August 15, 1947 Prime Minister Jawharlal Nehru sent a request to Juthika to keep singing when she had finished her 15 minute slot at All India Radio and she returned and started singing with Sone Ka Hindustan and did seven or eight songs because of his request.
The legend of Juthika Roy, the bhajan singer, was born with an experiment in the Bengali department of AIR to record in Hindi. “It was the idea of an employee, Anil Das, who would roam the villages to collect folk songs. Juthika did not know Hindi then, so Kamal Das wrote out the lyrics in Bengali.” The success of the 78 RPM disc prompted a few more bhajan albums. This spawned the Hindi department of AIR. Through a friend of her father’s, she made the acquaintance of Kazi Nazrul Islam, who was on the rolls of the Gramophone Company of India as lyricist and music director. Kazida would always be in silk saffron robes and cap, chewing paan with a smile on his lips. He gave Juthika two songs but they were too easy, even as a child she fancied only serious songs. Nazrul had a big role in Juthika’s debut on the disc. The dealers refused to take Juthika’s album as only Angurbala, Indubala and KC Dey would sell then. Kazida put his foot down saying that if they did not take her album, they would get nothing else from the company.” Ami bhorer Juthika, with music by her future mentor Kamal Dasgupta, registered record sales. There was no looking back.
She has sung for many Bengali & Hindi movies also but she is most popularly known for her Meera Bhajans, she is hailed as ‘adhunik Meera’. She was awarded the Padmashri in 1972 by Indira Gandhi who had also inherited a liking for her songs from her father Jawharlal Nehru.
She is now 91 years old and lives in Calcutta