Gauhar Jaan

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Gauhar Jaan
Gauhar Jaan.jpg
Background information
Birth nameAngelina Yeoward
Born(1873-06-26)26 June 1873
Azamgarh, North-Western Provinces, British India
Died17 January 1930(1930-01-17) (aged 56)
British India
GenresGhazal, thumri, dadra
Occupation(s)Musician, dancer
Years active1887–1930[1]

Gauhar Jaan (born Angelina Yeoward; 26 June 1873 – 17 January 1930) was an Indian singer and dancer from Kolkata. She was one of the first performers to record music on 78 rpm records in India, which was later released by the Gramophone Company of India.[2][3] Having recorded more than 600 songs in more than ten languages between 1902 and 1920, Jaan is credited with popularising Hindustani classical music such as thumri, dadra, kajri, tarana during the period.

Early life[edit]

Gauhar Jaan was born as Angelina Yeoward on 26 June 1873 in Azamgarh, of Armenian descent.[4][5] Her father, William Robert Yeoward, worked as an engineer in a dry ice factory, and married her mother, Victoria Hemmings, in 1872. Victoria, an Indian by birth, had been trained in music and dance.

In 1879 the marriage ended, causing hardships to both mother and daughter, who later migrated to Banaras in 1881, with a Muslim nobleman, 'Khursheed', who appreciated Victoria's music more than her husband. Later, Victoria converted to Islam and changed Angelina's name to 'Gauhar Jaan' and hers to 'Malka Jaan'.[6]


In time, Victoria (now 'Malka Jaan') became an accomplished singer, Kathak dancer and a courtesan in Banaras, and made a name for herself, as Badi Malka Jan; she was called Badi (elder) because at that time three other Malka Jans were famous: Malka Jan of Agra, Malka Jan of Mulk Pukhraj and Malka Jan of Chulbuli, and she was the eldest amongst them.[7]

Malka Jaan moved back to Calcutta in 1883, and established herself in the courts of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, who had settled at Metiaburj (Garden Reach), near Kolkata and within three years purchased a building at 24 Chit pore Road (now Rabindra Sarani), for Rs. 40,000. It is here that young Gauhar started her training, she learnt pure and light classical Hindustani vocal music from, Kale Khan of Patiala, 'Kalu Ustad', and Ustad Ali Baksh Jarnail (founding members of Patiala Gharana) and Kathak from legendary Brindadin Maharaj (granduncle of Birju Maharaj), Dhrupad dhamar from Srijanbai, and Bengali Keertan from Charan Das. Soon she also started writing and composing ghazals under the pen-name 'Hamdam' and became proficient in Rabindra Sangeet.[8]

Gauhar Jaan gave her maiden performance at the royal courts of Darbhanga Raj in 1887 and was appointed as court musician,[1] after receiving extensive dance and music training from a professional dancer at Banaras.[7] Gauhar Jan started performing in Calcutta in 1896 and was called the 'first dancing girl' in her records. She met Gujarati Parsi theatre artist Amrit Keshav Nayak around 1904–1905 and had a brief relationship with him before his sudden death in 1907. He helped her recover from trauma following death of her mother.[9]

Gauhar Jaan first visited Madras in 1910, for a concert in the Victoria Public Hall, and soon her Hindustani and Urdu songs were published in a Tamil music book. In December 1911, she was famously invited to perform at the coronation of King George V at Delhi Durbar, where she sang a duet, Ye Hai Tajposhi Ka Jalsa, Mubarak Ho Mubarak Ho, with Jankibai of Allahabad.[7]

Eventually, in her final days, she moved to Mysore, at the invitation of Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV of Mysore, and on 1 August 1928,[8] she was appointed as a 'Palace musician', though she died within 18 months, on 17 January 1930 in Mysore.[10]

In her lifetime, she recorded more than 600 songs from 1902 to 1920, in more than ten languages,[11] including Bengali, Hindustani, Gujarati, Tamil, Marathi, Arabic, Persian, Pushto, French, and English. She would round off her performances for a record by announcing 'My name is Gohar Jan'.[2][12]

She popularised light Hindustani classical music with her thumri, dadra, kajri, chaiti, bhajan, tarana renditions, and also mastered the technique of condensing performing the elaborate melody Hindustani classical style to just three and a half minutes for a record. Her most famous song are, thumri sung in Bhairavi is Mora nahak laye gavanava, jabse gaye mori sud huna live,[13] Ras ke bhare Tore Nain, Mere dard-e-jigar[14] and Bhajans like, Radhey Krishna Bol Mukhse.

Inspiration and Honours[edit]

It is said that, Begum Akhtar in her early days wanted to pursue a career in Hindi films, but after listening to the singing of Gauhar and her mother, she gave up the idea completely and devoted herself to learning Hindustani classical music, in fact, her first teacher was Ustad Imdad Khan, who accompanied the mother-daughter duo on sarangi.

On 26 June 2018, search engine Google commemorated Gauhar Jaan with a Doodle on her 145th birth anniversary.[15] Google commented: "Gauhar Jaan, who emerged on the scene at the turn of the 20th century, gained popularity through her singing and dancing, and would go on to define the future of Indian performance art.".[16]

India's first recording sessions[edit]

India's first recording sessions included Gauhar Jaan, singing a khayal in Raag Jogiya, recorded by Fred Gaisberg of the Gramophone Company. The sessions began on 8 November 1902. Over the course of six weeks, more than 500 matrices were recorded of local artists. The records were manufactured in Germany and shipped to India in April 1903. They proved a great success in popularising the gramophone in India, where locals had no interest or appreciation for Western music.[17] The recording was done in a makeshift recording studio in two large rooms of a hotel in Kolkata.[18] By 1903, her records started appearing in Indian markets and were in great demand.[19][20][21][2]

Restoration and release[edit]

Saregama India (formerly the Gramophone Co. of India Ltd. or His Master's Voice (HMV)), is planning to re-release the milestone recordings of Gauhar Jaan, after retrieving them from Gramophone Company's London archives, and restoring them to their original glory.[21][22]

Her songs are also part of the 'Vintage Music From India' (1996) audio album, and her image forms its cover.[23]


There were four singing contemporaries of Gauhar Jaan with first names pronounced the same way as hers and sometimes spelled in English in different ways:

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Sampath, Vikram (2010). My Name is Gauhar Jaan!. Rupa Publications. ISBN 978-8129116185.
  • Khayal and thumri gayaki of Late Gauhar Jan of Calcutta, S. R. Mehta, Volume 5 (January 1992), The Record News, The Journal of 'The Society of Indian Record Collectors' (SIRC).
  • Widdess, Richard (1994). "Review: Vintage Music from India: Early Twentieth-Century Classical and Light-Classical Music". British Journal of Ethnomusicology. 3: 132. JSTOR 3060823.
  • Lall, Inder Jit, "Erotic Malika who wrote poetry", Patriot Magazine, 22 April 1973


  1. ^ a b Nevile, Pran (13 April 2008). "Melodies on record". The Tribune. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  2. ^ a b c 'First dancing girl, Calcutta'
  3. ^ About us Archived 25 September 2014 at the Wayback Machine Sa Re Ga Ma.
  4. ^ Vikram., Sampath (2010). "My name is Gauhar Jaan!" : the life and times of a musician. New Delhi: Rupa & Co. ISBN 9788129116185. OCLC 631243857.
  5. ^ Savitha Gautam (13 May 2010). "The Hindu : Arts / Music : Recording Gauhar Jaan". Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  6. ^ The importance of being Gauhar Jan The Tribune, 26 May 2002.
  7. ^ a b c 'My name is Gauhar Jan' Archived 17 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine, October 2003.
  8. ^ a b Gohar Jan Archived 24 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine Chowk, 16 April 2008.
  9. ^ Vikram Sampath. My Name is Gauhar Jaan. Rupa Publications. pp. 120–122. ISBN 978-81-291-2233-9.
  10. ^ Gauhar Jan in Madras The Hindu, 14 January 2008.
  11. ^ Making musical waves The Hindu, 3 February 2003.
  12. ^ Gauhar Jan Discography
  13. ^ Melodies on record Pran Nevile, The Tribune, 13 April 2008.
  14. ^ Ras Ke Bhare
  15. ^ "Who was Gauhar Jaan, the singer Google Doodle is honouring today?". India Today. 26 June 2018. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  16. ^ "Gauhar Jaan's 145th Birthday". Google. 26 June 2018. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  17. ^ Lubinski, Christina; Steen, Andreas (2017). "Traveling Entrepreneurs, Traveling Sounds: The Early Gramophone Business in India and China". Itinerario. 41 (2): 275–303. doi:10.1017/S0165115317000377. ISSN 0165-1153.
  18. ^ Gauhar Jaan: Early Recordings in India This announcement was necessary since the wax masters were sent to Hanover in Germany for pressing the records and the technicians would make proper labels and confirm the name by listening to these announcements at the end of the three minutes performance.
  19. ^ "ઠુમરીના જલસાઓની શાન: 'માય નેમ ઈઝ ગૌહર જાન!'". NavGujarat Samay (in Gujarati). 21 May 2016. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  20. ^ Saregama’s online store Wall Street Journal, 10 December 2007.
  21. ^ a b Rebuilding a 100 years of priceless recordings Archived 2 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine The Indian Express, 17 September 2006.
  22. ^ 100 years of recording The Telegraph, 1 November 2002.
  23. ^ 'Vintage Music From India'

External links[edit]