Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar, one of India’s best known cultural icons, given state funeral

  • The singer, who defined music for generations and called her voice ‘a gift from God’, died on Sunday at the age of 92 following complications after Covid-19
  • Actor Amitabh Bachchan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi mourned her loss on social media
Reuters |

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Fans light candles in front of photographs of legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar during a vigil in Bangalore, India. She passed away on Sunday at the age of 92 after being treated for Covid-19 and pneumonia symptoms for nearly a month. Photo: EPA-EFE

Lata Mangeshkar, one of India’s best known cultural icons and a singer who defined music for generations, died on Sunday and was given a state funeral as politicians and personalities united in mourning.

Mangeshkar, 92, made her name in the world of Bollywood and her voice has rung out on television sets, on crackly airwaves and from cinemas for around three quarters of a century, earning her the name “the Nightingale”.

“I am anguished beyond words,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter. “She leaves a void in our nation that cannot be filled.”

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Modi joined mourners at a packed open air state funeral late on Sunday after her body, wrapped in the Indian flag, had been paraded through the streets of her home city of Mumbai on a truck decorated with flowers.

Thousands of people gathered around Shivaji Park, where she was cremated, climbing walls and trees to get a glimpse of the proceedings and pay their respects however they could, despite police erecting barricades and restricting public entry.

The government will observe state mourning with the flag at half-mast through Monday, the Home Ministry said.

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Mangeshkar died of “multi-organ failure after more than 28 days of hospitalisation post Covid-19”, said Pratit Samdani, who was treating her at Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital, according to Reuters TV partner ANI.

“The coming generations will remember her as a stalwart of Indian culture, whose melodious voice had an unparalleled ability to mesmerise people,” Modi wrote.

Other Bollywood personalities and politicians also paid their tributes.

“The voice of a million centuries has left us,” veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan said.

‘A gift from God’

Born in 1929 in pre-independence India, Mangeshkar began singing in her teens. Her career spanned more than 73 years, and she sang more than an estimated 15,000 songs in 36 languages.

She enthralled people with her lilting voice and sheer range, singing everything from patriotic songs to romantic numbers, both in films and albums.

The world of Bollywood – where films were unthinkable without at least six songs, and where everything from romance to grief was narrated with the help of a ballad – was where Mangeshkar cut her teeth.

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Classically trained, Mangeshkar moulded her voice to the demands of singing for Bollywood films, even voicing songs in her 60s for an actress who was in her 20s.

“My voice is a gift from God,” she once told an interviewer. “I learned to emote through my voice. When I sang a lullaby, I became a mother, when it was a romantic song, I was a lover.”

The only songs she refused to sing were cabaret numbers and songs that had bawdy or racy lyrics, saying those did not fit with her personal values. Mangeshkar, nevertheless, dominated the Hindi film industry for almost five decades until the 2000s, along with her younger sister Asha Bhosle.

People line up to catch a glimpse of Mangeshkar’s funeral procession. Photo: AFP

Detractors accused her of using her Bollywood clout to limit entry for newcomers. Her influence was such that in 2006, authorities in Mumbai scrapped a planned highway flyover after she objected, saying it would disturb her privacy.

Known for her soft-spoken nature and wearing a sari, her hair in two schoolgirl-like braids, Mangeshkar received India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 2001. She was awarded France’s highest civilian honour, the Legion of Honour, in 2009.

“Music is incomplete without your voice,” Amitabh Bachchan said of Mangeshkar in 2019, commemorating her 90th birthday. “It has done the work of saints.”

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