Begum Akhtar

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This article is about the Indian singer. For the Pakistani activist and writeress, see Begum Akhtar Riazuddin.
Beghum Akhtar
بیگم اختر
Birth name Akhtaribai Faizabadi
Born (1914-10-07)7 October 1914
Origin Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, India
Died 30 October 1974(1974-10-30) (aged 60)[1]
Genres Ghazal, Thumri, Dadra[2]
Occupations Musician
Years active 1929–1974

Akhtari Bai Faizabadi, also known as Begum Akhtar (7 October 1914 – 30 October 1974), was a well known Indian singer of Ghazal, Dadra, and Thumri.

She received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for vocal music, and was awarded Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan (posthumously) by Govt. of India. She was given the title of Mallika-e-Ghazal (Queen of Ghazals).[3]

Early life[edit]

Begum Akhtar was born in Bada Darwaza, Town Bhadarsa, Bharatkund, Faizabad District, Uttar Pradesh. Her father, Asghar Hussain, a young lawyer who fell in love with her mother Mushtari and made her his second wife, subsequently disowned her and his twin daughters Zohra and Bibbi (Akhtar).[4]


Akhtar was barely seven when she was captivated by the music of Chandra Bai, an artist attached to a touring theatre group. However at her uncle's insistence she was sent to train under Ustad Imdad Khan, the great sarangi exponent from Patna, and later under Ata Mohammed Khan of Patiala. Later, she travelled to Calcutta with her mother and learnt music from classical stalwarts like Mohammad Khan, Abdul Waheed Khan of Lahore, and finally she became the disciple of Ustad Jhande Khan.

Her first public performance was at the age of fifteen. The famous poetess, Sarojini Naidu, appreciated her singing during a concert which was organised in the aid of victims of a Bihar earthquake of 1934. This encouraged her to continue singing ghazals with more enthusiasm. She cut her first disc for the Megaphone Record Company, at that time. A number of gramophone records were released carrying her ghazals, dadras, thumris, etc.

Begum Akhtar's good looks and sensitive voice made her an ideal candidate for a film career in her early years. When she heard great musicians like Gauhar Jan and Malak Jan, however, she decided to forsake the glamour of the film world for a career in Indian classical music. Her supreme artistry in light classical music had its moorings in the tradition of pure classicism. She chose her repertoire in primarily classical modes: a variety of raags, ranging from simple to complex. After the advent of talkie era in India, Beghum Akhtar acted in a few Hindi movies in thirties. East India Film Company of Calcutta approached her to act in "King for a Day" (alias Ek Din Ka Badshah) and Nal Damayanti in 1933.

Like others of that era, she sang her songs herself in all her films. She continued acting in the following years. Subsequently Beghum Akhtar moved back to Lucknow where she was approached by the famous producer-director Mehboob Khan, as a result of which she acted in "Roti" which was released in 1942 and whose music was composed by maestro Anil Biswas.[5] "Roti" contained six of her ghazals but unfortunately due to some trouble between producer and director, Mehboob Khan subsequently deleted three or four ghazals from the film. All the ghazals are available on Megaphone gramophone records. Beghum Akhtar, meanwhile, left Bombay and returned to Lucknow.

In 1945, Akhtaribai married a barrister, Ishtiaq Ahmed Abbasi, and became known as Begum Akhtar. However, after marriage, due to her husband's restrictions, she could not sing for almost five years and subsequently, she fell ill, that is when her return to music was prescribed as a befitting remedy, and in 1949 she returned to the recording studios.[6] She sang three ghazals and a dadra at Lucknow Radio Station. She wept afterwards and returned to singing in concerts, a practice that lasted until her death.

Her voice matured with time, adding richness and depth. She sang ghazals and other light classical pieces, singing them in her inimitable style. She has nearly four hundred songs to her credit. She was a regular performer on All India Radio. She usually composed her own ghazals and most of her compositions were raag based.


During her last concert in Ahmedabad she raised the pitch of her voice as she felt that her singing had not been as good as she had wanted it to be and she felt unwell. The additional demand and stress that she put herself under resulted in her falling ill and was rushed to the hospital.

She died on 30 October 1974 in the arms of Nilam Gamadia, her friend, who invited her to Ahmedabad, which has become her final performance.


Hindi films[edit]

  • Naseeb Ka Chakkar | –
  1. Kalyug Hai Jabse Aaya Maya Ne...
  • Roti | Anna Sahab Mainkar
  1. Wo Hans Rahe Hain Aah Kiye Jaa...
  2. Ulajh Gaye Nayanwa Chhute Nahin...
  3. Char Dino Ki Jawani Matwale...
  4. Ai Prem Teri Balihari Ho...
  5. Phir Fasle Bahaar Aayi Hai...
  6. Rehne Laga Hai Dil Me Andhera...
  1. Hamen Yaad Teri Sataane Lagi...
  2. Main Raja Ko Apne Rijha Ke Rahungi...
  • Dana Pani | Mohan Junior
  1. Ishq Mujhe Aur Kuchh To Yaad Nahi...
  • Ehsaan
  1. (1954 – hame.n dil me.n basaa bhi lo).


Awards and recognition[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • In Memory of Begum Akhtar, by Shahid Ali Agha. US Inter Culture Associates, 1979.
  • Great Masters of Hindustani Music, by Susheela Misra. Published by Hem Publishers, 1981. Chapter 26.
  • Begum Akhtar: The Queen of Ghazal, by Sutapa Mukherjee. Rupa & Co, 2005, ISBN 81-7167-985-4.
  • Begum Akhtar: The Story of My Ammi, by Shanti Hiranand. Published by Viva Books, 2005. ISBN 81-309-0172-2.
  • Ae Mohabbat… Reminiscing Begum Akhtar, by Jyoti Sabharwal & Rita Ganguly, 2008, ISBN 978-81-904559-3-0.[7]
  • Begum Akhtar: Love’s Own Voice, by S. Kalidas. 2009.


  1. ^ In Memory of Begum Akhtar The Half-inch Himalayas, by Shahid Ali Agha, Agha Shahid Ali, Published by Wesleyan University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8195-1132-3.
  2. ^ Dadra Thumri in Historical and Stylistic Perspectives, by Peter Lamarche Manuel, Peter Manuel. Published by Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1989. ISBN 81-208-0673-5. Page 157.
  3. ^ New Release: Begum Akhtar: Love’s Own Voice Hindustan Times, 31 August 2009.
  4. ^ What a life – Begum Akhtar’s reality was much wilder than fictionMint
  5. ^ Akhtari Faizabadi at the Internet Movie Database
  6. ^ Begum Akhtar (1914–1974) – Biography NRCW, Govt.of India.
  7. ^ Tribute to Begum The Telegraph, 19 October 2008.

'* Zikr us Parivash Ka': Begum Akhtar in Lucknow, by Saleem Kidwai in Shaam e Awadh: Writings on Awadh, edited: Veena Oldenberg, Penguin Book, 2007, New Delhi.

External links[edit]

Video links